There is so much to say and yet so many times a day I find myself dumbfounded to speechlessness. My children ask logical questions for which I can find no polite or productive answer. There is no good answer for why hate seems to have seeped into so much of our dialogue every day.
There is no good reason that suspicion has replaced curiosity. That accusations have replaced queries. It is damaging to our democracy, it is damaging to our communities, it is damaging to our souls.
At a time when we need to move beyond partisanship, we must also move outside of the value bubbles that we have constructed. Bubbles where everyone agrees with each other, where politics are too messy to discuss, and where contrary views are dismissed as microaggressions.
By emerging from our bubbles, we are naturally making ourselves vulnerable – we will invariably find someone whose world view is in opposition to our own. The challenge is that rather than convince them that they are wrong, we take the opportunity to ask why and to understand how that perspective shaped their beliefs.
In doing so we can find common ground, we can move beyond finger pointing, and perhaps with a better understanding of our adversaries we might actually change more minds, including our own.
Over the last year I have seen so many friends fight with family and friends on social media and announce social media cleanses of “toxic” people. I can’t argue with removing toxicity from your life, but refusing to talk with people you disagree with only shrinks their bubble, it removes facts and counterpoints. It confirms their suspicions and solidifies their beliefs.
We shouldn’t be forced to be with people who are openly hostile to us, we shouldn’t be friends with people who do not value or respect us. But we shouldn’t mistake a meme or a lawn sign for the totality of a person and we can not forget the value of a personal perspective to change hearts and minds. Those opportunities will never happen if we stay in our bubbles.
As this election comes to a head, I’ve had several conversations with friends and neighbors asking about the “value” of phone calls, texts and postcards to remind people to vote. The underlying premise is that in my bubble everyone is paying attention so why in the world do you need a reminder to vote, everyone already knows. Here’s where I always start - Our bubble is not the world and we need to continue to remind ourselves of that and reset our own perspective.
We need to remind ourselves that for many circumstances may make what seems “obvious” or “simple much more difficult. It may be the single mom working 2 jobs to put food on the table knows who she wants as president, but she may have forgotten that her ballot is on the counter unmailed. That the family that is bouncing between jobs, school and hospice for grandma may have no real perception of time passing and while they know the ACA needs protecting they need a reminder that the election is coming up, that their ballot is on their counter or that they need a plan to get to the polls on election day.
Our bubbles were already insular in a world where we choose the lens that we get our news through, as Facebook narrowed our feeds to show us things that amplify our world view and as we self-select friends who agree with our viewpoints. And COVID has shrunk it even further, there is no run in at the PTO, or the office water cooler or the soccer field with someone who has a different world view.
So we must work harder to reach beyond our bubbles and to ask questions – instead of fighting memes with memes why not ask why. If a statement strikes you as out of character or foreign to your own sensibility then ask why- send a PM or an email or pick up the phone and maybe an actual dialogue can occur.
If we have seen anything over the last few years it’s that we did not erase hate from our society when we became more inclusive and more diverse – we removed it from the conversation and we drove it just below the surface. We made it a secret club that was “standing by” waiting for an opening.
And for all of those that weren’t standing by but just putting their heads down and getting through life we have painted them with the same brush and put them on the offensive. In a world divided by us vs them everyone is looking for a fight and that will invariably end in one.
So make the choices personal, ask the question, but please be productive. Explain why politics is personal, illustrate how policies have impacted your life and shaped your worldview and find out what has shaped your neighbors, your friends and your family.
We can not solve this problem by attacking our neighbors, friends and family – we can solve this problem by listening to our neighbors concerns and hearing their world view. We can solve this impasse by showing kindness and civility. But it is hard, it is exhausting and it long, slow work, but it is necessary work.