“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. “ – Eleanor Roosevelt

Normally, I’m not one for quotes. However, this one was pointed out to me as I was walking through a local grade school. It articulated something I had concluded about two years earlier.

As long as I’ve been following politics, people have been talking about the President like they knew him personally. They would assign motives to every statement and assign credit for very complicated laws or regulations that were vetted by hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

It was about that time that I started suggesting to people that we start discussing the problems and the solutions.

I believe that people generally want things to be good. We all want good schools, clean water, simple and effective laws. We’re all for ethical government and protecting ourselves. We’re all Americans, and we want what’s best for our country. But there are many opinions on how to do that effectively.

None of us know President Trump or President Obama. We don’t know President Clinton or President Bush. Yet we all talk about them as if we work with them. And we assign motives to them that have just as good a chance of being completely untrue.

Was President Bush really in the Presidency simply to enrich his buddies? Is President Obama really trying to turn the United States into Communist Russia? We have no way of knowing, and I’m sick of arguing with people who think they know these answers for certain.

If we truly want more civil discourse in this country, this is my suggestion:

Next time you see a political conversation heading your way, stop and ask “what problem are we trying to solve, and how do we think we can address it?” You have to start by agreeing on the problem, which is sometimes more difficult that you would think. But once you accomplish that, you can start discussing what YOU would do to solve it.

My experience has been that this approach leads to more agreement than my political conversations of the past ever did.

As Roosevelt said, “small minds discuss people.” People come and go (and we don’t know them, anyway), but these problems and their solutions can span generations. Likewise, events occur, and we deal with them. Once they’re dealt with, we can all second-guess what was done. But it doesn’t advance the conversation.

Discussing ideas is where we all have the most to add to the great debate. And unlike our discussions of the politicians, the potential for agreement and understanding is far greater.

Unless we all just like hearing ourselves repeat the same arguments over and over.