This election cycle has me obsessed with political news. More than at any previous time in my life, I’m realizing how deeply government and politics affect how we live and work and raise our families. I feel a need to know and understand more about who runs this world we live in and how they do it, and what I can do to influence the process.
Maybe it’s because I’m a writer that I’m drawn to diving deep into politics at this moment when our entire political system seems to be in upheaval. I want to learn more and I want to discuss what’s happening, to hear others’ opinions and see things from their viewpoint.
I realize, though, that everyone doesn’t have this same desire, or the time for it. The minutiae of every day must be attended to, and besides, who wants to be so serious all the time? But there’s also that old unwritten rule, that you shouldn’t talk politics if you want to keep the peace. To most people I know, talking politics is like cursing in a preschool classroom. You just don’t do it.
We don’t want to talk with our family and friends about our political opinions because we know how we feel about those people who disagree with us, those folks on the other side of the aisle, so to speak. We think they’re crazy or stupid or ignorant or criminal. And if we feel that way about them, we understand they probably feel the same way about us. So it’s best to keep quiet about that political stuff. Best to chat about last week’s rain or that new TV series and leave it at that.
We can’t talk about politics because we don’t know how to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with our point of view without it turning into a fight. We don’t know how to discuss and debate our opinions without trying to shove them down each other’s throats. We don’t know how to respect our opponent’s humanity despite disagreeing with so much of what they say.
So we remain silent. We keep our political secrets. Once in a while we share an article or a meme. We cross our fingers that no will leave a comment we’ll need to delete.
Is it any wonder that this election cycle has devolved the way it has, with candidates hurling insults at each other, at members of the press, and at entire social groups? If we cannot discuss issues that are of the utmost importance to our lives within our own personal circles, how can we be surprised that those who proclaim to represent us cannot have civil debates? Our government is a reflection of who we are. Our government is created by us.
I try to create for my kids an environment in which we discuss current events and government goings on at the dinner table, each of us offering our thoughts and listening to the others, challenging, correcting. We debate, yes. Sometimes those debates become arguments. But most importantly, we share information. We learn from each other. And there’s never a reprimand for disagreement, only the requirement that you must be able to defend your position. It doesn’t matter if we leave the table in disagreement, so long as we continue to love each other despite our differences of opinion.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this could be a model for all our interactions, if we could talk with our acquaintances and friends and extended family about the issues that are important to our lives and livelihoods, if we could learn from each other and have disagreements without them dissolving our relationships? This is the idealist in me speaking.
The realist in me knows we’re too removed from each other to make anything like this work. But every great change begins with one small step. Perhaps we can begin simply by speaking, by breaking our political silence. And by listening to each other. Because maybe if we really hear each other, we’ll realize that those people who seem so opposite of us in their ideas and beliefs are not that different from us at their core. We all want lives with less suffering and more celebration, with less ugliness and more beauty.
It’s not the shenanigans of politicians that merit discussion, but the ramifications of politics itself, the role of government in our everyday lives. Because we care about our lives, we must care about government and politics. Because our lives are important, those who represent our lives in government must be important to us. The things that matter most in our lives are exactly the things we should talk about, with everyone, in every context. It is only through communicating with each other about political issues that we will be able to conceive of the best solutions, the solutions that do the most good and the least harm.