I have a confession, I love politics.
I love listening to the talking heads debate policy. I love the analysis after an address or state of the union. I love tracking the polls. Every four years on election night I channel surf all of the channels as the results come in, staying up until someone hits that magic 270 number. This is a love that started in college, when my friends and I would debate the pros and cons of George Bush and Bill Clinton over endless cups of coffee at Eat-n-Park. Of the four, two of us were on opposite sides of the partisan divide while the other two were closer to the middle. None of us agreed 100% on any of it, but we all loved talking about it.
I can’t imagine that happening today. The country is too polarized to have a civil political discussion. Sure, the nature of politics can lead to some very strong divides, but to the point that campaign headquarters are burned and newspaper editors receive death threats? It seems like we are at an all time low when it comes to respecting different opinions, villianizing those who hold them, claiming they’re ruining the country through either willful ignorance or a hatred for all that is good a decent.
This is the time of year when Facebook purges happen. You’ve probably seen (or done) a post saying, “If you can read this, you made the purge. So tired of hearing all the negative voices!” A purge is usually the result of an intense Facebook argument about a controversial subject. I saw purges after Kaitlyn Jenner made the cover of Vanity Fair, after the Supreme Court LGBT decision, and during Obama’s re-election. In the discussion of one of these complex issues someone will cross the line of civility with a hurtful comment. Possibly unintentionally, possibly not. In that moment of hurt we may ask ourselves, “why was I friends with this idiot in the first place?” We go through our friends list and starting with the primary offender, pick off dissenters one by one. Who is left is a group of people who either think like us or know better than to challenge us on this particular issue.
We now live in a world where it is easy to avoid things we disagree with. We can choose news stations that fit our political view, we can read articles from clearly partisan blogs, and we can silence the friends we don’t agree with. It’s no wonder we are getting more and more polarized, all we are getting is one point of view.
This is where I would normally talk about the first principle, that we are all worthy of respect and dignity no matter what our opinions are, et cetera, et cetera. That’s true, we should respect all people but what about their opinions? If someone says something hateful and ignorant do we need to respect that? The fourth principle is about the free and responsible search for truth. While this principle encourages people to inspect sacred writings with a critical eye and not just blindly believe what they hear, it applies beyond that. The responsible search for truth means hearing all sides with an open mind. It means taking time to get to know the person, to understand why they believe as they do and where their opinion is born from. While we may not agree with the conclusions their life and experience brought them to, we may find the core of their truth has a lot in common with the core of our own truth.
I have a half sister. I had only met her once when I was growing up and thanks to Facebook, she was able to find me about ten years ago. We had a few Facebook conversations and decided to meet up face to face during the holidays. As we got to know each other, we learned that politically and religiously, we did not think alike at all. However, we both gently asked questions about each other’s beliefs, what the reasons behind those beliefs were. I found that her spirituality brings her comfort in times of crisis and helps to remind her what is truly important. It allows her to feel connected to something larger than herself and is part of something inherently good. The details of her spirituality are vastly different than mine, but the core of what her faith does for her is strikingly similar to mine.
Our relationship is one that could have very easily been dismissed. We could have looked at all of the differences between us and continue to be strangers to each other, but I felt that family deserves more than that (and I’m pretty sure my sister feels the same way.) We both decided to look for what would bring us together and not what would bring us apart. No, we are not going to agree on everything but I need that in my life. She keeps me asking questions about my own beliefs and reminds me to consider deeply the opinions of those who don’t think like I do. She keeps my search for truth responsible. She is helping me live into my dream of the global community.
So, it’s kind of important that I keep her in my Facebook feed. And my life.
I encourage you to lean into the opinions that challenge you. Ask yourself why they are causing you so much stress. If you are feeling particularly daring, ask that co-worker or relative with the different outlook why they think that way, but only if you can do it without judging them. This is an opportunity to be open to someone else and listen, not a time to convert or cajole. Look for common ground, it’s the free and responsible thing to do.