After engaging in a political debate on Facebook yesterday (don't judge, I'm usually very good at avoiding them!), I got to thinking about how hard it is to see things from the other side's perspective, and why.
It started to remind me of the way a lot of us argue in our intimate relationships.
Just think of a time you got in an argument with your partner and you could NOT, for the life of you, understand WHY they did what they did, or WHY they felt the way they felt, and how difficult that made it to reach any sort of resolution or understanding.
"Why would you feel jealous of me talking to my friend?? I've never done anything but be loyal to you, why don't you trust me? You must think I'm a terrible person! Why are you even with me if you feel that way??" To which your partner might push back, "This isn't about you, this is about me, I need you to reassure me right now, can't you see that? You're so selfish!" Which turns into: *Exchange of name-calling* *Threats to leave the relationship* *Texting friends who will agree that partner is being a total jerk*
Or... if you've gotten much better at communicating... you've experienced how QUICKLY a seemingly big issue can get resolved simply by validating your partner's perspective or feelings, even if you can't relate to it yourself.
"I totally understand why you would feel jealous of me talking to that friend of mine, based on your experience of your ex leaving you for a mutual friend in the past." To which your partner could respond, "And I totally understand why this would be upsetting to you, since you haven't given me any reason not to trust your commitment to me." Which turns into: *Hugs* *Makeout sesh* *Feelings of closeness and appreciation*
So I began to wonder, what would happen if I applied one of my favorite relationship communication practices to politics?
The intimacy practice is called Desires/Fears/Loves and it is very simple.
Part 1: Desires
Partner A begins by asking Partner B, "What do you want?" (regarding the relationship), and then says NOTHING, and just listens, as Partner B responds.
When Partner B stops talking, Partner A asks one more time (sometimes the most honest stuff gets revealed after the second ask), and against listens without responding at ALL.
When Partner B is done, Partner A says "Thank you for sharing with me!"
Then Partner B asks Partner A the same question, twice, without responding, and says thank you at the end.
Part 2: Fears
Partner A asks partner B: "What are you afraid of?" (again, referring to the relationship).
As in the Desires question, the question is asked twice, there is no responding to what Partner B says, and Partner B is thanked afterward.
Then Partner B asks Partner A the same question like before.
Part 3: Loves
So everything about the process is the same as in Desires and Fears, but the question this time is, "What do you love about me?"
How to use this in a political context
So here's what I'm thinking:
If you are liberal, you find a conservative person you'd like to do this with, and you explain the process and the rules (the most important being, no responding to the responses), and if you're conservative, you find a liberal person you'd like to do this with.
The following is just one example of how that could go, based on my own conversations and understanding. If you do this yourself, the responses will vary DRAMATICALLY, because people are much more nuanced in their views than we are generally led to believe...
Desires: "What do you want?"
Liberal: I want everyone to feel safe and valued in America no matter their skin color, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or ability. I want people to not have to work so damn hard to afford basic living expenses. I want people to be able to get sick without worrying if they can afford the treatment to survive.
Conservative: I want America to return to the family values we used to have, I want the government to stop trying to give my hard-earned money to people who don't want to work, who aren't willing to take care of themselves. I want people to show more love and respect for their country.
Fears: "What are you afraid of?"
Liberal: I'm afraid that the country is sliding into Fascism. I'm afraid of income inequality getting so bad that the middle class eventually disappears and we are back to a system where a wealthy ruling class exploits the working class. I'm afraid that climate change is going to create unbearable conditions for the next generation and global war over resource scarcity.
Conservative: I'm afraid that the government is going to start taking over all industry, and do it ineffectively and inefficiently. I'm afraid that deep state elites are abusing children. I'm afraid that the government is going to mandate vaccines and eventually install microchips in everyone and I'm going to lose autonomy over my own health and body.
Loves: "What do you love about me (or us)?"
Liberal: I love your ability to take care of yourself and your hesitation to depend on external sources to provide for your own needs - I admire the grit and independence of that. I love that you want people to be free to have as much abundance as they can create for themselves in their lives. I love that you value personal freedom so much.
Conservative: I love that you are always considering the situations of those least fortunate and trying to figure out ways for make things more equal for everyone. I love your ability to embrace and advocate for a wide diversity of people. I admire your willingness to abandon what's familiar in pursuit of new and different ways of thinking or doing things.
It's not for everyone
I want to be clear about something.
This practice is NOT a good way to "come to an agreement" about anything.
It's NOT a good way to change anyone's mind, recruit them to campaign for your candidate, or join you in a march, or attend a rally with you.
And it is NOT a good way to get someone to realizing the error of their ways and finally giving you an apology.
It's good for ONE THING: connecting to the humanity in another person and feeling more compassion.
Will that lead to social change? Maybe, but maybe not. For me, there's inherent value in feeling more human connection and compassion. In my own nervous system and in my own soul, this is nourishing, whether or not it leads to more sweeping changes or has a greater ripple effect.
We're in this together
Viewing an opposing political party like a romantic partner is obviously a limited metaphor...
We pick our partners based on similar values and lifestyles, and we have no such choice when it comes to who our fellow Americans are.
But that, in part, is my point.
Given the fact that we are all already here, sharing space, breathing the same air, is it valuable to try to understand one another's perspective, even as we disagree (sometimes very very very strongly) with that perspective?
Could asking one another what we want, what we are afraid of, and what we love and respect about one another actually help us feel closer and more unified, despite our differences?
I think so.
I hope so.
Should we give it a try and see?