The other day I was driving down the street and saw a group of people braving the drizzly weather in ponchos, holding signs for a political candidate.
I am not the kind of person who would ever do that unless I was related to the candidate and even then, that candidate would owe me brownies or something. So I didn’t think much of it.
But as I drove by, I saw a car roll down its window and the passenger made a big show of giving a big thumbs down and yelled a few choice words at them.
And I just thought, This has got to stop.
Why do this? Why be hateful to people you don’t even know? Why be hateful to anyone? Especially because of politics?
It’s bad enough that you feel like you’re walking on eggshells on Facebook all the time. Most people I know get into the habit of hiding people from their feeds when their status updates get too overtly political. And I don’t know many people who wouldn’t happily delete a comment someone else made on their wall that tried to pick a political fight with them or someone else.
I know we’re all surrounded by politics right now and it gets annoying. When we stayed in Texas with my parents for a month, a political primary was coming up and there was a local race that had the kind of ads that make you want to puke, that boil down to little more than So-and-so is a insert derogatory word here. These insults usually were something like “Washington insider” or “Bad for Texas.” What they boiled down to was old-fashioned name-calling. It pained me to see these ads, and everyone I talked to felt the same way. They weren’t effective, no one even noticed who was throwing mud at who anymore.
I don’t think the answer is to suspend all political talk. After all, it’s important that we know what’s going on and are able to voice our opinions. As I learned in law school, political speech is the most protected speech.
I think we need to change how we talk about it.
I also think we need to change how we respond to it.
Here’s the thing. I have friends. You have friends. I like these people. For the majority of my friends, I have no idea what their political affiliation is. But it would be foolish of me to assume that all my friends feel the same way that I do. I don’t even agree with my parents, so it’s likely I disagree with many people I’m close to, whose friendships I treasure.
So how to talk about politics without stepping on the toes of my friends or hurting someone’s feelings? I try to do it respectfully. I try to think about the fact that people disagree with me. I try to think of what other people say that offends or hurts me and avoid it.
But obviously that’s not enough. Just hiding the crazy-in-the-tank folks from your Facebook page doesn’t fix all these problems, right? If it did, why would that lady in the car have felt the need to respond so hurtfully to people she didn’t know at all based only on the fact that she didn’t want to vote for their candidate?
Why, when someone posts a link with a political agenda do we feel the need to respond that we disagree or that we’re upset by it? Why can’t we just, well, let it go? Live and let live a little more often? Why do we feel the need to correct someone when they don’t agree with us?
It’s not just about what we say, it’s about how we respond. Both of them are ways that we can show respect. And show what we expect from the world and from each other.
I don’t expect you all to agree with me on everything. And while I try to keep the blog nonpartisan, I feel that if we were more open about things sometimes it might make things easier.
For example, I plan to vote for Obama this year. That doesn’t mean I agree 100% with his policies or agendas. It doesn’t mean I feel like he is perfect or his party is perfect. It’s simply what I feel like my choice should be based on my own opinions and concerns.
Notice I don’t say it’s the right choice. I feel like so much of our political speech is embedded with this morality underneath it, this idea that I am voting this way because it is better and if you don’t you are somehow worse.
Reasonable minds can differ. I love and respect a lot of people who plan to vote for Romney. I don’t think less of them because of that. And I don’t want them to think less of me because of my preferences.
The media likes to make it a horserace. And the parties want to turn it into a good vs. bad decision. But you know what? Last time I checked, both parties have taken plenty of turns running this country. We are still here. We are still together. We continue to make progress. We continue to be one nation all together.
I don’t like seeing words like dangerous in political discussions. Or evil. Or wrong.
What I do like is people talking about what’s important to them, what they’re passionate about, and causes they’d like to support. Politics has too much negativity already. Let’s find what we have in common and then we can figure out how to work together towards those goals. Because I’m pretty sure we agree a lot more than we realize.
So what are my issues? Where are my passions?
My husband is going into medical research. Funding for science is important to us, not only because of his career but because we feel like it leads to important breakthroughs that benefit everyone.
I spent years as a public defender who worked with a lot of families and children. It’s important to me that programs that help people with mental health needs and provide extra family support stay intact and get stronger. I’ve seen the impact they have on people’s lives, and I’ve seen how easy it is for many of us to live our lives with no idea of the things people struggle with all around us.
My son is autistic. I’ve seen the difference in services we’ve received here in Massachusetts than a lot of other states provide. I feel that it saves us money in the long-run to help kids with difficulties through early intervention services and school-provided structures that are effective and respond to the needs of families.
And after the first debate, I’m really concerned about the way we talk about poverty in this country. Politicians pander to the middle-class, and “the poor” are mentioned as an afterthought. I wish we focused on the poor, the needy, the homeless, the sick, the disabled without talking about entitlements or laziness. I wish we talked about how to find real help for communities that need it.
These are things I feel passionately about. But I don’t see much of this in our discussion. Some of this is my own fault. I’m not standing up and saying how I feel the way I should. And I feel like we benefit when we look at these issues in a way that’s courteous, but also a way that’s personal.
That’s one reason I love blogs. My eyes have been opened to so many different kinds of triumphs and struggles that I didn’t see or that the people around me didn’t always share openly.
Something else I believe in: voting. In law school when I read the cases around the one-person-one-vote idea, I felt inspired and proud of my country. In Massachusetts, registering to vote is a kind of annoying process (which should really be digitized, people!) and since we’ve moved we have to re-register.
So I want to end by reminding you to vote. And there’s a handy little form you can fill out right here.
Full disclosure: this is a form I am using in participation with the #blogforobama campaign which I’m doing through The Mission List. (Totally uncompensated.) I thought long and hard about whether to post anything political because it can be so tricky. But in the end, the tricky-ness of it was exactly why I felt I should post. Because I feel like we’re pretty open here at the Mess. And I want you to see that I have this point of view because it’s part of me. And I want you to say, hey, we agree/disagree and that’s okay. Because that’s how I feel about all of you. I would never want someone to stop reading my site because they disagreed with my beliefs, be they political or religious or otherwise.
I know it’s possible to talk about this stuff like grown-ups. I’ve seen it happen.
And we, as adults, talk so much about how bad bullying is, and yet isn’t it bullying to leave someone out of your circle or call names because of what they think or who they are? Maybe it’s not their clothes or their looks, but it’s still part of who they are.
So. I love you guys. Thanks for reading. Thanks for still reading even if you like/dislike Obama or Romney or whoever.
You know another thing I’m passionate about? The internet being a place for everybody to come together and support each other.
Maybe it’s foolish of me to think that a few of us deciding to be more respectful in how we talk to each other and respond to each other could have an impact in the world. But I’ll strive for it anyway.