Yesterday I posted a meme on my Facebook profile that led to a mini-conversation with a friend of mine—a person I care for and respect immensely even though we have drastically different political opinions. The conversation was around whether someone has to agree or be labeled or stay silent. I think this is an important dialogue because I believe that people on both sides of the political coin feel like “the other side” feels this way. I also think that this feeling is largely to blame for many of the challenges we face in today’s society.
Our political system is dichotomous. We are Liberals (with a capital ‘D’) or we are Conservatives (with a capital ‘R’) or we are Independents (with a capital ‘Haha, you’re too dumb to have an opinion’). The truth is that I know very, very few people who fall distinctly into one category or the other. Most of us are somewhere in between. We lean one direction or the other based on our values, priorities, and experiences.
Think of a coin spinning on the tabletop. As soon as it starts leaning one direction, it falls over flat. ‘Heads’ is no longer on a level field with ‘tails’ and you can only see one side. With a coin, this isn’t really a big deal. With people, it’s huge. We stop dialoguing with ‘the other side,’ and as a result, we can no longer learn from them. In turn, they can no longer learn from us.
We put ourselves into categories and we end up conversing only with other people who think the way we do. I grew up in a very conservative household. I do not lean to the right, as anyone who reads anything I’ve ever written would quickly surmise. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still converse with or care for family members. There are many, many people who have changed my life in some small way that don’t think or believe the way I do. Sometimes we can talk politics; sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we can talk religion; sometimes we can’t.
But consider this. My husband and I both lean left—him slightly more than me. Yet:
- We do not discuss Israel. Ever. Under any circumstances.
- Our view of abortion is different. We can discuss this topic, but we never really change the others’ point of view.
- Our view of the death penalty is likewise different. Again, we can discuss this topic, but even as our views change as we get older, they don’t change toward but rather away from one another.
During the 2008 election, our household was a cacophony of political conversation. We were talking about the same party, but our views were different enough—and strong enough—that we basically canceled each other out on the Presidential nomination vote. And yet, we love and admire and respect one another. It is because we respect one another that we continue to learn from each other.
I don’t believe for a second that there are only two sides to any coin, nor do I believe that because someone doesn’t believe in something, it means they are ‘hateful’ or ‘ignorant’ or ‘selfish.’ I believe that it means they have had different experiences than I have and that they have different priorities, but I also believe that we probably have some common ground on certain subjects. Example: I believe in the right to bear arms almost as adamantly as most NRA members, yet I tend to vote for liberal candidates because my priority is social justice (no one should be hungry in the U.S. ever!).
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that there are hateful, ignorant, or selfish people out there. There are. But I recognize that the loudest voices seldom represent the majority. Most people just want the world to be a good place and we all have a different image of what a good place is.
Consider what the world would be like if we all agreed with one another 100% of the time. We would accomplish even less than we accomplish in our dichotomous culture. Yet, consider for a moment what the world might be like if we stopped assuming that ‘the other side’ was always, 100% of the time, wrong.
We might see a coin that never stopped spinning. A world that never stopped learning.