I am sitting at one of about fifty large, round tables covered with a white tablecloth. We have carved our way through the obligatory chicken, mixed grill, or what have you. Our speaker is declaiming from the lectern placed on the dais. The speaker is saying things most attenders will find agreeable. Otherwise, we would not be at the banquet. We are there both to indicate our support and to give or help get money for the organization and its mission.
In time, though, I find myself squirming through the address. Why? Because it is another one of those events in which the speaker is only thinking about the people who are totally convinced. But the convinced are not the total audience. Some of the people in the crowd are there because they are married to the true believer. Or perhaps the true believer has brought a friend who is partially convinced. We have to fill tables, you know. Lots of people get pulled in. And what of the people in the room the speaker almost never thinks about? I am thinking of the table servers and other employees of the hotel, caterer, etc.
When a speaker goes on a harsh tirade against THE LEFT, THE LIBERALS, THE PRO-ABORTS, or whomever the target might be, I can’t help but be disappointed at the opportunity that is being missed. Instead of making allies or at least showing people we have a good case, we deliver addresses that confirm them in their beliefs about our anger, extremism, insensitivity, and/or unfairness. The speech that resorts liberally to labels, stereotypes, attribution of false motives, demonization, and tribal attitudes does a great job of earning the esteem of those who already agree with you.
The speech with a chance to win converts or at least generate thoughtfulness need not be morally compromised or weak. It need merely put a premium on civility and accuracy. If we do that, then we have a chance to connect with the listeners who might matter most.