Navigating the Current Political Climate
I grew up 15 miles outside Washington DC and had a childhood as steeped in politics, American history and government as you can imagine. It was in the air I breathed, and deeply woven into the family I came from.
My parents met working at the Republican National Committee in the 1970’s. My mom fell in love with politics when she interned in Washington as a college student for her local Pennsylvania congressman the summer Bobby Kennedy was shot. I watched from the side of the street as his funeral procession went by. My dad got his start in politics in the mid sixties when he watched Ronald Reagan—who was then just an actor—give a speech, and said to my grandfather, “He’s gonna be president one day and I’m going to work for him.” Years later he would become an advisor to the president on domestic policy.
In 1999, my senior year of high school, politics became more personal than ever when my dad ran for president, throwing his hat in the ring in the republican primary for the nomination. He was in six nationally televised debates, was impersonated on Saturday Night Live (this is how you know you’ve really made it), but ultimately lost the nomination to George W. Bush who went on to win the 2000 presidential election.
So, when it comes to politics, there’s just no getting around it in my family. It’s a part of who we are.
And it’s great. But not for the reasons you might expect. The truth is, as we’ve gotten older, my family doesn’t see eye to eye on a lot. We don’t all vote the same way, and we don’t all have the same beliefs.
Recently, it’s become apparent that what’s happened in my family is affecting our closest relationships. Tensions are rising among people we love the most because we don’t see eye to eye about the issues we care about the most.
Part of moving forward is learning how to operate outside of the boxes politics puts us in. This means adopting a posture of humility when it comes to what we think and why. It means understanding we may not have it all figured out, and being willing to learn from others who see things differently than we do.
So, what do we do in these heated and divisive political days?
We need to engage. Look for chances to start conversations with people who think differently than you do, and don’t shut them down. (And preferably avoid social media as the place to do this. The healthiest interactions will not take place behind a screen.) Ask questions from a place of humility and be curious about others’ perspectives.
Remember the humanity in one another. In heated moments the easiest thing to do is to see a person as an issue and not a human. One of my favorite authors who was notorious for engaging in hot topic debates (and made a lot of enemies because of it) was once asked how she kept from becoming cynical or hardened toward her opponents. She answered by saying she tried to imagine them playing on the floor with their kids or having dinner with loved ones. In other words, she remembered they were human. We can do the same.
Go one layer deeper in your assumptions. What we see from a talking head or social media post or hear in a sound bite is never the full story. Very few issues are as black and white as our political leaders or media sources would have us believe. Issues and positions are just as complicated as the people who hold them and the people they affect. So, take the time to learn the nuance in issues and in people.
We may not all end up voting the same, and that’s okay because that’s not the point. The point is to make space for everyone, regardless of political affiliation or belief.
Let us know what you’ve learned by talking to someone with a different perspective than you in the comments below.