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Two Tips for Those Rough Political Conversations

Many of us don’t have the luxury of insulating ourselves from those who occupy far-away-from-us places on the political landscape. Maybe they live in our house. Or they’re at work. Possibly we’re in love with them. From a Spiritual Workout perspective, there are two concepts that will go far to de-personalize and de-escalate tension in conversations with anyone who isn’t in our camp, as it were, while simultaneously elevating the discourse. If we do it right. :)

For example, a few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend who supported the last administration’s wall project on our southern border with Mexico. I didn’t. Instead of engaging familiar rhetorical flotsam and jetsam, I asked if we could experiment with keeping our conversation focused on two subjects: what we wanted (intentions matter) and what we believed (beliefs matter).

This was new for him so I went first. I said: I want to live in an America that works for everyone, where all the neighborhoods are good and everyone feels like they have an opportunity to pursue their happiness. Eye roll. I said I want to live in a compassionate, multi-racial, multi-ethnic society that merely does what our constitution intended in the first place. Bartender! I said I want America to have a dynamic, flexible, meets-our-needs immigration system that most Americans believe is fair.

And look at that: two Americans with two different visions for our country. Excellent! That’s what politics is all about, right? A competition of visions and ideas. Bring ‘em.

He hadn’t thought in these terms as much as I had but said that what he wanted for him and his kids and his grandchildren was to live in an America that was like his father’s and grandfather’s. He wouldn’t say it outright, but it sure seemed his idea was a not-quite multi-racial, not quite multi-ethnic scenario. And look at that: two Americans with two different visions for our country. Excellent! That’s what politics is all about, right? A competition of visions and ideas. Bring ‘em.

I also told him I thought the wall project itself was based on a belief that some people are better than other people. I understood that, as he said, most supporters of the project don’t walk around saying they believe some people are better than other people and that’s why they support the wall, but it seems to me like it’s what undergirds it all. Then again, I don’t get to decide what another person’s beliefs are so even if none of that was the case, even if not a single wall supporter believed that some people are better than other people, I also said I couldn’t support the project because it was an approach to immigration that was not a compassionate approach. I’m only interested in compassionate approaches to politics.

I’m not saying it was the smoothest, emotion-free conversation two people ever had. I am saying that we transcended a lot of typical, knee-jerk political debate. I am saying the energy was lighter. I listened a little bit more than usual. He said our conversation gave him a few things to think about, but he certainly wasn’t changing his mind about the wall. Neither was I. It seems that many of these conversations end in an agree-to-disagree place and that’s just fine, isn’t it? We don’t have to be disagreeable and, importantly, we don’t have to judge each other for our stances. Everyone always has a legitimate right to whatever beliefs they have and if we are being compassionate people, we don’t judge them for the ones they have. Ever.

Also, each relationship is different and everyone’s got to navigate for themselves what’s best: Agree to disagree and keep it going? Continue the conversation going in this more elevated, more conscious way? (Trust me, there will be plenty of other conscious considerations beyond beliefs and intentions.) Decide to leave the relationship? It’s pretty much case by case. Me and this guy? We decided to move on from our friendship. It’s a gentle way of saying it and it was a gentle process. No animosity, no vitriol, no violence. Just two people with not enough common ground between them to keep them interested in continuing their friendship. The sky did not fall.

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