Is it possible to hate hatred without engaging in it? Our national dialogue has gone from rude and tasteless to ugly and dangerous. Each side blames the other for starting it. Americans are falling into opposing camps and our capacity to work together to solve major challenges such as the economy, the environment and national security is stalemated.

I ask myself: What I can do as a citizen of ordinary means and influence: Yell? Scream? Insult others who hold different views or candidate preferences? Close my ears to their reasonable concerns when they insult me back? Do I ignore politics completely or associate only with others who agree with my views?

Conservative political theory and liberal political theory are both valid points of view and have each contributed to America’s greatness. Our history is loaded with bipartisan accomplishments – success in the world wars, the National Highway System, the space program – the list is long.

But bipartisanship stops in this polarized culture, where politicians jockey for political points in a profit-driven media environment that gets higher ratings for crass controversy than for thoughtful, balanced and often boring analysis.

So, as important as policy matters are, I have decided that the starting place for any solution is to prioritize civil dialogue in our families, neighborhoods, workplaces and social circles. Trash talk might be fun for sports rivalries, but in the political arena, it has become a menace to our collective well-being.

I am going to try to refrain from name calling, wild accusations, rudeness or any negative political talk. I will discuss issues with anyone of any perspective as long as we can be civil and respectful. Sadly, our president and many leaders of both parties are setting a poor example. Leadership must begin at a local level and hopefully work its way up. Please join me.

Paul Bartlett

South Portland