Four days after the election, my friend and fellow opinion writer, Maura Casey, asked me to post a question for a discussion on Facebook after she’d had troubling encounters with two of her conservative friends.
“I think we have to have a rational conversation about politics,” she wrote in an email. “I’m not looking forward to it, but silence isn’t working for me anymore.
“I really cherish having conservative friends because I think we all need to dip our toes in views that we don’t agree with and try to see things — even in passing — the way they do. It helps keep the conversation going and keep us from dehumanizing each other. But I’d like to hear from your other Facebook friends who have people in their lives that they disagree with politically. How do they stay friends? How do they manage the relationship?”
Her timing was impeccable. The day before, my husband and I were on the receiving end of an out-of-state relative’s post-election email about President Obama. In our view, it was indisputably racist. When we said so, he was astonished. He thought he was showing a sense of humor after his guy had lost. What was wrong with us, he wanted to know.
We all but hyperventilated. How could he have thought that was funny? How could he not see that it was offensive? Would he have felt comfortable sending that email to an African American friend? Does he even have any African-American friends?
We threw up our hands and kept all those questions to ourselves. We don’t see him often, but the man is family. We couldn’t see how to push back further without alienating him, and other relatives in the email chain who, for all we knew, were silent because they thought we were the ones who were insufferable.
I did post Maura’s question on Facebook, and the lively discussion that unfolded made it clear that, when it comes to politics, family can be rough going. That’s true of friends, too, and colleagues we’re forced to work with, day in and day out.
It’s one thing to write off strangers, as I did earlier this week when I drove past a neighbor’s U.S. flag flying upside down in protest of the election results. I don’t know him, and I don’t want to. However, if that were my relative… well, let’s just say I’m relieved that, to the best of my knowledge, no one I’m related to would do such a thing. Not that I’ve sent out that email to check. Honest to God, I don’t want to know.
We can’t convert family or friends. We can, however, model the behavior we’d like to see in others, especially the ones we love. As Maura often reminds me, that requires less talking, and a whole lot more listening. I struggle with that, particularly on issues that go to core values. I can listen to someone talk all day about how gay Americans should not have the right to marry or why women should not control their own bodies, and the only thing that’s going to change in me is my level of heartburn. Beats screaming at each other. In some families, that’s progress.
I’ve heard lot of people in the last few days suggest that the best course for getting along in the wake of this election is to put politics behind us, at least for a while.
OK. So, which rights do you want to give up? That’s when it happens, you know. When they think we aren’t paying attention.
This week in Ohio, for example, state house Republicans are already at it again. They convened a lame-duck session try to de-fund Planned Parenthood and eliminate a woman’s right to abortion.
As if the election never happened.
As if we’ll all be quiet just to get along.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (email@example.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com