Her name is not really Cathy, but let’s call her that. She’s my new friend. We’ve had coffee once a week for three weeks. We met when I reached out to her upon reading something political she posted on our neighborhood listserv that I did not agree with. I emailed her privately and asked whether she’d be willing to talk about politics in a friendly way with a neighbor who probably did not share all the same political beliefs. She agreed that it might be interesting, and it has been.
Since the election, I’ve been concerned about the bubble I live in. All my friends are progressive Democrats. I wanted to talk sincerely with someone who voted for President Trump. I wanted to do one small thing to combat the “otherization” I see around me, by which I mean knee-jerk assumptions about the evil intentions of people in the other political party. I wanted to affirm the humanity of all of us beneath our differences. I wanted to better understand where we have common ground and where we do not. I wanted to be able to express my core beliefs in a clear way to someone who may not share them. I wanted to understand the concerns of others who don’t think like I do. I wanted to talk politics without ridiculing the opposite point of view. I wanted to practice listening.
Both of us have come to love these talks. We find that we are thinking between our meetings of how to express our ideas. We are questioning our assumptions a bit more. We are giving each other little research projects.
Last week, over-regulation by government came up during our talk. This led to a long discussion of the number of people in her workplace who came down with cancer and MS and the likelihood that there was an environmental cause. We agreed that more regulation might be needed in some areas and less regulation might be needed in others.
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The week before, she said that unemployment had risen under President Obama. I refused to believe this. We checked out the facts and determined that we were both right, in that unemployment was an insignificant bit higher when President Obama left office compared to when he took office, but that during the six months or so after he took office it skyrocketed due to the recession that began under President Bush, and then it steadily declined over eight years.
What we are learning together is how information is spun by those in one camp or the other and that we need to carefully examine the underlying facts. We may still disagree regarding many big issues, but we are becoming more careful citizens.
I am lucky to have found Cathy, who is an intelligent and thoughtful person. Our conversations are a weekly ritual that is similar to sitting in church once a week, in that it is increasing our compassion.
For me, these talks are no substitute for calling my representatives in Congress, marching in demonstrations, and doing other political work. But they are a fulfilling complement to these other actions.
I would like to encourage others to seek out one other person and do the same. Our nation needs to turn down the heat of our outrage and turn it into reasoned dialogue. We need to have partnerships across the political spectrum in order to solve the inevitable big challenges ahead.
I remember being assigned a swim buddy in the pool during childhood swim lessons. It was a safety precaution so that we were less likely to drown. Maybe we each need a political swim buddy to keep us safe and less likely to flounder as a nation. My political swim buddy, Cathy, has a friend who wants to have these same talks, and I, too, have a friend who wants to meet her friend. We hope this is just the beginning of many new friendships across America.
Kincaid is the retired executive director of Clean Energy Durham.