This is the FB post I put up a couple weeks ago:
If you know who you’re voting for, just vote for them, and leave it alone. The world is mean enough as it is. I know the stakes are high, but I’m so sick of the tone of this political conversation (on both sides). Try having one decent, measured, thoughtful conversation with someone on the other side today. Exercise the qualities of character you wish were present in *them*. Let’s make the world a little better today, right now, by refraining from snark, sarcasm, meanness. It’s good practice.
As soon as I’d posted it, wanted to walk my talk. I looked around my circle for someone to engage with…someone with diametrically opposed political views. Didn’t take me long to choose. I have a cousin who is so far from my world view that, despite my love for her, I had to ask her to take me off her email blast list. So. Great. Now I have someone to engage with.
Diddle. Procrastinate. Look for every excuse. La la-la la-la, oh look over there at that shiny thing!
I totally didn’t wanna do it. I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t know how it would go. And I didn’t want to argue. Finally I reread my FB post, gathered up my courage, and sent her the following email: “I would love to have a conversation with you. Wanna explore your perspective on the world. Are you game?” What ensued was full of awakenings and surprises. I won’t go into details, to protect both the process and the privacy of the people involved. But I will share with you my own insights, which continue to show up now, long after the initial conversation has come to an amicable resting place.
I received an almost immediate response from her that, when I printed it out, was almost seven pages long. I took care in reading it, trying to be aware of my own states of being.
Reaction #1: Admiration. She’s an archeologist. An archeologist! I never knew this. I realized I didn’t know a thing about her, and felt a lovely feeling of happy anticipation as we begin this small journey together.
Reaction #2: She probably reads more in a year than I’ll ever read in my lifetime. Right away, I thought, “I’m not even equipped to have this conversation because I can’t hold up my end! I haven’t read enough substantive material that supports my views to adequately back them up. (Self esteem tanks. I am “less than” because I don’t read as much.) Then I notice the story I made up in my head, and I let it go. Returned to my breath, and kept reading.
Reaction #3: “There’s something wrong with a person who reads this much. What’s she running away from?” (Ego vaunts itself. I am ‘more than’ because I don’t read as much.) I notice the story, let it go, returned to my breath, kept reading.
Reaction #4: Wow. I actually agree with a lot of what she is saying. I had no idea that someone as far out on the opposite end of the spectrum could be standing on so much common ground with me. (Note to self: Remember this, when hearing sound bites from the Other Side on tv or in conversation. Despite appearances to the contrary, we may be standing on more common ground than is visible in the moment.) I notice this opening, keep breathing, keep reading.
Reaction #4: Anger. “Oh come on. You’re smarter than to believe that! There’s no way you can even make that statement with a straight face.” I noticed the anger, the unexpressed sarcastic snort, and again my ineptitude at bringing hard facts forward to counter the offending statement, and the consequent self-belittlement. Noticed all those stories. They came rushing up in a nanosecond. I let them all go, returned to my breath, and continued reading.
Reaction #5: Curiosity. So many references she mentioned are things I want to investigate and read for myself. I am inspired by her to become intimate with the “facts” I think are facts. I don’t know they’re facts until I know. I’m always taking someone else’s word for it. I don’t have to do that. I can find out for myself. I can dig, ask, research. This is one of the great gifts she gave me. Noticed, breathed, read on.
Reaction #6: Challenge. There was a point she made that I disagree with, but it dawned on me that it may be because I don’t have all the information. I told her why I disagreed, owned that my disagreement was based on an assumption, and asked her to clarify her position. She did, and the point she’d made was more logical to me then. Even though I still disagreed.
There were many, many other reactions, feelings, and thoughts that came up during this conversation that involved several back and forth emails. I can’t remember them all. But this was a very rich experience, and it has opened my heart to a family member that I had basically written off. But I was lucky. I started with someone where for whom (and from whom) I felt a basically friendly feeling. What would happen if I did this with an enemy? That would be the next step. And what would happen if small groups that disagreed could come together, and share dialogue, noticing, letting go, breathing, and continuing? And then bigger groups? It’s an intention that I hold in my heart for the whole world.
Thank you, my cousin, for being wiling to meet me here. Thank you for letting me see you. We still disagree, but the nature of the disagreement actually enriches my life, now, rather than making it unpleasant. And the places where we agree reinforce my faith in the human race. Basically, at the core, we all want to be happy. And we all have our own routes that we think will get us there. And those routes create a complex, mysterious map of reaching past our differences for connection. My home is somewhere on that map. Come on over. Let’s talk. I’ll listen.