I have refrained from speaking out politically this year. Not because I don't think politics is important -- I do -- but because we seem to be in a political climate where, maybe even more than in previous years, discussion is vicious and I am really not in a place mentally where I care to invite vicious dialogue toward either myself or my friends in either political party.
I've seen it from both sides, and it makes me a little nauseous. I've seen people repost memes giggling at how fun it is to make liberals angry. I've heard people rant about how anyone voting Republican this election season is bigoted and hateful. I've read the comments laughing at how just plain stupid the other side is. I've never been more thankful in my life for the Facebook "unfollow" option.
Because you all realize that these aren't just talking points, right? These are actual people you're referring to. Some of these are actual people you might have a modicum of respect for. Four years ago, when Obama was reelected, a few people who I thought I was on good terms with posted furious Facebook rants about how stupid and evil anyone who voted for Obama must be. Well, I didn't vote that year for various reasons, but I would've voted for Obama. And I'm pretty sure if I talked to those people and asked them to straight up tell me if they thought I was stupid and evil, they'd immediately say no. But that is who they were talking to. When we mentally separate the talking points and stats from the human beings behind them, it becomes much easier to make broad generalizations
There have been times when I have found myself frustrated by the conservative right in recent years, but then I think of my wonderful conservative family members and friends who are kind and generous and intelligent and whose opinions and integrity I respect, and it becomes impossible for me to make blanket statements like "Republicans are all hateful" or "Republicans are all bigots." I may disagree with some of their points, but that never has to turn into the dark, angry rhetoric that is getting tossed around left and right.
In what way does it possibly help matters to sit at our computers or on our phones and take cruel pot shots at the other side, at our friends and neighbors and co-workers -- not at the points where we disagree, but at them themselves? How does it possibly help us be better people to assume the worst about everyone and make wild generalizations about half the country? How can we possibly think we're taking the moral high ground if we are treating the other side the same way we keep complaining they treat us?
This election season, I've decided relationships are more important to me than campaigning for the right candidate. So I'm not going to post snarky political comments or videos unless they invite actual edifying conversation. I'm not going to engage in political debates if I feel like either one of us is in a place where passion for our cause will make it difficult to discuss things civilly. I'm going to hide reposts from political meme sites because those typically either 1) take shots at me and make me angry/sad, or 2) encourage me to take shots at others and feel smug about myself.
Politics are important. There are positive changes we can make through who we vote into office. But right now, none of those changes can happen because each side is so furious with the other that they refuse to work together. I may not be able to change much about that, but I can change the way I interact with those around me.
More and more, I keep being convicted by what I think might be my new "life verse," or perhaps "life passage," in this instance:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)If I can spout political facts and stats at the drop of a hat and come up with a logical, rational reason why my candidate is the best but view my opposition with hatred, I have nothing.
If I convince others to vote for my preferred candidate but encourage them to look down sneeringly on the other party, I have nothing.
If I see myself trending toward arrogance, contempt, disgust, or hatred toward those who disagree with me, I need to stop and start finding my way back ASAP, because anything I do from that place is going to be gaining nothing because at that point I am becoming the kind of person who is making the world worse.
That may not look the same for everyone. Some of my friends are able to be extremely outspoken and passionate about political issues while still treating their opponents with respect and love. For me, I find, as I did four years ago, that it's best for me personally to take a step back -- at least from the rhetoric and the hype. So that's what I'll be doing, though I am always, always open to serious conversations with folks of similar and opposing beliefs who want to share their views.
I just encourage all of you to think of the best people in your life who hold the opposing view before you repost a meme or make a generalization. If you wouldn't say it to their face, don't say it with a silly picture. Don't be one of the people further opening the gap between right and left. Don't reinforce the idea that the world is in stark black and white, with all people obviously being either good or evil. Don't contribute to the polarization. Let's instead work together to encourage people to listen -- really listen -- to the other side and build bridges to reach each other rather than walls to keep each other out.