This past year left little to the imagination about the places that our family and friends, the media, our newly-and-almost elected officials will go when faced with the stress of having their beliefs and egos seemingly at stake with an election cycle. With the start of the New Year, we carry what small shred of tact, respect for opposition and polite political discourse we have, and step into the new year settling back into business as usual. Whether we like it or not, politics will always be personal and elections will always be buzz-worthy with all of our personal issues, experiences and beliefs being spoken of and presumably solved by our elected officials. I’m just not convinced we are seeing the big picture.
While my grandparents speak of an era where religious, political and personal conversations were off the table, I, along with my generation, have become accustomed to reading and very readily knowing the political, social and religious views of my friends, families, and just about anyone with a social media profile.
Times have changed. Tipping to the opposite end of the spectrum of avoiding these conversations all together, we are becoming less and less willing to listen to or surround ourselves with ideas that don’t fit into our paradigm of the world and the way we think it ought to be.
Think about it: most of us only watch or read news that confirms or perpetuate our own bias, virtually writing off those who disagree with those views. This is a natural and understandable habit we are all guilty of at some point or another. “I like them as a person, but can’t stand their views,” is an easy way we dismiss people we disagree with.
This is where I think the missed opportunity lies.
Instead of immediately writing people off for their views, I think we could invest more understanding, or better yet, ask why. Just about everything we believe, say, or do is in response to how we were raised, how we were educated, what we consume, who we surround ourselves by and who we are. You see pieces of this in everything we do, but nothing seems to bring out these truths like politics. Some have a specific story, others a statistic and some have no idea other than they heard it one time. At the very least, you are making the effort to listen and be heard yourself, introducing new ideas and experiences into the discussion, which is a powerful way to create understanding.
The challenge we all face is that we are quickly going in a direction of allowing our differences to become more polarizing than an opportunity to contribute to a worthwhile purpose. We need to actively avoid the tendency to turn inward and instead ask tough questions of others and ourselves. Take “the opposing view” to lunch, and get to know them on a personal level. Respond to a question or comment you hear at the dinner table that may surprise or confuse you, rather than sitting silently, judging. Invest the time to learn and listen to people from completely different backgrounds than you. The more we open ourselves to new ideas, experiences and people, the more progress and understanding we will create and, I am convinced, the more fulfilled our relationships and communities will be. Our current climate of dismissive, rude and accusatory language is not the answer.
While we all might not view ourselves as leaders for any particular issue or feel like speaking up is our style, we are all leaders of our own lives at the very least. We all play a part. What you consume, how you treat others (especially those with both perceived and real differences from you), the words you say, and the purchases you make are all subtle and sometimes major ways in which you speak up and stand for a whole array of important issues. At the very least, choose carefully with how you use your valuable resources.
In the midst of all the noise, there are the people, the conversations and interactions that make up our experience in our homes, cities and lives and we cannot ignore or undermine the effect we have on one another. When politics seem out of your control, it’s important to remember that the type of community and culture you create in your own life is very much in your control.
I’m not saying it will be perfect, or less than utterly frustrating at times — but what I am saying is, that I am challenging myself, and those around me, to use what personal resources (words, actions, and interactions) you have to the best of your ability. I’ve walked away from these conversations feeling refreshed and understood and other times thinking the very world we live in is a downward spiral. That’s the very attitude I hope to continually challenge.
People can dismiss your arguments, your numbers and your research — we’re all guilty and inundated with that rhetoric. But what we can’t ignore is the experiences that got us here. Sharing these are a positive and powerful way to changing the conversation from “I can’t believe you can believe that” to “I can understand why you would believe that.” In between the loud and rowdy fringes of the left and right, there is a large group of hard-working, level-headed individuals who are working for access to important resources, healthy lives, safe communities, excellent educations, satisfying lives and the opportunity to succeed for themselves and their love ones. Surely, we can all recognize this and always support and promote the variety of solutions we all believe in one way or another will better promote these ideals.
Growing up, there was a sign above my family’s front door that read, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and was a daily reminder as we went out into the world. As we continue to live and work in this world, let’s remember that at any point in our lives, we have ample opportunities to be grateful, gritty, and unapologetic examples of what is kind, uplifting and empowering to all. I hope you’ll join me in always making the effort.
“The great lesson…is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s back yard.”