One of the dumbest things I ever did was to satirize a friend’s political point of view on Facebook. Yeah, I really did that. I hadn’t identified her by name of course —I’m that that dumb—but she knew I was talking about her and let me know how upset she was. I felt lower than a slug. I was shaken and apologized. Thankfully she ultimately forgave me. You betcha I haven’t made the same blunder again.
With a high-stakes mid-term election around the corner, it’s hard not to talk about our political passions—the candidates and issues we believe in and especially those we detest. Um, weren’t we supposed to have transcended those “red state/blue state” divisions among us by now? As if! Today we seem almost hopelessly divided along political fault lines. Name calling, hyperventilating, and heart palpitations are not uncommon.
I have strong opinions too, but stopped sharing them even at via bumper stickers after I became the target of road rage a few campaigns ago. My bumper sticker supported a presidential candidate in bold letters. This unnerved the driver behind me, who tailgated while screaming at me and making hostile gestures. I pulled over, hoping she would disappear, but instead she pulled up beside me and unleashed her limited inventory of verbal and finger invectives. After she finally sped off I was able to read her own bumper sticker. It said, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.”
Most of us think we’re pretty smart, and therefore, we think other smart people will see things our way. Some will; others vehemently won’t. I’ve had readers of my columns email me political jokes that ridiculed my point of view, assuming I would find my political ideas as laughable as they did. I respond to them gently. After all, why alienate a potential buyer of my books? My friend Dave is one of the sole conservatives in the office where he works. Because he wants to keep his job, he just nods politely when his boss freely disparages conservatives. Why do people talk politics in the office anyway, unless you’re are working at someone’s campaign headquarters?
Now we seem so fired up about our views that sometimes we will dump friendships over a political division. When my friend Mona told her friend that she was not interested in supporting a certain political cause because she disagreed with it, her friend expressed her shock: “I thought you were smart! I misjudged you completely!” Another friendship was also blunted unceremoniously via text message by a man who discovered that his friend supported the “wrong” party, making any further social connections impossible. Something is really wrong with that – unless the “other point of view” is truly hateful.
Nowadays even dating web sites are geared for people of either liberal or conservative viewpoints. I can understand this, but then again, maybe it’s a mistake to instantly write people off based on being a Republican or Democrat. When I first met my husband and discovered he had voted for Ronald Reagan, I was aghast: “There goes another potential romance! How could he have voted for that slick-haired B-movie actor? How could I show my face to my liberal friends if I continued to date him?” I asked myself.
But an honest, kind, handsome, funny man is hard to find. Over time and over many “discussions” I discovered we actually agreed on core principles. We disagreed on the means, not the ends. I learned that “conservative” didn’t mean “greedy ogre.” Since then, I know better: greedy ogres can be found in every corner, and no political party has a monopoly there.
So what’s a country to do? I wish I had the answer, so for now I’ll just recall a famous slogan issued by Great Britain during World War II, meant to bolster public morale. It’s a good slogan as election fever spikes ever higher: “Keep calm and carry on.”
Maybe it would make a good bumper sticker.