The Soft Answer

–  From Our Very Own, Zach Ricks

I watched the debate last night with my family gathered around the TV set. And by the family, I mean more than just the people who all live under the same roof. We were also celebrating a birthday last night, so we had several more people watching the TV than we usually do.

It’s always interesting to get different people’s perspectives on things, and last night’s crowd was diverse. I’m a very conservative guy by most standards, and vote Republican most of the time. We have family members who are very staunch Democrats, and they were in the room during the debate, and during the debate, a discussion happened where we were discussing, of all things, the need for tariffs to increase the costs of goods coming from China. Yes, I know, never a dull moment at our place.

Now, it just so happens that I’m someone who has fairly strong opinions on tariffs. And the TV was loud, and the person opining on tariffs had to raise her voice to be heard, I had to raise my voice to be heard, and while I was trying really hard not to shout, it was a near thing. And so I missed chunks of the debate while I was discussing as calmly as possible… tariff policy. Which isn’t the point. The tone is.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been trying to figure out what was going on with last night’s debate. I think that several key issues could have been brought up, and at the end of the discussion, it would be absolutely clear who was right and who was wrong. And now that I look back on it, I think that probably would have been a mistake.

Yes, once again, it’s story time.

When I was living in the Philippines as a missionary, I and my companion ran into a situation where we were teaching a family at the same time that another set of missionaries from another church were teaching them, and my companion was very much interested in demonstrating the “correctness of our doctrine according to scripture.” In other words, he wanted to debate. He wanted it bad, and he was determined to win.

So we prepped. We did homework. We looked at different translations of the bible. We looked at this other denomination’s own texts to gain insight into what they believed, so that when the time came, we’d be ready. And it just so happened that after a week of this, we knew our stuff backwards and forwards, and we all wound up at this family’s little home at the same time for a… discussion.

Now, I will say that in my church, debating as a missionary is something that is generally frowned upon. And I’ll admit that I was not looking forward to this particular head-to-head battle. But even though I really tried to keep us from getting into it, I made a tactical mistake. Which led to a gasp and a question from the other missionaries. “You believe X?!” Which happened to be the very thing which my companion and I had spent the week prior preparing for. And my companion jumped on it, so… we were off. And we won. We annihilated those poor people. We showed them in our bible. We showed them in their bible. We demonstrated six ways from Sunday (almost literally) that we were right, and they were wrong.

And it was fun. We creamed ‘em, and I have to admit, I enjoyed doing it. The most devastating blow came when I was trying to find something in one of their tracts, printed in the local dialect, and I couldn’t find it, so I reached into my bag and pulled out my English copy of the same book, found the section, directed them to it, and made my point. It was devastating to these poor people.

And we never crossed the threshold of that house again. We had answered the question that was asked. But we had done it in the most arrogant way we possibly could. We had won the battle – won it decisively. But we lost the war. And we had failed to address the real question that was there in that room that afternoon twenty years ago.

Last night, I think one of those guys had the opportunity to lay his opponent out on the mat, and then proceed to drop a cement truck on him, Bugs Bunny style. Given the state of our foreign policy, I think that last night’s debate could have been as devastating as the first debate.

But that would have been a mistake. I was disappointed last night. Today… I’ve got a different perspective.

People who have picked their guy weren’t swayed last night. For us, the question really was about foreign policy, and we wanted our team to put points on the board. But there are people out there who are legitimately undecided. People who are looking at both of these candidates, and really aren’t sure who they are going to pick. And for them, the question wasn’t about foreign policy. They haven’t been following it, and perhaps they don’t care to. And we can have a discussion about whether that’s an appropriate thing for a citizen of this country to do, but that’s a separate discussion.

The question last night – the real question that wasn’t asked, but that needed to be answered for those undecideds last night was simply this – which of these men can I trust with the Presidency? Not who can score points. Not who’s right about Benghazi or bayonets. Neither side has been willing to work with the other for what seems like a very long time. Is there anyone out there who is more interested in doing what’s needed than in making sure I understand how wrong the other guy is?

So, for people looking for a fight… and maybe a cement truck, those of us on a team who wanted a knock-down, drag-out affair, we were probably a little disappointed. But I hope that the people who aren’t on a team – who are legitimately asking that question of themselves last night – found an answer. Reflecting on it today, I think that’s a critical difference.

Twenty years ago, I screwed this up. I would not have handled that situation the same way as I did. Here’s hoping that my candidate was more sensitive to a still, small voice inside of him, that reminded him “a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.”

We’ve had enough anger.

I hope.

One Response to “The Soft Answer”

  1. adoucet says:

    I love this story and I felt like Romney was purposeful and effective. To any undecided out there, it would have helped put to rest the idea that Romney is a war hungry, angry candidate. He also showed that there are ways to diffuse a false argument. To me, it showed that Romney is capable of putting ego aside and creating a rather perfect example of how he could hold a even-tempered conversation with one of the most juvenile, and aggressive enemies of this Republic.

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