Have you noticed? People are on edge about this election. I’m not doing any political commentary here, so please relax as you read. What I’m pondering is how anxious people are about what happens in November. It is well documented that they are. Family members who are on opposite sides of the “divide” don’t want to get together for gatherings (those small group get-togethers that COVID19 allows). Someone I know well said this the other day, “We don’t dare say a word about politics with many of my friends. It gets hot right away!”
Polarization is the word social scientists use to describe our situation. Most of us have heard that word enough to know it means tension between people who normally might be delighted to be together and have fun, enjoy conversation and the natural flow of relationships. But right now, it’s a challenge to avoid the hot buttons.
Of course, many of us find out which of our friends or family agree with us on politics, and so with them we talk freely. It’s such a relief, and we laugh and commiserate with one another about how goofy or distressing the other side is. But that just demonstrates all the more how separate we are from one another, from those with whom we probably disagree.
A few times I have said I wish I could just go to sleep and wake up in mid-November, find out what the results are and live with it. But that illustrates again how uncomfortable this political contest is for me; maybe for you, too.
I propose to at least take some time over the next couple months to ask some friends a few questions that might open us up to discovering things and exploring our hopes, our concerns, perhaps our disagreements, and doing so with quiet respect. I don’t think our TV commentators will help us much with this. They try to do their job and present us with information, facts interpreted, and the ongoing drama about what so-and-so said yesterday or this morning, and what it might mean tomorrow.
I suggest that we use gentle questions to learn something from one another, and perhaps grow our relationships deeper. The main aim is to simply understand one another. I want to use a few starters like these:
So, what are you most concerned about for our country at this time?
What’s really important to you that you wish could be improved?
How do you think we can make progress toward those goals?
How do you wrestle with the conflicting opinions or information we hear on TV?
Dr. Tania Israel, a professor of counseling, suggests we really work at active listening, being curious about that other person, listening to understand them, rather than only waiting to respond with an alternative view. That is a debate, not a dialogue. Of course, this means holding our own emotions in check. We really would rather change that person’s mind, wouldn’t we? That would make us feel better! But if we can just remain curious, and ask questions, like, “I saw something you posted on Facebook the other day. I don’t think I agree with it, but I would like to know more about what makes that important to you,” that might help us learn something important about our friend.
One more suggestion. It’s crucial to keep your expectations realistic. Are we going to change that person today by listening? Most likely not. Maybe something will change over time if this opens your relationship to a new level. Maybe you can really trust one another with your honest thoughts. You just might gain a better friend, someone with whom you do not have that tension. Wouldn’t that be worth the effort?
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all
be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
James 1:19 NLT
© 2020 Stanley Hagemeyer