Thoughts on Congressional Seating Arrangements

The recent events in Tucson have fostered a much needed discourse on increasing civility in U.S. politics. Certainly it’s a tragedy that it takes a tragedy to start this discourse, but hey, it’s started and that’s a good thing.

At the 2011 State of the Union speech, Members of Congress eschewed their traditional seating arrangement of dems on one side and republicans on the other, and instead they sat intermingled in the House chamber.

I was reminded, once again, that the elements of a good event really can change the world. Face-to-face events (like the State of the Union speech) give people the opportunity to get to know each other. You chat with your seat neighbor. And you learn that your new friend has a daughter the same age as yours. Or you learn that you both have aging parents, and are struggling with the decisions of how to best care for them or help them care for themselves. You discover CONNECTIONS. Human connections.

And even though you may find that you disagree with your new friend’s politics, and perhaps especially disagree with her stance on the health care bill, you still have a kernel of a connection based on your shared knowledge. You may disagree with your new friend, but you respect the work she is doing to keep her son safe; and you empathize with her struggles to care for her aging parent even as she juggles raising her own family with her career. Respect and empathy. With this, we can enter into productive dialogues that do not dissolve into political vitriol.

I admit that the seating arrangements at the State of the Union speech may not completely change the nature of US politics, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.