Saturday, July 14, 2012

Political Differences...Among Friends

I don't normally do this,  but this is a topic I feel strongly enough about to include on both of my blogs...

Recently I was placed in a social situation where the guest of a guest--not knowing or caring what everyone's political opinions were--carelessly demonized one of the candidates.  What had started as a relaxed and fun party turned tense and thorny.  It was neither the time or place for such talk and one by one (starting with myself) people began to leave the table until this person's audience dwindled to nothing.  He did what so many people do, which is (1) assuming that we have "enough" in common that we must agree politically and (2) being so over-confident that his views were the right ones that it made up the difference, in other words, not really caring whether people agreed with him or not.

Those few awkward minutes (which felt much longer) reminded me of the climate change in conversation that always happens during an election year.  It is a mistake many people make, and it usually begins with the first thing that this party guest did.  They take a quick look around the room, the table, email contacts, or even their Facebook friends list; then they do a brief statistical analysis of the group (naturally we can't know everything about everyone, but it doesn't matter)  We have about 80% of things (probably) in common.  Or at least the fundamentals.  Good enough.  And then...the political opinion sneeze is unleashed.

What I find interesting is that very rarely does anyone talk positively about who they are supporting.  It is usually negative or harshly derogatory about who they are not supporting.  It is mud-slinging at the public level.  If the political candidates and their teams are aware of it, they must love that people do this.  It certainly makes their job a lot easier.  It is so much simpler to talk about what someone is doing wrong than what we are doing right.  And religious beliefs?  The Golden Rule?  Treating others with respect and kindness?  When it comes to politics and political opinion those things are usually non-existent (unless the mud-slinging involves bashing a candidate's religion, either real or assumed, and how it will play a role in their platform.)

As for myself, I am in a precarious position.  As an educator, most (but not all) of my former co-workers belong to one political party.  As a Mormon, most (but not all) of my church friends belong to another.  So, lucky me, when I go on Facebook, half of my friends  and family align themselves with one side and half align themselves with the other.  My extended family is mixed, my in-laws are mixed, and my husband and I both tend to rest somewhere in the middle.  That doesn't mean we don't have opinions on heavy issues.  Believe me, we do.  However, he enjoys talking about politics and I don't.  (For me, it is right behind getting my toenails pulled out one by one.)

But what I really see when a political topic is brought up is the emerging of that basic human need to categorize things.  Privilege or right?  Rich or poor?  Deserving or undeserving?  Entitled or not?  Liberal or Conservative? Democrat or Republican?  As the categories hit closer to home they start to define us.  And they start to define how we see other people.  Why is that?  Why do we let ourselves play into that kind of thinking?

We know why, although we don't like to verbalize it.  It is because we like to categorize ourselves as well.  We like belonging to a group, a way of thinking, a side, and supporting a possible victor.  We want to feel like we are on the winning team.  And even if the person we are supporting doesn't succeed, we are comforted by the fact that so many others supported him, surely, we cannot all be wrong.  To admit we were wrong is unthinkable.  Many will spend the duration criticizing the person who was elected, shaking their heads and pouting.  I've done it too.  It's completely unproductive, but somehow it makes us feel better. And anyway, in four more years we'll pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try again, certain that the person we are supporting this time will turn our country around and make it what the Founding Fathers envisioned.  The American Dream restored.

I would like to propose something.

During election years like this one, let's put a bit more energy into other things as well.  Let's not make careless assumptions.  Let's opt for kindness.  Let's be careful of the way we throw out the words "liberal" and "conservative." Let there be more discussions and less arguments. Let's do more listening and less talking.  Let's do our part and keep the mud on the ground where it belongs.  And let's be more considerate.  I am not just talking about how we voice our political opinions.  I'm talking about assessing whether the timing is right and knowing our audience--even if you're 100% sure they agree with you.  If they don't, let's care more about that.  And most of all, let's not allow political differences to affect the way we see others.

Gandhi said this: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do. 

How true this is and it is speaking to each and every one of us.


Sally said...

We get so much more political as we age. Age does bring some wisdom but I don't think going loco over politics is an example! Good thoughts.

MOM said...

I wish I could send this to a few people who keep sending me stuff either through email or FB...all contentious, all bitter, hateful, nothing positive or uplifting. I can't live my life that way. I try to live with beautiful music, connecting with nature and reading what I need to read to make up my own mind. What these people do is NON-productive. Causes me just to have a negative opinion of them.