Finding the Common Ground of Respect

One of the most memorable and impactful bills I have observed in the California legislative process is actually a bill that I didn’t even work on or lobby.   I just happened to be watching a committee hearing for another bill on the agenda and observed the debate.  The bill was an issue that the legislator was very passionate about as were the opponents.  While some of the testimony in opposition was respectful, other comments were filled with anger and the witnesses made verbally aggressive, personal attacks on the legislator.   Naturally, any person subject to those comments would be offended, upset, and tempted to reciprocate with similar attacks in response.  And in today’s political discourse, such a response is likely the norm.  However, the legislator took a different approach.  The legislator did not respond in anger or “cancel” the opinions of the opponents simply because they disagreed with the proposal.  Rather, the legislator stood there for over an hour, facing the opponents out of respect, listening to each of their comments and concerns.  The bill did not pass out of the legislature that year, not because it didn’t have support by the majority party, but because the author pulled the bill from further consideration.

The following year, the legislator reintroduced an amended version of the bill.  And, while there were still opponents to the proposal, former opponents of the bill expressed gratitude towards the legislator instead of anger and aggression  As the witnesses explained, after the bill failed passage the prior year, the legislator spent several months traveling throughout the state to meet with opponents directly to understand their concerns and find common ground.  Some of these individuals had made terrible comments to the author the year before, personally attacking the member.  But because of the legislator’s efforts to understand the reason for their anger instead of just ignoring their dissenting opinions, many of them found a common ground of respect.  The amended proposal passed the Legislature.

The horrific events at our country’s Capitol over a week ago were shocking and tragic. And while I believe the extremists who attacked our democracy reflect a minority rather than a majority in our country, there is no question we are politically divided. Every inauguration represents a new beginning and this week we have the chance to turn a new page and embrace the idea of respecting one another.  Our country needs healing and we can all play a part in that by learning from the example of the legislator I mentioned above.

Jennifer Barrera, Executive Vice President