The B-Blog: The Presidential Election: How To Get Along With People From the “Other Side” – Nov, 2016
The other day I dropped by the Talent Agency I belong to, and struck up an inspiring conversation with a fellow actor I didn’t know very well. The connection was great and I was thinking how fun it would be to hang out with them outside of work… When somehow the subject of the upcoming presidential election came up. Suddenly this lovely person broke into vitriol of the saliva-flying kind. The common ground we’d developed over the past few minutes was instantly left in the dust. The connection was broken. All I wanted to do was just get the hell out of there.
I don’t blame anyone for having strong opinions about politics right now. I know I do. The sad reality however, is these passions have the potential to drive wedges into relationships of all kinds, old and new.
You may have a neighbor you’ve shared warm conversations with over the years… And then one day you walked outside only to see they’ve put a political sign in their yard supporting the OTHER candidate – the crazy, sick one! (Either candidate fits that description depending which side you start from).
Suddenly you have to wonder: “How could that sweet person be voting for them? I thought they were… well, cool. Loving. Kind. More like… me.”
It’s disturbing… They seem so different now… And yet, they’re still the kind neighbor you knew before. It’s an “Alice In Wonderland” moment… Or maybe more like “The Shining.”
So how can we feel our strong political feelings – and yet not blast each other with them, ruining connections in the process?
Well… It’s not easy. Probably the easiest way to handle it is to not hang out with anyone from the “other camp” for a little while longer – or at least agree to not bring up politics. But while I’m hoping this insane divisiveness doesn’t continue past the election… it might. So simply avoiding “those” people isn’t a longterm solution.
Here’s what I’ve personally decided to focus on during these trying times:
1) To be curious.
Some of the most fascinating and even fruitful conversations I’ve had over the years have been with people with extremely different political views than my own. What made these interactions work is that both of us were willing to accept the fact we had different opinions – and to not freak out about it. From that baseline, we were open to being curious.
So many Mind Loops (judgment, criticism, resentment, hatred) are based on misinterpretations. We make assumptions about their views or motivations, without asking for more information. For instance, you could ask:
What is it about their candidate that makes them want to vote for them?
What do they hope to receive in exchange for their vote?
What, to them, are the most important issues coming up during this election cycle, and why do they think their candidate can do something about those issues?
(We’re attempting here to keep the focus here on what they like about their candidate instead of what they hate about the other candidate – the one you’re voting for. It leads to less divisive and more informative discourse).
And… You might want to start with, “Is it going to be okay with you if we agree to disagree?” (and make sure it’s okay with you too). Because there’s a good chance that just listening to each other’s responses will be very challenging. But if both people have the intention to keep the nastiness and blaming down, and simply seek to understand, there’s a chance something inspiring can occur.
You could also ask if they’d be open to your thoughts on the subjects they bring up (and vice versa). Both of you have the right to say no. But the benefits of being curious are enormous – and might just save your friendship.
2) To literally remind myself that we’re all part of the human race.
We’re all part of humanity. We all have the same desires: To love and be loved, to be of value in some way, to go beyond survival and not have to constantly struggle. It’s pretty basic.
We’re different… And yet we’re the same.
When I remind myself of this, I can find more room for compassion, understanding, and affection. That doesn’t mean I have to be silent about my views. It also doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around and just soak in the negative energy of red-faced, screaming venom about politics – nor am I going to do that to someone else. We can go politically ballistic in the privacy of our own minds, or with friends who have the same views as us.
Debating with someone with opposing views can certainly be important and necessary – as long as we’re not set on changing anyone’s minds. Because, come on. Most of us know how we’re going to vote. And nothing someone else says is going to change how I feel about my choice. They feel the same way about their choice too. So I’m deciding to respect that.
I’d like to end this article with an interesting thought:
Have you noticed how people with opposing views and different backgrounds will finally band together – naturally – in the midst of a disaster?
Think of New York City after 911. For a (sadly) short time, people of all economic backgrounds, ages, and cultures helped each other out. New Yorkers kept remarking that Kindness was actually palpable in the subways and streets, cafes and offices.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could band together without having to experience the terror, hardship, and sadness of a major disaster? Well… (sigh). One can wish anyway.
Even though this election can feel like War of the Worlds, I sometimes imagine what would happen if aliens actually did attack our Earth. Maybe that’s what it would take for us all to band together. Because then it would be “us against them” in a really big way – instead of Democrats against Republicans, haves against have-nots, black against white, man against woman, neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.
When it comes down to it, no matter how alien people who are voting for the “other candidate” may seem to us… they’re still human. Just like you, and me.
Wishing you lots of equanimity this week – no matter who you’re voting for. 🙂
War of the Worlds artwork by Shane Gallagher, DeviantArt.com