The Grown-Up’s Guide To Talking Politics With The Other Side

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Imagine hearing this on the day after the election….

“I hope you’re happy. Because of people like you, we will now have coat-hanger abortions in every back alley and gays will have all their rights taken away.”
This election cycle has been brutal. Actually, that doesn’t quite describe what it has been to me personally. It has been heart-wrenchingly sad and shook my faith in the American people.

Let me back up. I’m a left-leaning Independent and my best friend Stephanie is a lifelong Republican. We talk politics all the time. And we’re still friends.

Stephanie, and many more like her, were viciously attacked after Trump won. Sure, in the media and by protesters. But she also faced unprovoked personal attacks. People questioned her character and falsely accused her of being racist and against equality. She is neither of those things.

But no one wanted to really listen to her side of the story.

When I woke up the day after Trump won, I will admit that I was overwhelmed with feelings of betrayal from my fellow women. I felt that racism and hate won. I felt unsafe in our country. If half of the population truly believed in someone like Trump, then that left little room for someone like me.

And then I talked with Stephanie. My loving, kind, respectful, caring Republican friend. Who told me it was going to be okay. She didn’t judge me or my feelings. She helped me see the light on a very dark day.

Because she’s my friend. And that’s what friends do.

And after she was personally attacked by my fellow Americans on the left, we felt it was time to start sharing how we can be such good friends when we have different worldviews. How we can make our point without hurting each other.

How we move forward together because we know we are always on the same side.

It Begins and Ends With Respect

I teach karate. Of course, we fight in class all the time. We love fighting. It’s called Kumite.

The rules in Kumite are simple. It always begins and ends with respect. It doesn’t matter how vicious or bloody the fight has been (and no one does knockout, bare-knuckle fighting like Kyokushin fighters). But after the whistle, you shake your opponent’s hand and walk away as friends.

Usually to go have a drink.

It’s the same when I talk politics with Stephannie. We always have more in common than we don’t. And we’ve had a lot of deep discussions about really tough, complex and emotional issues. Immigration, national security, foreign affairs, war, equality, and economics. We’ve discussed them all.

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Never start a political discussion with someone (even someone you don’t believe you have anything in common with) unless you’re willing to begin and end the discussion with respect. These people are your neighbors – your fellow Americans.

Don’t treat the “other” side like your worst enemy.

Your Goal Isn’t to Win – It’s to Learn

Our goal is never to win when we fight in karate class. It’s to test our skills, improve our techniques and always to learn.

Stephanie has taught me a lot of things. She’s fiscally conservative and I’m probably a socialist. I want to save all the Syrian refugees because my heart is broken from their suffering. I also want to save every homeless cat and dog on the East Coast. I was ready to go to Canada adopt ten pit bulls when Montreal banned them.

And Stephanie keeps me in check. She reminds me that I can’t afford ten more dogs, even though they are really cute and I love them desperately. Perhaps, I need someone like Stephanie to keep me in check. That’s one lesson she’s taught me because I was willing to listen to her guidance and advice on something I’m passionate about.

From Stephanie:

You remind me that we can all make a difference. We may not solve the refugee crisis or world poverty, but every act, regardless of its magnitude matters – sending shoeboxes to needy children, collecting prom dresses for girls who can’t afford one… ‘Donating at the office’ is not enough.

Don’t go into a political discussion unless you’re willing to listen – really step back and open your mind – and actually learn something. Don’t bother if you only want to win. That’s not a discussion.

Focus on Data and Facts, Not Generalized Opinions

One of the biggest rules we have when discussing politics is that we focus on facts, not opinion. And really, I’ve failed at this more than she has (as she reminds me of the time I called Paul Ryan a kid). I’m also the one that prefers to get my news from Bill Maher and John Oliver.

But we’re both teachers who expect our students to make credible arguments based on facts, not opinions. We would never allow our students to say stuff like “all Democrats are…” or “all Republicans are…”.

Because none of that is true.

Each party is made of complex groups of people with a wide variety of opinions and perspectives. Debating with facts is the only way to have a productive discussion. Debating on generalization is a waste of time.

No Labels or Name-Calling Allowed

I don’t want to be called “you Liberal fool.”

Stephanie doesn’t want to be called “you Right-Winged moron.”

This one needs no explanation. We teach our kids not to call each other names. If you’re going to talk the talk, start walking that walk.

Be Mad at the Right People

I don’t want to be friends with sexist, racist people. I don’t want to be friends with the KKK-loving Trump supporters. Neither does Stephanie. I don’t want to be friends with any man that believes “grab them by the p——“ is okay. Neither does Stephanie.

Donald Trump has nothing to do with that. We weren’t friends with racists before the election, and that hasn’t changed. I understand the logical reason she voted for Trump. She understands why I didn’t.

And she’s not the person to be angry at. She’s not the reason the Democrats lost. Be mad at the right people. We each have to own our decisions and take responsibility for the consequences. But be willing to ask someone why they voted for someone like Trump. Or Obama. Or anyone else that runs for office.

The answer may surprise you.

Do You Want to Move Forward or Do You Want to Be Right?

Stephanie and I both want to move forward.

We both want a strong, healthy, prosperous America. We both want our families to be safe and happy. We both want our voices to be heard and valued.

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The 2016 election is something that hasn’t changed the fundamental nature of our relationship. And she’s the one I turned to when I needed to feel reassured. She’s the one that’s kept me on track and helped me see the bigger picture. She helped me get past my initial despair and helped me channel it into something positive.

Again, because that’s what friends do.

The fight may have been bloody, but now it’s time to shake hands and remember that we’re friends. We’re all on the same side.

If you truly want to move this nation forward, you can’t stop listening to the “other” side. Tell your elected officials that you expect them to cooperate with each other. Because they are grown-ups. Start acting, posting and living up to a higher standard.

If your only goal is to be right or to win, you’re part of the problem. If you’re ready to move this country forward, be part of the solution.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

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