I participate in Quora. It’s a website where people ask and answer questions – all sorts of questions. I love reading the questions that people ask about politics and religion, among other subjects. Some of them are quite funny. Some questions are clearly leading questions – not really interested in answers, but trying to make their points. Other questions make no sense and leave me scratching my head.
I came across a question yesterday that dealt with politics. It was asking if a certain political party has lost touch with reality. I was curious about the answers that followed. The question was obviously leading as the questioner had clearly made up their mind in the way they asked the question.
There was a range of answers – some said definitely yes, and others said definitively no. There was no in between. Usually the no answers were quick to point out how the other party had lost touch with reality.
After reading a few of these answers and contemplating the situation, I wrote my own answer:
“It seems to me that as a deeply divided nation (that has been trending this way for decades, maybe even since the founding of the nation), that we are moving into alternate realities in which each side sees the other as not just opponents, but the personification of all that is evil and destructive. Both sides use the English language, but their definition are not the same and so left and right are actually speaking two different languages and living in two very unrelated realities, with different definitions of what is good and what is not. These two realities share very little in terms of values as well.”
I think it goes beyond this though. When we live in a dualistic world in which there are only two options, everyone gets shoved into a camp. In terms of politics, you are either left or right. There is no other option because how else are we to determine if you are right or wrong, good or bad?
I don’t see the world in a dualistic sense, regardless of my answer above. I think the world is much more complicated than that. In my experience, I have yet to meet anyone that believes 100% what their political party claims to believe in. This means that there are ranges. Range is a form of grace as far as I’m concerned. Range of answers means that people are complicated and can’t be put into a nice neat box.
It’s always fun when there is a discussion about politics. Yes, I’m one of those folks who enjoys a good conversation about deep important topics. Those topics get to the heart of who we are and our very identities, what causes us to be afraid, and what causes us to be alive. You can learn a great deal about people from these conversations.
Often when talking about politics, there is a point in which someone will make a statement that is designed to slap a label on someone in order to dismiss their arguments more easily. “Well, you only say that because you are a (Democrat/Republican)… The fun begins when I answer that I’m not registered in either party. There is usually an effort to figure out a way to make force me into the left/right categorization. It gets even better when I state that I look forward to the day when both parties dissolve and are forgotten on the ash heap of history and not replaced. And no, I’m interested in promoting a third party either. Now what? What does one do with that?
There’s at least two options – 1. end the conversation, insist on a label and be done because we are at an impasse and I’m not cooperating in the labeling. No one grows. No one learns. But we get to feel secure in our belief that we are right and the other person is wrong. And dismiss them. 2. Listen, talk, learn, grow. But remember, I don’t believe in dualistic thinking, so I’d say there are other options too. 3. Sit with being uncomfortable that everyone doesn’t fit into the nice neat boxes. 4. See the image of God in the other person and see that their value doesn’t come from their beliefs. 5. Move from abstract tweet/bumper sticker rhetoric to actual conversation about issues knowing that they are complex and there are rarely easy answers to the problems we face. 6. Look for how we are similar and recognize that we have a mutual desire – to improve life and that getting there is really complicated. 7. Talk about definitions – just because we are using the same words, does not me we mean the same thing. This list could go on. Because each person is complicated and there aren’t nice easy ways to deal with people especially when we are talking about difficult and deeply important topics that touch on our very identity.
Are those who believe differently from me in the same reality? In one sense, no – especially if our values, culture, understanding of history, how we value people, our sense of truth, the words that we use and how, etc are different. But that’s not an excuse to write someone off. It’s an opportunity to learn and make a visit to a different reality. The point of this isn’t to convince someone that they are wrong, but rather to learn about their reality so you know how to deal with someone who might be in a similar reality. You’ll learn if it’s worth your time to engage in conversation and how to converse effectively. You’ll learn if there is any possibility that the other person in an alternate reality has the capacity to see beyond their belief of right/wrong, or if they only care about compliance with their version of truth. You’ll learn what folks fear and the triggers that set them off. You’ll learn the language and the definitions. You’ll learn what the values actually are and how that relates to how those values are lived out.
You’ll learn. And as a result, you’ll grow. The goal isn’t to change others, but to be changed. So that your perspective of the world is widened. The goal is move into a different reality – a better one. A reality in which not everyone is going to get along, or believes the same thing, but rather a reality in which I can have more compassion, have an easier time seeing the image of God in others, where I can love my neighbor and my enemy, where I can bring out the value and worth of people I encounter. I can’t change anyone else. I can only be changed. And hopefully make a positive impact on the world. That’s the reality I choose to live in.