A short while ago, I had a long conversation with a colleague at work. We barely knew each other but we were working a shift together on a light day at work. So naturally, we began conversing and really seemed to hit it off. We started talking about the new Venom movie and our shared passion for pro-wrestling. Life was good and the conversation should have ended there, but then, somehow, someway, we got into politics. Oh boy.
I knew I should have kept quiet when he started rambling on about gun control but I couldn’t help myself. I suggested that perhaps his proposal of an outright ban on assault weapons may not be feasible considering the millions of assault weapons that are already in circulation. Then somehow I was accused of being unsympathetic to the victims and families of mass shootings because of my stance on gun control. Suffice to say, things went downhill from there and there was an awkward silence till the end of our shifts. Goodbye, possible friend, I guess?
I bring this up because I think this sort of rhetoric and tribalism is becoming more and more common in our country. It is not mutually exclusive to the Left or the Right, but it is increasingly intoxicating our political climate. We must not attribute bad motives to those that we disagree with politically or else we are in a lot of trouble as a country.
I always believed that people of all political ideologies, except outright fascism or outright communism/anarchism, were people worth talking to and whose perspective was worth understanding. And I refuse to believe that I am in the minority on this. But whatever percentage it is, there is certainly a very vocal minority on both sides of the political spectrum that would disagree. And they are what is wrong with this country today.
Now I do not want to take a false moral high ground and pretend that I have never disliked a person because of their political views, because then I would have to lie and claim I like most of our politicians. I have also made the mistake on a few separate occasions of dialing up the rhetoric a step too far. But I have always been willing to have a conversation with anyone.
Honest and productive intellectual discourse is lacking in this country and we are becoming more and more polarized because of it. Our bubbles need bursting and our ideals need challenging. We cannot promote racial diversity while dismissing the pesky diversity of thought, and we cannot promote a marketplace of ideas while dubbing our ideological opponents as “snowflakes” and using social media as a platform to constantly try and “own the libs.”
At this point, we cannot afford to be asking the question—whether a conservative can be friends with a liberal, or whether an economic capitalist can befriend an economic socialist. Because the answers to those questions remain a yes, even in today's political climate. And I know it is hard to befriend or even get along with people who have different worldviews than us, but we must make an effort. How can we possibly refine and evolve our own views if we are too stubborn to tolerate and understand the views of others?
Some of my closest friends disagree with me on virtually everything that there is to disagree about. In fact, if I ran for office, I doubt that many of them would even vote for me. Regardless, I find that the conversations we engage in daily are some of the most valuable and enriching moments of my day. I can say for certain that talking to people whom I differ politically and philosophically has opened my mind and made me a more knowledgeable and sympathetic person. And I think my friends share similar sentiments.
My hope is that we stop assuming bad intentions from those that we disagree with. We cannot possibly classify half our country as lesser human beings because that is the end of civility and the escalation of deep division and animosity. So I plead that we separate policy and character, and treat our fellow humans with decency.