Call it a domestic peace initiative: Stop judging people unkindly, start making real connections based on shared values. And we do have some.
Countless people in this country do not share the dark secret of their political leanings. They don’t want to argue. They don’t want their children to suffer because of being different. They don’t want to lose business. They don’t want to lose friends. They don’t want to be ridiculed. Better to be quiet.
Many people do not fit neatly into a political box. They have a mix of conservative and progressive positions that are heartfelt for a set of personal reasons that even their friends may never know about, because we’ve become so unkind to people who don’t share our political beliefs.
Last month I gave a TED talk with my conservative business partner, John Gable. We talked about our shared values and some differences. We talked about the work we are doing with a wonderful diverse group of partners to begin to heal personal and political divides. I thought our words were quite persuasive, but what made the biggest impression was our friendship. John and I so clearly like each other. And we appreciate the perspective and skills the other brings to our shared work of helping people forge connections outside their usual circles.
In one part of the talk I say —
that our differences can be a strength,
that the values we hold can be complementary and
that we must transcend the fight to discover how to honor each other’s core values while losing none of our own.”
So far, John and I have been able to walk this walk, and this has made my life richer and our work more successful! But I recognize that for some, we are consorting with the enemy. There are risks to becoming friends with “those people.” Shunning is part of how people enforce social norms; it is not restricted to certain religious sects.
I would describe our work as a domestic peace initiative. Most progressives are pro peace. Most women are, too. OK, I’m going out on a limb — I contend that peace is a unifying value. As are “love thy neighbor” and rejection of hate.
With these excellent core values, why have politics become ugly and punishing? John and I think part of the problem is that many of us are living in separate narratives, or filter bubbles. The media we consume affirm our beliefs. The friends we choose to talk to about politics agree with us, leaving us even more certain that we are right and others are idiots, mean or elitist.
I can’t help but suspect this is also why the U.S. has disturbingly low voting rates. We are missing the people who don’t like to watch horror shows, and others who don’t feel like they have any choices that represent their values.
Political labels are causing us to pre-judge people we know little about — and even push away or unfriend people we care about. We are seeing violence that appears to be connected to politics. The media and our politicians are part of the problem. Their motives are not pure.
Individually and together, it is time for us to step up. Our collective effort has the potential to get us out of this downward spiral of alienation and blame. But it is going to take more than signing a petition. We are going to have to show up and make real connections, listen for understanding without trying to persuade, assume best intent, and be able to live with the tension of having differences with people we care about.
Joan Blades, a co-founder of MoveOn.org, co-founded Living Room Conversations . Follow her on Twitter: @JoanBlades