I am a political person. Which is weird to say, because the truth is and has to be, that we are all political people. Politics are personal and the personal is political. You have no choice in the matter. You are a political person if you exist in modern society. If you do not participate, your inaction is a political choice. If you do not educate, seek information and explore your political options- you are still making a political choice- just an ill-informed and misplaced choice. Still, we are all political people. I think a better way to describe my differences in comparison to others is I am a politically ACTIVE person. I love to read and discuss the beltway political scene. I love to surround myself with well-informed and educated people who are active in local and state issues. I do not agree with them sometimes and commiserate and revel in our similarities other times; because the truth is that no matter what side of the political aisle you are on- I know we agree on certain things. This aspect of my political experience has given me the greatest returns, my ability to empathize- even if I can’t agree.
Roland’s father is a great example of my polar opposite in political think. Where I veer left he veers right. Where I tend to socialistic tendencies, he sits staunchly on the conservative line. You would think that the arguments would explode, the cataclysmic shifts would make Thanksgivings, birthdays and Christmases a nightmare. “Don’t put these two ideologically opposite people next to each other! Gasp!” And yet, I find that our political discussions are some of the most enlightening, challenging and engaging conversations I have. Mostly because I love him. He is my father-in-law, he is quirky and slightly alarming, but he is my husband’s father- and I see Roland in him all of the time- so I can’t help but love him. And the love, allows me to empathize with his political beliefs.
I will not change people’s minds. This was my divine lesson from my twenties as a political activist (or the wife of a political activist). When working with the canvass office, you learn early to utilize your time effectively. If you get a door that someone wants to argue, who obviously doesn’t believe in climate change, you humbly take your leave and find the door of someone who is in agreement, or at least willing to listen. You don’t waste your time and the money of the political campaign “changing minds”. It makes sense. It takes a special moment to get me to “change my mind” because changing my mind means an admittal that I was wrong, it is akin to giving in or giving up and our human species has not survived by giving up! So, I must understand that whatever I say is not going to change this 65-year-old man’s mind. He’s had 65 years to gather his opinions, make his choices, live his life according to these marching orders and some upstart 33-year-old socialist isn’t going to shake that foundation!
I like to think of these conversations like a reconnaissance mission. I am gathering information, learning the inner secrets of the cylon mind. (sorry- I just started Battlestar Galactica- and it is taking all my will power to write this blog and not just sit and watch BSG for the next 10-12 hours.) (OH- and before people get all angry that I am comparing Republican Conservatives to cylons- I am.) This little mind game helps me get past “angry” to “disappointment” and eventually “understanding”, because the truth of the matter is that Pop has these beliefs for a reason. His upbringing wasn’t easy, his salvation through the Catholic Church and his wife and her family, the choice of his career as a banker all of these visceral real moments in his life has created his belief system, and I can see why he has these ideas. I do not fault him for a difference of opinion because there is nothing innately wrong with his opinion… it’s just different. Once I understood his footing and his background and his positions, I was able to find commonality in our belief systems.
My own political background is shaped by my own history and family. Union father, Teaching Aunts, Government-working Aunts and Uncles- these people were staunchly Democrat and influenced my left leaning ways. My father grew into a Socialist after visiting Holland and seeing the benefits of Government Sponsored Education and Socially Progressive Initiatives that allowed people more freedom, because they didn’t have to worry about retirement as it was publicly provided and lauded. (Yes, we have a Public Educational System. Yes we have Social Security. But these are fought for tooth and nail to keep in the auspices of the Federal Government instead of in the private sector. I know there are good arguments on both side of these issues, and I too share a healthy fear of the government’s capabilities- but I hold an equally healthy fear of the private sectors capabilities.) The fact that when I became politically aware, my parents were beginning to explore the farther left regions of the political scale and I was there for the discussions that surrounded the dinner table makes me who I am. The messages seeped in my brain, and I created the leftist leaning socially progressive woman I am today.
So when talking to Pop, or other people who have different views than I, I take pride in my ability to put them at ease. I am not here to attack, I am not here to demonize, I am not here to admonish or belittle your opinion. I try to ask honest questions and I always try to find out How They Got Here. What happened in your life to give you these opinions, because I know moments in mine that created my opinions. I had moments as a union member, seeing a woman get hurt on the job, and what the union did to provide her with appropriate compensation that really concreted my belief in collective action. I had moments where I saw what war did to my father, the gut reaction and muscle memory that he exhibits in his daily life that solidified my pacifist tendencies. I’ve been faced with unwanted choices and have had the opportunity to make my own decision and not have to resort to backhanded dealing to make it happen which is why I staunchly support Planned Parenthood and the Rights of Women. These are my moments, that while you may or may not agree, should help you understand where I Am Coming From.
I am sharing this ability of empathy because I truly believe that empathy is what is going to save the human race. Our power to empathize is the most powerful tool to combat most of what ails us as a species. This power is within all of us, but it is a muscle that needs practice, it is a gift that needs to be shaken and dusted off, we need to relearn how to use it and implement it. It should be our fall back position. It should be our neutral. Empathy should be where we rest: always on, always ready. I know that my relationship with so many people is foundated on my working empathy muscle. I work hard to make sure I am aware of the other’s belief system and instead of faulting them for it, I revel in what makes them unique.
Work your empathy muscle this week. Tell me how it goes. Tell me when and where you put yourself aside and empathized with someone you could have easily hated. I promise you will feel more grounded and secure in yourself and your beliefs because of the experience!