We know the idiom about avoiding discussions of politics or religion around the dinner table, but why do we keep ignoring this advice? We live in a period of divisiveness, regardless of political persuasion, and no one is enjoying the battles waging here in Washington. The negativity, hopelessness and uncertainty are tough to handle, no matter who you voted for in 2016. We wonder how to move forward as ONE true nation, indivisible with real liberty and justice for all.
While there are a number of ardent supporters of the current Administration, who believe a real patriot (their verbiage, not mine) has finally won the White House, and the times of political correctness and liberal demagoguery are over, most conservatives and liberals alike are not feeling optimistic about how things are going politically. These mixed feelings and concerns among both parties, plus questions about the future and our ability to operate as one cohesive nation, are begging questions we must explore in nearly every setting of our daily lives. Nowadays this means putting aside the forbidden nature of discussing politics at the dinner table.
I have been known to raise political questions at inopportune times, and with the wrong audiences. While I have learned that there is a time and place, I sometimes struggle with following that advice. This is particularly difficult nowadays and in this political climate. It’s no secret, nor surprise, that I did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election (see my blog post where I described the difficult days I faced being in Africa right after the election, and also the hope I gained from that experience). Some think I am a flaming liberal (I’ve even been called a fem-nazi, which is inaccurate and likely deeply derogatory) but in reality I am a political hybrid – supporting socially liberal programs and conservative fiscal policies making me a quintessential independent. In 2016, Donald Trump was not my candidate. This was for various reasons that transcended politics, and do not need rehashing given the emotional upheaval his victory caused me. I do know many a Trump voter, however, and some that surprised me.
I was visiting a very good friend of mine recently, who usually votes Republican, but had been struggling with her decision between Trump and Clinton. While I knew she did not care for Clinton, I was sure she would vote against Trump, given the difficulty she has faced with workplace sexual discrimination as a start. I was wrong. When she told me the truth, I could not hold back my shock. I lashed out at her, questioning her decision, passing judgment and communicating disappointment. This did not bode well for the remainder of our dinner, and while I apologized and we moved on, it turns out my reaction was very hurtful to my friend. When I returned home, she sent me a text. She told me that it wasn’t fair for me to ask her to disclose her vote, and then attack her for it. She then explained that “maybe if smart and compassionate people you know feel differently [than] you on an issue, it's possible that there is another perspective and that the difference in opinion isn't down to the other person's stupidity or lack of compassion.” She suggested that I consider how I react to a difference of opinion next time, and take into account the other person’s feelings and legitimacy, rather than assume my opinion is always superior. This was such an important lesson, and one I am thinking about almost daily as I read articles bashing one side of our political system or another.
I have never been known for holding my tongue or having weak opinions. On the contrary, I feel very strongly that when I believe something is so, IT IS SO. It is hard for me to argue otherwise. I am not sure if it’s because I am an only child, or just a pain in the ass. But it’s simply my thing. I discuss the pros and cons of this trait in my book, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact (out September 12). I share the struggle I faced when my strong beliefs about being right, coupled with my deep intuition and inability to hold my tongue on more than one occasion, made it hard for me to jive with superiors or last more than a couple of years in positions where I disagreed with decision making or felt my gut lead me in a different direction. Having a sharp tongue, speaking up for my beliefs, doing what I thought was right and fighting for my position, have ultimately served me well professionally. These traits have allowed me to run a successful advisory firm, Connective Impact, and get paid for offering my opinion. I have had to learn to listen, though. And listen with intent. I have had to be more quiet than not, hear my clients, hear what their challenges are. I have had to sit back and absorb differences of opinion, alternative approaches, conflicting points of view, waiting for the full story, ensuring I make recommendations based on complete information and without rash thinking.
The skill of listening is more crucial now than ever, particularly as we face bumpy roads ahead as a collective people. I clearly lacked that skill in the dialogue with my friend over Trump, and it affected her negatively. I am deeply disappointed that rather than hear her out, listen with consideration, I jumped to conclusions and ranted all over her position. It was a lesson in patience, kindness, compassion and open mindedness that I needed. It’s likely a lesson we could all use these days.
I am still passionately concerned about our future, and have serious doubts about the actions Washington is taking across every branch of government. I feel a mix of anger and resentment at the 49% of our population that voted for Trump, because I deeply disagree with his policies, demeanor, rash action, and approach to governing (or lack thereof). I also am deeply fearful that our footing as the leader of the free world will harm us over the years to come. Given the mix of all of those emotions, I am doing my best to hold off on passing judgment on my fellow Americans before I listen to them with intent, and respect their position. Even if I disagree with them, and cannot fathom feeling the same way they do most of the time, it's a very important lesson for me to learn to listen to them. Perhaps if we all acted this way we would be in a very different place.