You know the guy…
There’s a man in my life. His name isn’t important, but when I describe him, you’ll probably think of someone you know like him. He’s white. He’s conservative. He watches FOX News. And when he talks about politics, his face reddens and the blood vessels bulge on the side of his neck and forehead. He sucks all the air out of a room and isn’t interested in anyone else’s views. Anyone who disagrees is an idiot.
Depending on where you are in the political spectrum, your emotional reaction to a man like this falls somewhere between an eye roll and seething fury.
There’s another man in my life. You might know one like him too. He’s also white. He signs all the MoveOn petitions, rails about the corporate influence in politics, and “held his nose” to vote for Hillary. He’s not, he assured me, anti-woman. Just against that particular one. He isn’t curious about other views, he interrupts women when when they talk, and anyone who disagrees with him is, well, an idiot.
We are all afraid of something
Now. Before you judge me as anti-man, listen to what I know with all my heart: both of these people are afraid. Their gender isn’t the common denominator. They’re both afraid, and all they want is to be heard.
That’s what all of us want. We want our fears to be acknowledged and valued.
Behind our issues and opinions, we’re every last one of us afraid—of being invisible, uncounted, irrelevant, vulnerable.
- Every single person who’s furious that Bernie got shafted.
- Every single person who wanted a president who would shake things up.
- Every single person who felt devastated that the first woman president was denied her rightful title.
- Every person of color who saw all this coming from miles away.
- Every single conservative baffled about what has happened to their party.
We are afraid. And we’re afraid that we don’t matter.
Fear is underneath all our political motivations
That fear is real. And it’s okay to be afraid.
- Mr. conservative white guy sees the world changing, and that can feel scary.
- Mr. progressive dude sees powerful women taking their rightful place, and that can feel scary.
- Women and people of color and immigrants see a country that lacks basic justice veering toward extremes, which is undeniably scary.
- Trump voters don’t think the system has their back, and that can feel scary.
The fear is real. We don’t feel safe.
And when safety seems in short supply, we think someone else has to lose in order for us to win. In our fear, we power grab. Red over blue. Blue over red. Men over women. Women over men. Let’s get all the power so we can lord it over those assholes once and for all. Because, by God, if the ship is sinking, I’m getting me and mine into the life raft, and all the rest of y’all can drown over there on the other side of the aisle. Or the urban/rural divide, or the poverty line, or whatever. We grab for safety because we’re too scared to see or seriously consider other options.
Win-lose is human nature—especially when we’re afraid. But this mindset is not democratic. In fact, it’s the opposite. No matter how much we dislike someone, seeing any person as disposable is unethical and flirts dangerously with tyranny.
(And, by the way, mistrusting your neighbor is exactly what Russia wants us to do. By hating each other, we help its agenda and play right into their hands.)
Safety doesn’t come from taking freedoms away from others—not in a democracy. It doesn’t come from lording my rights over yours. Nor from insulting you behind your back—or to your face.
Certainly it doesn’t come from yanking away the reins of control and doing what “my side” wants without your consent or participation. That’s what tyrants do, not democratically-elected representatives or their constituents.
In a broken relationship between two people, the only way toward healing is for one person to hold out the olive branch of reconciliation. In our beautiful, broken country, someone has to start. And anyone can do it.
You and I have the ability to help anyone who is afraid feel a little safer. We have the power to de-escalate the tension.
If we are to bring democracy back online, the only way is through love.
Looking back at the last year, we have ample evidence that abuse of power, disrespect, resentment, and deliberately leaving people out is not working. We don’t need to continue this experiment. Choosing to love our neighbor is a more radical, democratic, and potentially transformational act.
A challenge to you
As we approach the anniversary of the fateful 2016 election, the time has come for us to turn toward each other and say: “You do matter. In our democracy, your voice matters. I care about your well-being, even when I disagree. By talking respectfully, I believe we can find a way to meet your needs and my needs at the same time. Are you willing to try?” This is the olive branch.
In the year ahead, I challenge you to have braver, less predictable conversations with fellow citizens. Instead of writing off your neighbor, call to mind how afraid they are. Take the risk of loving them instead of loathing them. Invite them to talk about solutions as you hang out together in the uncomfortable gray areas of respectful disagreement.
Because if your neighbor’s house were on fire, you would help. If their child died, you would grieve with them. If they lost everything, you’d find a way offer support. Because that’s what Americans do. We look out for each other. It’s time to stop waiting for catastrophes to reach out. Let’s be braver. Let’s start building rebellious bridges one at a time.
Let’s start with you and me
Dear reader, I want you to know…
Your voice matters. Your reasons for feeling afraid matter deeply. As a fellow American, I see you, I hear you, and I appreciate your voice—even if I don’t always agree. I still value and respect you, and I care about your well-being.
I believe that we can find a way to meet your needs and my needs at the same time. I want to share ideas, talk respectfully, and find common ground. Are you willing to try with me?
It might not be easy, but we’re worth it.
And then take it on the road
Imagine what might be possible if we shared this message with our neighbor. Scared, struggling people need to hear it. Like a pebble in a pond, the ripples could go far.
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I believe in democracy. I believe in us.
Are you up for the challenge?
Let’s get free together.