I was sent to the principal’s office for colorfully (cough) defending gay rights to my History teacher who was also an ex-priest. I annoyed the lunch ladies when I refused to eat from styrofoam trays. And I penned a vehement protest to the school paper when student congress held an actual “popularity contest” complete with ballots and tallies. I suppose some things really do stick with ya.
My soapbox is tattered and sometimes I fall off with my aging balance, but I still keep it close. Now, I try to pick my battles, however. This is a practice of which I was not aware those 20+ years ago. I have also learned that in a world of political and social polar opposites, it is crucial to maintain several principles, allowing for a much more peaceful existence. Again, sometimes I fall off, but I can typically recoup without too much damage. So far, anyway.
- Learn the benefit of agreeing to disagree – Oh what a difficult struggle but one which can save you from vein-popping stress. If you know your uncle just returned from tailgating at a Sarah Palin rally – chances are, he won’t read a link from your favorite progressive website. Save the email and save the sweat.
- Keep some conversations off limits – I know you really want to discuss the exciting revelations you just absorbed from Fox News. You are brimming with the need to share via your very next phone call. I get that. But it’s your daughter calling and she works for Move On. So, move on.
- Try some objectivity – a big part of the problem with our hostile political climate is the refusal to objectively hear out the views of another. Often taking the time to listen to Charlie Sykes instead of Ed Schultz may allow you to gain perspective. You will likely continue to disagree with this perspective – but you will become more aware and perhaps see the possibility of solution more clearly.
- Realize fundamental differences – Wow. Talk about a tough one. The Casey Anthony trial was phenomenally popular because we are fascinated by creatures we do not understand. How a mother could do that to her gorgeous child – it was like watching Gorillas in the Mist. Liberals and conservatives are diametrically, fundamentally different. Now, certainly, there are degrees of belief and no two of either group is the same. But we need to recognize that we will never truly understand what it is like to think in such a strange way.
- Skin thickening isn’t just for calluses anymore – Just because you are referred to as ignorant or stupid or irrelevant does not mean that you are. Your beliefs are valid. We may think it is stupid for a dog to chase it’s tail, but if you try to stop him, you may get bit. Just leave him be – he will eventually tire out and you’ll have a cute video for YouTube. Remember that, typically, the individuals who are quickest to insult are the ones most insecure with their own capabilities.
- Online arguing is like cutting your tongue on the cake knife – It hurts like a mother, but the frosting still tastes sweet. Sharing your opinions and even a healthy debate has its merits. Nothing will evolve without dialogue. But keep in mind that you are not selling your convictions to the person with whom you are disputing. You are promoting your views to the silent readers – the majority – who chose not to bicker with virtual strangers.
It is important to stand up and fight for our beliefs. It is imperative to speak up when we feel it is necessary. But we cannot continue to let it divide us to the point where there is no room for objectivity, reason and civility. What I see everyday in online forums, what I see pass through my inbox, what I hear on cable “news” programs – it is a deterioration of basic, mutual respect. We behave as though we must hate those who view the world differently.
Nothing can be accomplished in our government because all possibility of compromise, discussion and open mindedness has been abandoned. Being a liberal, I naturally want to blame this on my political enemies. I need to fight that desire. All I can do is stick to what I believe to be right, repair my soapbox when needed and leave myself open to opportunities for growth. Join me?
Disclaimer: When I started this piece, I was furious. I had just been called ignorant, was pummeled with anti-liberal rhetoric and realized certain relationships in my life would likely change. I have lost some “friends” and had some fall outs with relatives since the Madison protests. This has made me very angry and sad. But not enough to forego what I know to be right. When I began writing this morning I wanted to lash out through the screen and show these people just how ignorant I am not. I wanted to bullet point all their mistakes and hypocrisy. But I suddenly realized that besides believing I am on the side of good, I wasn’t acting any differently from those who made me peeved. Sometimes the view from the high road is more peaceful than you’d think.
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