I used to love politics and discussing them. I especially loved discussing them with friends and strangers who held different opinions, because it meant I learned something. Often, those discussions shifted my view, perhaps not of the world at large, but certainly related to specific topics. Today, while I still crave a sincere connection with those dear to me, I will do almost anything to avoid hearing, watching or discussing anything political. It makes my head hurt.
Where did the respect go?
People have always had their own opinions and drawn their own conclusions. And they may have even thought their friends who saw things differently were “misguided.” A decade ago, at least in my circle of friends, politics was not a polarizing subject. Friends could have different views, and even feel passionate about them, and not assume or accuse everyone who disagreed with them of being extremist, racist or evil.
When I look at my most intimate relationships, my immediate family, closest friends, and a small handful of men who at various times I once believed were my soul mate: we have all disagreed on things. Sometimes we disagreed on a lot! I’ve never thought anyone was inherently bad because we had different perspectives.
Truthfully, I have cousins and family friends who I won’t even read past two sentences of their emails if the topic is about something political because I just don’t want to go down that road. But I don’t think less of them as people. I don’t block them. I don’t think they are small-minded. I don’t dislike them or treat them differently. What I actually think is: I’ve seen a different piece of the world and been exposed to diverse views and cultures. We simply have a different reality. They are not deplorable, close-minded or ignorant. Why do I have to agree with them to care about them? Why can’t I care about them and simply accept that no two people see everything the same?
And what on earth happened to the media?
CNN was the only cable news channel that I knew existed when I was a kid. When I had my first TV News reporting internship at 19, I remember watching CNN in the KNDO-TV newsroom with the other news staff. By the time the Fox News Channel launched in 1996, I had just left TV news for corporate communications. I never considered news organizations to be “politically leaning.” Today, people actually choose one channel over another expecting the reporting to match their views.
When I worked in news, all reporters were expected to be fair, unbiased, professional and respectful. We didn’t replay old interviews and file footage from weeks before to garner sympathy or rally support for or against the coverage of a natural disaster. (I actually saw an example of this on a broadcast channel’s evening news this past week – same exact soundbites and file footage previously used at least a week before – with a new soundtrack and updated graphics/numbers, as if it were video captured that day.) Today, at some organizations, journalists are promoted based on how edgy, controversial and provocative they sound and how that translates to polarizing viewers and ratcheting up ratings.
But here’s the real problem: As a society we are spiraling down.
We aren’t becoming gentler and more understanding, more tolerant and compassionate. We aren’t becoming more enlightened, connected and more supportive of our local and global neighbors. As a nation and a world, we are tearing each other apart. It’s so sad and it needs to stop. It needs to stop with each of us because it’s not going to be stopped by the people who are gaining attention by being divisive and provocative. Those people are selling books and cheering ratings. This environment actually benefits some of them.
If we want a better world, we have to create it.
We – ordinary, everyday people – have to create it! We have to stop making sweeping judgments and start embracing our differences (even those with opinions we find disagreeable.) We have to practice kindness. We have to give people the benefit of doubt. We have to welcome those with views that absolutely do not match ours. We don’t have to read all their emails, but we need to treat them with dignity as people. Because we are all people and we all deserve to be treated with dignity.
I was at dinner with a favorite couple of mine a few months back and one of the gentlemen was sharing his opinion on current events. I listened, validated a part of it as common ground, and then shared the part of my perspective that didn’t match what he thought. He was horrified that he might have offended me. His response was, “I never would have said anything. I hope I didn’t offend you. I thought you agreed with me.” I assured him he could never offend me, and I thanked him profusely for sharing and begged him to keep sharing. I assured him I loved him, and not because we agreed or disagreed, but because he is an amazing man, intelligent, creative, admirable, with a deeply caring and compassionate nature, driven to help those less fortunate. I adore this man. I assured him that when we disagree, he gives me information to ponder and learn from and factor into my worldview. I assured him that I want to keep hearing his thoughts, especially when they disagree with mine because it’s how we both grow.
I wish I could tell you this brought us closer, but it hasn’t. Unfortunately we live in a world right now where a lot of people think that if you support a different political candidate or you hold a different view on a ballot proposition (or current event) that you agree with everything everyone else who votes the same way does. When in fact, it’s possible you’re not voting for someone but rather against their opponent. Or maybe someone is voting up or down a proposition for a different reason than someone else.
I miss my friend. I’ve run into him and of course he’s polite, but now he’s guarded. He doesn’t suggest meeting for dinner anymore. I miss the world I used to live in where our friends loved us for our depth of character, and our sense of integrity, rather than with which political circle we support or identify. I miss watching the news when politicians were dignified and the furthest the media went was poking fun at a president who created his own vocabulary words. I miss the days of really knowing where my friends stood and feeling safe respectfully sharing our views.
The truth is, politics has changed, and it has changed me. But I still think about the way things used to be and hold out hope that brighter days are ahead if collectively we move forward together.
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