I had an interesting experience the other day. It surprised me, and then I was surprised that I was surprised by it.
I was raised in a deeply conservative religious community that translated into a pretty isolated culture. There was no internet when I was a kid, so I saw only what was directly surrounding me. (I sound so old! Hey, I could still have babies if I wanted to/was nutty enough.) I got my first computer as a young, married, isolated mama starving for connection in the late 90s, and I’ve never looked back. I still have friends that I met in some of my first mom groups when my 19-year-old daughter was tiny. To say that having my world open like that was revolutionary would be an understatement. I still remember the first time I realized that someone I interacted with was a Wiccan and how that shocked me. I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a good day actually wondering if it was morally okay to buy, sell and trade with someone who was pagan. I was that naive. (I did finally realize that it was dumb to care. It didn’t impact anyone’s honesty and certainly didn’t hurt me in any way to know someone so different than me. I know. Duh.)
I have come a long way since the me that was a 20-year-old mom. However, I am still quite conservative, despite how transformative this year has been for me. I have family and friends across all stripes of people. I’m looking at issues in new ways and trying to understand where people are coming from. Still, I find that my conservative opinions and Christian-leaning worldview are not always welcome in public commentary, despite how careful I try to be. This makes me sad. Not because I feel like I’m a super important person that everyone should listen to, but because I’ve lived in isolation myself, and I find so much value in seeing the spectrum of humanity as, well, human. I learn the most from those who are different than myself. I don’t always agree, but it challenges me to look deeper.
My quite liberal friend posed a somewhat controversial question on her Facebook feed the other day. First, I was genuinely surprised that our opinions were on the same page. (That may truly be a first. Ha ha!) What really struck me, though, was how respectful and productive the conversation was. The dialogue was kind. Open-minded. People really wanted to learn and understand. Even people who were directly affected by the issue conceded that it was difficult and that clear answers were hard to determine. Someone I don’t even know had a different perspective than what I (tentatively) expressed, and they pointed me to where I could study a bit more about the topic. And, then they left me to do what I might with that information and stepped back. I thanked them for sharing an alternative perspective in such a kind way. I meant it.
So much of the political dialogue that I see anymore is harsh, shrill and antagonistic. I can have strong opinions, and I have been punished for expressing them. I posted a arguably controversial opinion a few years ago about how I felt that a particular political/public figure maybe wasn’t promoting the best things. I was attacked, called a bigot and had more than a handful of liberal acquaintances unfriend me. I think I was most bothered by how much space I had made for their more left-leaning opinions over the years, and that so many of them couldn’t offer me the same courtesy. But, it is what it is.
My opinion and perspective on this particular issue has actually evolved a lot more over time, and I see it as much less black and white than I have in the past. However, not a single one of those people that virtually yelled at me had anything to do with me finding more balance. In fact, I think they probably hurt this process that has come about over time. I don’t think I’m a whole lot different than other people. I observe. I think. I really do care about other people. But, I also have a history. A background. A worldview. And, those things shift with painstaking slowness. Having people disregard your right to an opinion while they claim it for themselves does nothing but create divisions and draw lines in the sand. There is no growth in that. You go back to whatever vacuum allows that idea to live safely.
They cynic is me believes that splitting people in this way is the point – that powers-that-be like to see people in neat little rows where they can be moved and used easier. But, the truth is that we don’t have to participate in this. We don’t have to be shrill or harsh or antagonistic. Like my unknown internet companion the other day, we can offer a different perspective with kindness and gentleness, and then allow the other person the space to mull it over and decide whether they want to shift their opinion or whether they will stay put. I will probably always be conservative-leaning. However, I feel like my mind is a little more open after my exchange with my friend’s friend, and that maybe there is one more liberal-leaning person in the world that I consider my friend, regardless of our differences. I don’t care where your belief spectrum lies, that feels like a win-win to me.