Maybe it’s naive to think politics was ever civil, but I like to think people on opposite sides of the political spectrum at least respected the right of others to disagree. But it appears real political dialogue, discussion, and debates are non-existent in our current age of social media. Virulent attacks from behind our keyboard to anyone who disagrees have become the norm. And the rise of memes only adds to this hostile nature of political dialogue.
Being in the throes of motherhood while living as an expat in the United Kingdom has given me a unique perspective on recent events. The inquisitive nature of this hugely pregnant mom hollering at a toddler while putting a straw in a juice box for one of her other children doesn’t come across as threatening. And I’ve had a front row seat this week as an impartial observer to one of the most monumental votes in modern British history. Living in the UK also lets me stay a few steps removed from the constant news cycle coverage of the U.S.’s own political circus in the run-up to our elections. This is my take away: Ridiculing, mocking, bullying, and dismissing the Other’s arguments or beliefs as racist, immoral, communist, or uneducated do not further the conversation or allow us to engage in meaningful dialogue.
My six-year-old had lots of questions today after listening to another conversation with her mommy’s newest British acquaintance about his thoughts on the recent vote. She already understood people could vote “to leave” or “remain” but rather than explaining the intricacies of the EU to her, I decided to use it as a basic lesson in democracy. My oversimplified analogy went something like this. We are playing at the playground and I give you and your brothers the option of continuing to play at the playground or going to see Finding Dory at the theater this afternoon. You want to go see Finding Dory. Your four-year-old brother wants to stay at the playground. I say we’ll do whatever the majority of my kids want to do. Your littlest brother (he’s almost two) doesn’t know which to choose. Both older siblings begin trying to convince the younger sibling to choose what they want. But they aren’t nice about it. They call him names and make him feel stupid for not having a stronger opinion and then criticize whatever decision they think he’s leaning towards. Instead of attempting to explain what the movie is about and how he’ll get popcorn and candy or elaborating on how much fun can still be had at the playground, you are both mean to him. In the end, he makes the last-minute decision to go see Finding Dory. Your brother who wants to stay at the playground is mad, throws a temper tantrum, and says it wasn’t fair. Maybe little brother didn’t realize going to the movie theater means we can’t go back to the playground later. He’s just a baby—he didn’t deserve a vote anyhow. But, regardless, the decision has been made.
Now, before you rip me a new one for an imperfect, oversimplified analogy, hear me out. This is how the conversation ended with my daughter. “It’s not about the ultimate decision or how you feel about it. It’s about how you treated your little brother. You had an opportunity to teach him something or nicely encourage him to consider a different perspective. But instead you were both mean. He made his decision but was bullied and belittled in the process.”
So here’s my challenge for today. Find someone whose views are polar opposite from your own and just listen. Don’t ask leading or pointed questions. Don’t respond. Just listen. And don’t stop there, before posting your latest political meme, research the other side’s position. Look beyond the surface and your pre-conceived notions about their crap ideology and actually research the legitimate concerns held by people on that side of the spectrum. You may still completely disagree, but maybe you’ll see your neighbor as more than a racist farmer or socialist hippie. We may never see eye to eye, but maybe we will bring a little respect back to the table.