One of the things I love about my Toastmasters club is how much I learn from the other members. During their speeches, I often find out more about subjects that are among my own interests and areas of expertise, because I am able to see another side of them, or a different perspective. I also learn more about occupations, hobbies, and beliefs that are totally different from mine.

Another thing I love about our club – and the Toastmasters organization in general – is that it offers a safe, supportive, and respectful environment.  Politics and religion are rarely the subjects of speeches, but when they are, they are presented in an informational and objective way. Especially in light of the current political campaigns, it may be hard to believe it’s even possible to hear objective information being presented in a positive and respectful way. But it is.

A good example is the speech one of our members gave a few weeks ago about campaign reform. She talked about the billions of dollars spent on political campaigns in this country, and compared it with the amount of money spent in a number of other countries. She also listed statistics on the length of time preceding an election that candidates are allowed to campaign, both here and in other countries. The differences are staggering. And, of course, she talked about campaign ads and other issues related to political campaigns.

I appreciated the information I was given and the fact that, while it was clear where she stood on the issue, the speaker wasn’t trying to push or manipulate me into any one way of thinking – unlike most of the political ads, commercials, signs, and postcards I am inundated with every day.

Granted, the purpose of these political promotions is to influence me to vote for a certain candidate or issue. But we’ve come far – way too far – from the kind of campaigning that lists objective information and straightforward facts and figures, and lets me form my own opinion based on them. It’s hard to recall the last time I saw or read a political ad that wasn’t primarily – or entirely – an effort to smear the opposing candidate, rather than to list the plans and goals of the one being promoted. And every time I see an ad on TV that accuses candidates of voting against something positive – like lower taxes or more benefits for veterans – and in favor of something negative – like the opposite – I’m reminded of the famous quote attributed to Mark Twain, that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. After all, the same statistic can be manipulated in favor of either position, like the glass that’s either half full or half empty.

Maybe I should invite all current political candidates to visit my Toastmasters club. They would be warmly welcomed – as all our visitors are – and would find a diverse audience made up of intelligent, interested, and interesting people who would listen courteously to whatever they had to say. And would gently but efficiently teach them more respectful and effective ways to say it.

That’s something I would definitely vote for.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on November 3, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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