On Monday, I posted a piece about wearing a face mask during this pandemic. Who could have predicted at the start of this year that such a topic would be polarizing? A simple piece of fabric across the face has come to represent a political position rather than an attempt to stop the spread of disease. We could’ve seen it coming. The piece that follows was written in January of this year, long after many of us had taken our political positions, formed teams, sunk in our heels, and declared war on one another. How long will we allow this go on? How long before we are willing to find some common ground?
January 2020 is the start of a new year and a new decade. It is also a leap year, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, an election year.
It’s been pretty hard not to notice, what with the numerous debates, countless political ads, and the twenty-four hour news cycle.
And, for me, talk of the election and all things political has seeped into daily discourse, family gatherings (much to my mother’s dismay), and, most notably, my social media feeds.
I am happy to say that I have a pretty diverse online community; I’m quite sure it includes representatives from the far right, the moderate right, the moderate left, the far left, and people who claim to not care about politics at all. I don’t block people, even when their posts piss me off, because I want to hear divergent views. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, so I sometimes see, as I scroll, posts that encourage me, posts that confuse me, posts that irritate me, and posts that make me want to reply in a way that I would likely regret later.
Recently, I saw a post from a friend who said it was all the [insert specific political party]’s fault that [fill in current political issue] was happening. I saw that another friend of mine had replied, so I scrolled on. That friend said that, no, it was actually the [insert opposing party]’s fault because “look at all this evidence”. And so it ensued — a virtual exchange between representatives of two different parties. Now, I will say, that these two individuals, both intelligent and well-read, were able to isolate some key issues and continue their exchange beyond the typical name calling and finger-pointing, but neither granted any space to the other; no allowances were made. Both stood firm in their convictions, unwilling to budge.
When I saw this conversation, I wanted so badly to step in and ally myself with one of the speakers. I placed my cursor over the “write a comment” space, started to type, then, in a moment of sudden good judgment, hit the backspace button and closed the lid on my laptop. (I would like to here record this adult-like behavior since I don’t always make such sound-minded choices.)
I considered those two friends over the next few days. They have known each other for decades. They have fond memories together, but they, at least in this post, had positioned themselves against each other and were unable to find common ground.
I wonder what would’ve happened if they had had the same conversation across the table from one another, over a sandwich and a coffee, looking into one another’s eyes. Would they would have been able to cede some of their firmly-held ground or been willing to step across the line into one another’s territory if only to look around?
It’s hard to know.
Another friend posted about a family gathering at Christmas where a [insert family member here] had come in spouting rhetoric from [insert political figure here], inciting an argument. Both parties continued to engage, firmly arguing their own positions, until one asked the other to leave. They couldn’t be in the same house together — on Christmas — because of their differing political views.
I don’t think these are isolated incidents. Scenes like these are becoming common. It seems that we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into these opposing factions that position us one against the other, heels dug in, fingers pointing. And where do we picture it will end? Do any of us believe — truly believe — that we can shout “the other side” into submission, that we can prove our “rightness” and their “wrong-ness”? Do we think that one side will ever “win”?
Because guys, I’m not seeing anyone winning right now. I’m seeing a lot of anger and posturing, name-calling and accusing, and all kinds of refusal to find a place where we can come together.
And isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want to come together in the United States of America? Don’t we want to live in a “more perfect union”? Don’t we want to embody e pluribus unum, ‘out of many, one’?
Can we accomplish that through finger-pointing, name-calling, and accusation? Not in my experience. I imagine that the longer we glare across the line, attaching blame to those on the other side, the further we get entrenched in our positions, the less willing we are to change.
And change doesn’t have to mean surrender — for anyone! If we could find, in the space between us, just enough room to set up a table, if we could invite one another to sit down, we just might have a beginning.
Of course, we’d have to shift our approach. Instead of trying to cram our own beliefs and opinions down the throats of the others, we’d have to agree to ask one another questions and listen to the responses.
For example, when one side says, “We need to do more to fight climate change,” we could respond by saying, “Oh? Tell me more about that. What kinds of ideas do you have?”
When someone says, “I don’t want anyone to take away my right to own a gun,” we could ask, “Really? Tell me why?”
If someone says, “Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies,” we can say, “I can see you are passionate about this. What’s your story?”
When another says, “We have to do what’s best for this country,” we can say, “What do you picture that looking like?”
What might happen? What kinds of conversations could we have if we just opened up some space and agreed to step inside of it, leaving our need to be right and our firmly held convictions behind?
Might we be able to see that we are indeed united on many issues — caring for our parents, providing for our children, reaching out to those in need? Could we be surprised to find that everyone on that other side doesn’t meet all our preconceived notions? Is it possible that in the space we find ourselves standing, we might see new possibilities that we’d never before imagined?
I’m just saying, it might be worth a try. Of course, we might decide that it feels safer to stay in our own yards, fists clenched, jaws set, unwilling to compromise the beliefs we hold so dear.
What were they again — those beliefs you hold so dear? What were the causes you were willing to fight with an old friend about? What issues kept you away from the Christmas gathering? What might you gain by clinging so tightly to them?
It could be a really long year if we stay in our trenches flinging grenades at one another.
Can’t we find enough common ground to stand together on? Can’t we reconcile with one another? Don’t we have enough grace for that?
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”Romans 12:18