Today is election day. And I am worried about tomorrow.
Yes, I am worried about what might happen if my candidates don’t win. (I’m not going to get into my personal politics here, but I’m a Reconstructionist Jewish social worker living in Massachusetts. I bet you can figure it out.)
But I’m even more worried about the relationships in our country, and what will come of them. I started getting concerned when I noticed friends announcing that they will “unfriend” people on Facebook who are voting for the other guy. I saw the same trend on Twitter, and on the news. Then I heard this week’s episode of This American Life, which profiled friends and family members who are no longer talking as a result of this election. And I realized that relationships are falling apart all over the country, not just in my community.
I understand that there are those in this country who believe things that I don’t agree with (to put it very, very nicely). And I understand that their votes have the potential to directly and concretely impact my life, my planet, my finances, my body, and perhaps most important, my daughters’ future. I get that. I really do. (I also understand that the outcome of this election will have a similar impact on so many of my friends and family, but I think it’s important that I speak for myself here.)
Nonetheless, I simply don’t see the value in severing relationships over this election. Ending a connection with another person won’t change my mind, it won’t change their minds, and it will just widen the divide between us that already seems so large. I just don’t see how our country can begin to heal from the vitriol of this election if we truly believe that we can’t even stay in the conversation with those with whom we disagree so intensely. (And I’m not even talking about a political conversation here; I’m talking about a willingness to acknowledge, even on the most basic level, the existence and value of the other person.)
Lest you all think I’m just some Polyanna, happily ensconced in her little liberal snowglobe, surrounded by tree-huggers and bra-burners, let me be clear. The question of how to maintain relationships across a political divide is deeply personal for me. My father, who I love dearly, and with whom I have a very strong relationship, is about as far from me on the political spectrum as he could be. I find his beliefs to be offensive, abhorrent, and immoral. (I am writing this post knowing that he may likely read it, and I presume there is nothing on here that will surprise him.) I know that we will never, ever find a common ground because our differences are not only about who should be President, or which laws should be enacted. We are deeply divided on the fundamental values that underlie every aspect of our respective belief systems.
But there is one value that we do agree on, and it’s the one that sustains us: the importance of our relationship. Even though we have never explicitly discussed it, we both know that our connection to each other is more important than our need to be right or convince each other of our perspective. Sometimes we talk about politics, most of the time we don’t. We talk about my kids or his cat or our travels or the weather or whatever. But we stay in the conversation.
I’ll be honest. There are times when I want to bury myself even deeper in my happy hippy world, when I just don’t want to deal with all of this. But then I think about my daughters (now 2 and 4), and I imagine what I would say to them if they were 10 or 16 or 22 right now. I try to imagine myself saying to them, “I’m not talking to Grandpa (or my friend or whoever) anymore, because we disagree.”
That feels terrible to me.
I would much rather have a conversation with my girls about the nature of the conflict, and the values on which we each base our beliefs. I would rather talk to them about what it means to have a relationship in the context of difference, and how I can stay connected while also staying true to my own moral compass. I hope I would encourage them to talk to their grandfather (or whomever), struggle with the issue, and come to their own decisions. And perhaps most importantly, I hope I would teach them that anger, hatred, and disconnection never, ever lead to growth, change, and healing, which is what we all so desperately need right now.
So, please, go out and vote today. Vote your values, vote with integrity and kindness, whatever that looks like for you. And as the results come in and our country moves forward, I hope we can all find room in our lives, and our hearts, for those with whom we disagree.