“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s a general rule we all know, at family gatherings like Thanksgiving or other social affairs where people come together who may not have lots in common, that we should “never talk about religion or politics.” Right now, in the wake of the deep, painful and frightening divisions the election brought to light, that’s likely good advice for those of us who will be breaking bread tomorrow with people whose views and votes go in very different directions than our own. And yet. And yet, maybe a good New Year’s resolution would be to start a new practice. At a wonderful yoga studio I used to frequent, we spoke of New Years Resolutionaries when the post-holiday surge kicked in. My thoughts right now are running along similar lines. Let’s learn the practice of talking politics where and when it’s hard.
Take me as an example. I am taking stands all over the place right now. I am completely on board with #BlackLivesMatter, have started making regular donations to Planned Parenthood, the Islamic Networks Group, the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign and several other organizations advocating for people who are directly at risk due to the ascendancy of the “alt-Right” white nationalists since the results of the election were announced. I have put my stakes in the ground. I have skin in the game. What I don’t have, however, is opportunities to dialogue with people who believe abortion is murder and should be treated as such, who believe for political and/or religious reasons that Islam is a threat to all the qualities that make this country great, who hold intimate relations of any sort outside of heterosexual marriage to be despicable and immoral, or who are convinced that the presidency of Barack Obama was a political catastrophe. I live and move in a universe in which most everyone looks and talks like me, holds the same views as I hold and is distraught at what has now befallen us. This is not okay.
It is not okay, because, with the exception of a very small number of true psychopaths, most of the people on “the Other Side” have reasons that on some very human level make sense and resonate with them for wanting to see homosexuality disappear, “big government” cut down to size, welfare cheats made to work and propagators of “political correctness” made to shut up. I can’t well point fingers at others for agitating to see some group of human beings marginalized, expelled, silenced or (heaven help us) exterminated, while at the same time wishing something similar be their fate. It’s not a matter of wishy-washy-Kumbaya-can’t-everyone-please-just-get-along foolish moral relativism. It’s a matter of, whether I like it or not, we truly are all in this together, for one; and it’s presumptuous of me and my kindred spirits to think we have a corner on wisdom and moral authority, for another.
In a life rich with many blessings, one I am especially grateful for is the opportunities it has offered me to connect with and get to know many different sorts of people, people of different backgrounds, cultures, faiths, ages, educations, occupations, etc. etc. etc. Why then should I be afraid to sit down and break bread together with someone who deeply believes it would have been a catastrophe for the nation had Hillary Clinton been elected as our next president? The simple reason, of course, is that I don’t really know how to do this and I expect with some justification that likely conversation partners may not either. As with any other difficult skill I wish to learn, there’s no way to do it other than doing it. And I can’t very well tell you that you should start engaging with people on the Other Side of whatever painful issue divides you, if I’m not willing to begin learning to do it myself.
A lot of hard ball politics is going to be played in the years ahead, hard ball such as this country may well not have seen since the run up to the Civil War. I know where I stand on most of the issues getting press now. As far as that goes, I am indeed fired up and ready to go. However, I’d heck of a lot rather figure out where folks on the Other Side are coming from, in the off chance we might find some common middle ground, than go for a zero-sum game out of which all of us will be losers. It’s unlikely I will find much to work with where the Steve Bannons of the world are concerned, but with the cousins and school and college friends and neighbors I hold in high esteem, we might just be able to work a few things out together. If nothing else, it’s not healthy to run around constantly on high alert, wary of attacks from every corner. Not for me personally, not for those I hold dear, and not for the nation I am a part of.
Talk politics. That’s what I want to learn how to do. Not with people I agree with on most things. With people I don’t on some, or even many, things.
A reminder to me: Here again are all the ways we are unique. Happy Thanksgiving.