I am an American liberal woman married to an American conservative man. More marriages like ours are shattering now than ever before.
It happens all the time: people we’ve known throughout our lives we are starting to see for who they “really are.”
Insufferable, selfish, immoral, evil, inhumane. These words now describing our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
Lifelong relationships are ending over differences in political parties.
So many of us asking ourselves, ‘how didn’t I see this evil in them before?’ or ‘how can’t they understand that what they believe is evil?’
Here’s the thing. If you’re losing friends over politics, it’s not an awakening. You haven’t been enlightened. You’ve been led astray.
Frankly, we all have.
Let me explain how to fix it.
Conversations: The Key
Contrary to the tone of the world around us, my conservative husband and I have civil and productive discussions about politics almost daily.
Does that sound crazy to you? Even impossible?
When it all boils down, we’re on the same team, aren’t we?
I’m on the team that wants the US to keep progressing as a country and to be the best nation it can be. So is my husband. We just see different paths for getting there.
So the question isn’t, “what side are you on?” Instead, it’s, “how have we collectively forgotten that we’re on the same side?”
Let’s back up a bit. How did we get here?
In 2020, the United States of America is the most divided it has ever been. This shouldn’t come as news to anyone.
How did we get here? I think the answer is multi-faceted.
Our Leaders (Political and Social) Create a Divide
On a macro-level, we’re no longer discussing the United States of America as a whole. It has become about red states vs. blue states. Democrat-run cities vs. Republican-run cities. Urban vs. rural. Millennials vs. Boomers.
We’re not talking about enemies outside of our borders. We’re too focused on the enemies within them. “Civil war” is on the tip of too many tongues.
You’re either with us or against us.
News Sources Exasperate the Problem
On a micro-level, too many of us read an article (or sadly, just read the headline) from a “news source” we’ve chosen to trust and think we see it all clearly. “How could anyone see it another way?” we ask ourselves.
The news tells us how we should feel. Spoiler alert, it’s always outraged.
Fox tells you that the Do-Nothing Democrats are here to take your freedoms and safety to push their agenda. They want to kill babies and take your guns and won’t take no for an answer. Anything they say contrary to this is lies: propaganda. Trust us.
CNN tells you the right-wing is a joke who will say anything to push their agenda forward. They don’t want equality and they’re all science-doubting white supremacists. Anything they say contrary to this is lies: propaganda. Trust us.
Since so many of us have chosen which side we believe, we only listen to the news sources that agree with us. We pull ourselves further and further in the direction we’ve chosen, left, or right.
It happens slowly, but steadily.
We Further Filter our Information
On a personal level, we then drill down even further. We join Facebook groups, follow people who agree with us, share content with our network before fully vetting it, attack the other side with cruel comments and tweets.
Compounding this particular issue is the fact that social media companies follow us around the internet, recording and analyzing our behavior to figure out how we feel about certain issues. They then use this information to push ads, sponsored results, and news we’ll like (or click) into our faces. They further filter our information.
The Filtered Result
Over time, you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong because there’s no evidence to the contrary that you can find.
It’s the long-been-talked-about-but-not-yet-solved echo chamber problem.
We’re all susceptible to this. We have to realize and acknowledge that this is not some distant problem happening to someone else: it’s happening on our own feeds.
Note: Check out The Social Dilemma on Netflix or just compare your social/Google feeds to a partner/friend whose opinion doesn’t match yours to see what I mean.
The Impact of Filters
But despite all of this, I don’t think fact-checking and half-truths are the worst problems we have. They’re huge, no doubt. The filtered results we get are scary. But they’re not nearly as terrifying as their impact.
The fact that we’re all making decisions about each other based on information that is filtered — half-truths and clickbait. The “other side” over time has started to look less and less rational as we all get more and more extreme.
This is a bigger problem. We have started to assume our worldview is the right one — the only one worth discussing. This naturally and obviously leaves no room for discussion. We’ve decided how the other side feels without ever asking them. We didn’t invite them to the conversation.
And as a result, the definition of politics has become distorted in the USA.
Over time politics has morphed into something different entirely.
Politics have become about good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, and you’re either with us or against us. We’re no longer listening to each other. Phrases like, “unfriend me if this offends you,” filling our social media feeds.
But we’ve got it all wrong. That isn’t politics.
Politics is about policy. Laws, regulation, government, and who gets to lead the effort.
We’ve twisted what started as disagreements about policy into a moral battleground.
Now I can hear you complaining to yourself now, “but these disagreements are moral disagreements, aren’t they?”
No. I firmly believe the morality of the issue isn’t the problem.
Morals are Not the Problem
Let me explain with some examples.
With very few (extreme, and unfortunately loud) exceptions, everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong. Equality is a fundamental human right. There are two sides: the right and wrong side of this issue. Therefore, discrimination is a moral issue.
But we don’t disagree on the moral issue. Pretty much everyone agrees that discrimination is wrong.
With very few (extreme) exceptions, everyone agrees that the sick and poor deserve to live and shouldn’t be denied the health treatment they need. This is a fundamental human right. There are two sides: the right and wrong side of this issue. Therefore, caring for the sick and poor is a moral issue.
But, once again, we don’t disagree on the moral issue. Pretty much everyone agrees that the sick and poor deserve to live and shouldn’t be denied the health treatment they need.
Where we disagree is on the political side. The policies that we would or would not need to put in place. What those policies should or should not focus on. How to roll them out. Etc.
In other words, we disagree on the best way to solve these problems. Not the problems themselves.
Your issue with the other side isn’t, at its core, about their morals.* They aren’t evil. They just see a different solution.
*I will acknowledge that at times it is a moral disagreement. I believe that at its core, moral disagreement is the exception, not the rule.
“United we stand. Divided we fall.” — John Dickinson
We Need to Communicate
Communicating is something that my husband and I have learned out of necessity. It isn’t easy — it takes practice. And humility.
But after near-daily practice, we are now able to have productive, intelligent, and respectful conversations on politics.
You can do it too.
Today I’m going to share a few tips on how we communicate with you in hopes that you can apply it to your life as well. Change starts at home. Change starts with us.
We have to come together or this country is going to fall apart on our watch.
Divided we fall.
Tip 1: Change the way you think about the liberal left and conservative right.
The first thing I want you to do is to suspend your preexisting thoughts about whichever party you consider to be “other” than you.
Start thinking about it this way (thank you to @michaelarmstrong444 on TikTok for putting this better than I could):
The right is a sort of masculine (yang) energy. It’s about protecting our country, who we are, and what we have. We like the military, guns, and loud/assertive leaders because they protect us.
The left is a sort of feminine (yin) energy. It’s about healing what’s broken, caring for those around us, and ensuring equality. We focus on things like racial injustice, equal rights, and ensuring that everyone is represented and cared for in our system.
While this is a grossly oversimplified version of the party platforms, what I want to emphasize is that no one (with very few exceptions) disagrees with the other side’s issues.
We just come to these issues with different viewpoints, different solutions, and different prioritization.
Once you can see each other as equals — someone who is a morally sound person just like you, not beneath you or evil in any way — you can communicate.
Tip 2: Listen
You have to be willing to listen. Really listen. Hear their intent. Hear their heart.
Note: Some of us may need to admit out loud that we haven’t been really listening. This admission will open your heart and start breaking down the walls you put up to protect yourself from the other side.
Listen to understand the other person, not to criticize them (put away the counterpoints for now).
Don’t listen for factual inaccuracies. Don’t point out flaws in the people/news sources they quote. Don’t listen with the intent to judge.
Instead, and here’s where the skill comes in, listen for their intention. The things they don’t say.
Tip 3: Find the Common Ground
Are they yelling about gun rights because they’re afraid of the future? Now you understand them a bit and can level with them. You are probably afraid of the future too.
Are they talking about healthcare for all because they believe in caring for the sick? Now you can understand them a bit and can level with them. You are probably interested in helping those in need too.
Are they sharing their belief that climate change isn’t real because if it were, it would make their job/future/home/familiar way of life uncertain? Now you can understand them a bit and level with them. You’re probably afraid of an uncertain future too.
You can tell the other person where their argument falls apart for you. But if you want them to hear you, do it in a way that brings them into your brain, not one that breaks them down in theirs.
Once you’ve realized the hearts of the “other side” aren’t evil, you can have a real conversation. Understanding where they’re coming from with empathy will help you align your message with theirs.
“United we stand, divided we fall.” — John Dickinson
Ultimately, we are better when we recognize each other’s viewpoints and come together — acknowledging our differences and using our respective strengths and diverse perspectives to tackle these issues from a multitude of angles.
Carving a statue out of marble will yield a much better result when you piece away at it from all angles, not just the one you see easiest.