There is a woman in my neighborhood I’ll call Louise Barton. LB posts inflammatory news on her Facebook page, seldom providing sources for her information. I’ve unfriended many males on FB, but I’m slow to cut ties with women. That sure sounds like double standards. It is. I understand my sisters and know their sufferings on account of their gender. I also know that underneath the most rigid shells beat soft hearts.
LB’s posts show up on my feed, and when feeling especially calm, I respond to something we agree on, followed by a question. It was an effective teaching tool I used with my students to get them to think deeper.
One of her posts was an outrage—stop buying Chinese goods, instead bring jobs back to the US. “Did y’all see Diane Sawyer’s special report? They removed ALL items from a typical, middle-class family’s home that were not made in the USA. There was hardly anything left besides the kitchen sink.” My experience is that indeed a lot of stuff comes from China.
I responded that if we do, we must be willing to pay more for the same goods. Then my question: “Will it create greater poverty in countries who need these jobs to improve their economic situation? We could argue,” I continued, “that’s not our problem, but morally are we OK not uplifting others [implication—when we have so much]?”
LB usually deletes my comments. But here is something I find interesting. She hasn’t removed me from her FB group. She is seeing what I post and probably having the same reaction I have to hers. It proves my point that, as women, we have a bond far stronger than that which divides us. What will it take to get us, red and blue women in America, to talk and hear one another?
My right-leaning friend Barbara told me of an ad on NPR that offers to pair up people from each side of the divide. “An organization at Pitt (Pittsburg) exists for just that purpose – bringing people together of all races, colors, creeds, natural origins, etc. I would love to join an organization like that.” Barbara and I have had many “seeing things differently” moments through the years, but somewhere along the way we decided to trust each other and accept our differences, yet not sweep them under the rug. Instead, we dig deeper, and when our facts change (via learning), we change how we see the world. It’s never about you are wrong, and I am right. It’s about accepting that we are prone to see things from our side of the shoreline.
Recently, I reached out to four women to meet with me for a COVID mental health boost. The one thing we have in common is we live on the same Florida street. With all of them responding, “yes,” a thought snuck in. What if politics come up? Perhaps I should have made it an evening with wine get-together. I texted the only woman, Annabelle (not her real name), whose political leanings were in question. I asked if I could ask her a personal question. She was OK with that. It turned out she was on the other side of the rest of us. After Annabelle and I texted a few times about the state-of-affairs, I told her that I might start my own political party using purple and singing as the unifying themes. Annabelle said she would join my party, but instead of singing, she would hum. Humor crosses all divides, and my laughing is increasing with age. I even laugh at funerals. Tim claims that I laugh at my own jokes more than anyone he knows. I think that’s very funny.
Civil conversations are taking place across the land from Maine to California. The groups have names like Democracy Cafe, Better Arguments, Living Room Conversations, etc. In 2011, after the shooting of Gabby Gifford, The National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD) was founded to bring us together.
How do we have respectful conversations about difficult issues with someone and not dislike them? Phrased differently, how do we humanize the opposition.
In 2019, Ashfield, Mass., the NICD recruited 12 people – strangers to one another – to come together for a weekend, six Trump supporters, and six who were not. The transcripts from this recorded event show that it quickly got pretty contentious. In an NPR interview, the NICD host for the event said, “You might wonder, what do these participants actually take away from these experiences?” She had put that question to two of the participants, Khadijah Ameen, a black woman who voted for Hillary Clinton, and Dan Fletcher, white and a Trump supporter.
Ameen: “It was a big discovery for me to know that I could have a conversation with someone with such an opposing view and not have to dislike them.” Dan Fletcher said it was refreshing to spend a few days having civil conversations but added there were limits to what could be accomplished in a weekend. It’s easy to toss angry words back and forth on social media. But it’s in sitting together where we can reach for one another’s hand.
In 2019, Stanford University researchers set out to test a theory: “If you put Americans with different views together, it might change their minds.” Instead of focusing on individual political figures, they focused on the issues. Their findings:
“I actually think that the single most important thing we found is that after deliberating for three and a half days with people who often sharply disagreed … and talking about issues, not candidates and personalities, but immigration, taxes, health care, the environment, and foreign policy, the percentage of people who thought our democracy was doing at least reasonably well doubled from 30% to 60%. And then we found significant changes in opinion on the issues, that the tendency was for Republicans to edge away from extremely, implacably hostile positions on immigration, and Democrats backed away from support for positions on taxation and spending. For example, universal basic income or the baby bonds proposal that looked like they were going to spend a lot of money that we might not really have.”
Earlier in the article, I wrote of a FB interaction and my response to Louise Barton’s post, “Jobs that come back…” Hours later, I checked to see if she’d erased it. It was still there. One of LB’s friends had answered, “There are no easy answers and life is not necessarily fair.” Instead of listening to my inner judgmental commentator, I posted back, “Very true.” Yes, life is not always fair, and let it go at that. We take baby steps crossing the divide. We look for what we agree on and build from there.
I don’t want to get to the other side of November 3rd feeling more divided from my sisters. I’m not a score-keeper and any “Always Right” trophy is only useful for recycling. My first and only Most Congenial trophy from a bridge group came with: “We honor you with our yearly Most Congenial award after seven months because we worry you will explode if you have to behave for an entire year.” Before thanking my bridge group of blue and red women, I pointed out that their bidding for those seven months needed improvement.
All kidding aside, this is a moment of opportunity for us women to strengthen our alliances. To remember that a little bit of humility goes a long way. Like Barbara, I would love to discuss issues, not politicians, with women who feel the same, want to close the divide. Politicians come and go. A prerequisite is for us to be clear of our own values, not those adopted from others, and admit that we have much to learn. It will take courage to look down into the Divide Abyss. ”If you can’t play with the toy nicely, neither of you will have it,” a common refrain in my parenting years. For harmony to prevail, all of us must make an effort or none will have peace.