I don’t know how to be polite anymore. There used to be clear-cut rules for politeness, especially when it came to discussing politics in mixed company. But right now change is happening in America, and how we feel about that change divides us.
When I open my Facebook page or scroll through Twitter, I hear people shouting. Those of us who are quiet are accused of not speaking up for justice or having “the wrong” opinion.
A lot of moms I know handled the election in one of two ways. They declared: “If you voted for Trump, I’m unfriending you” or “If you voted for Clinton, I’m unfriending you.” It was like the delete button was a machete that could slice away evil.
Here’s the problem I see with all of that unfriending. What if you are the only witness to the alternative viewpoint that your opposition friend sees? If you turn your back on him, then you give up the opportunity to change his mind.
Not that any of us will change minds with shouting, research, data or that clever meme our high school English teacher just posted. People already voted.
Americans are entrenched! Vilification exacerbates things because it strips away humanity, and we need to be humane; to ourselves, our neighbors, and our friends and family who believe differently than we do.
Probably our best bet is to be a living example of our beliefs. If we value honesty, we should be honest. If we are concerned about undue foreign influence, we should make a better effort to support American brands. If we want to protect the environment, we should reduce our carbon footprint. If we are concerned about social services, then we should make a difference within our community. If we value fiscal responsibility, we should spend less money.
Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
We don’t have to agree with the opposition to love them anyway. If we try, we can empathize with the life circumstances that influenced their decisions. We don’t need to agree with their opinions to relate to the feelings that birthed them.
Once we find common ground, maybe we can work together to solve problems instead of screaming at each other.
If you had two children, one with “Make America Great Again” on his baseball cap and the other with a “Feel the Bern” bumper sticker on her car, wouldn’t you want both kids to come home for Sunday dinner? They would still have a lifetime of shared history, even though their politics had diverged. Surely there was something they could agree upon, like how much they loved their mother.
Politeness matters because it the first step to listening. Listening is a necessity for understanding, and understanding is essential for collaborative problem solving.
On Friday we inaugurated our 45th president. It’s going to be a long four years if we spend the entire time shouting.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.