Remember that there are noble and ignoble people on each side.

It’s a bad habit: when I hear that a politician has been caught misbehaving, one of my first questions is, “Republican or Democrat?” If the answer is “Republican,” I admit that I breathe a sigh of relief. Unbidden, a flash of tribal loyalty runs through my brain: “Of course he’s Republican.”

And if he’s a Democrat? Well, there’s disappointment, shame, and some sort of attempt to make excuses: “He’s an exception; Democratic politicians are mostly good people.”

This is all instantaneous, of course—my knee-jerk reaction. And it’s only natural: as Jonathan Haidt points out in this TED talk, humans are tribal creatures. But it’s not useful or even accurate.

The truth is that there are unsavory people on all sides of the political spectrum, from corrupt corporate pawns to corrupt union pawns, from adulterers and sexual harrasers in tiger suits to Terminators with love children. During the Budget Repair Bill protests in Madison, much ado was made by Republicans of a death threats against Republicans, but the reality was that both sides had received death threats.

To improve the dialogue in this country, we must try not to let messengers get in the way of  messages. If someone from another “tribe” behaves badly, I try to remind myself that my own people have, at times, let me down. Casting aside the glee I feel when the other side messes up, I can better focus on what really matters–the issues.

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