Posted by: smstrouse | August 28, 2018

Having the Courage to Converse

shutterstock_1094129717 copyWhat do you do when you have a good friend whose politics are different from yours?
It didn’t use to be so much of a dilemma. But
after the presidential election of 2016, maintaining a friendship with someone who voted for
He Who Shall Not Be Named became a huge challenge. We did have a few short phone conversations and went out for dinner once since the election. But we never approached the subject of the elephant in the living room. That was OK for a while, but I knew it wasn’t a recipe for a lasting friendship. So what to do?

Maybe the first thing you do is go out to a really nice place for dinner.
Sitting in a seafood restaurant overlooking the San Francisco Bay, sipping a raspberry margarita turned out to be a good way to start. Let me confess: I did not have any plans for launching into a political conversation. Call me a wuss; I was just trying to be a friend. Maybe that’s all she had in mind as well. But finally, after about two hours of catching up on job and relationship news, she went there. I had a moment of dismay, and then decided that this was the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach. So off we went into uncharted waters. shutterstock_286118273 copy

And guess what! It actually went very well. I really shouldn’t be surprised Both of us come at things from a spiritual perspective; we served together on the board of an interfaith organization; we’re both trained as ministers. We’re on opposite sides of the political divide, but in other ways we are very much aligned. 

But the presidential campaign and election definitely put a strain on us. I knew she had felt alienated during and after the election; supporters of HWSNBN are rare here in the Bay Area. After feeling verbally attacked by people at her church when she tried to tell them that not everyone in the congregation was on the same political page, she has mostly kept quiet about her politics. I, on the other hand, have been vocal in my criticism of HWSNBN, those who voted for him, and those who continue to support him. It would seem that there would be no common political ground on which we could stand.

The second thing you do is listen, really listen . . .
But I was determined to listen. And as I did, I realized something. My friend was not talking so much about politics as the emotional pain of not being able to have civil conversation about issues, of not being able to be her authentic self, of being pre-judged. She also was expressing her dismay at personal attacks on HWSNBN and others in the administration. I realized that what was upsetting her most was our inability to separate issues from people. 

Then you confess . . . (at least to yourself) . . .
I had to agree that it’s not right to shut down someone who is expressing an opinion – even if you vehemently disagree with it. It’s not right to attack a person’s very being – even when they are behaving in a reprehensible manner. It’s the old “do unto others” rule. And I confess that I’ve been put off by some of the over-the-top mockery from the Left. Even when I laugh along with it, I’m not entirely comfortable with stooping to mean-spiritedness. Still, while I was agreeing in principle, it was hard to keep from coming back with, “Yes, but . . . “. I must admit, this election has most certainly tried my adherence to the Golden Rule. “Going high when they go low” seems to have only emboldened bullies. And yet . . . 
You can probably sense my ambivalence here; this is a hard mirror to look into. Is it possible to separate the being of HWSNBN from his actions? My spiritual belief tells me that it is and that I have to pay attention. 

What I told my friend – and this is what I do believe – is that no one is beyond the possibility of transformation. Each and every person is born a beloved child of the Divine. And even when life has piled on layer after layer of hurt, disappointment, trauma, and other woundings – that beloved child is still inside. I have to believe that is true of HWSNBN. But – as I also told my friend – I will never accept the behaviors that he exhibits; I will never stop doing whatever I can to get him out of power. And she accepted that. We continued to discuss and disagree on some of the issues of the day over coffee, but that was OK. 

Taking it on the road???
As we were getting ready to pay the check and leave, I commented that we should put together a workshop on how to have civil conversation in the midst of political differences. I reminded her of Don Frew, a friend of ours from interfaith activities. Don, a Wiccan elder, has been friends for over 30 years with Brooks Alexander, a conservative evangelical Christian and one of the founders of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (you can read the full story here). They have a program they do together (which I’ve attended) in which they tell their story and model how they manage to maintain such an unlikely friendship. Maybe my friend and I could do the same.

She wasn’t convinced. Maybe some day when she wasn’t feeling so hurt by reactions to her by people like me. I wanted to come back with, “Yeah, well, all of us have been feeling hurt since you elected him.” But I didn’t. That would not have done anything to advance the cause of civil discourse. However, she did agree that coming at it from a spiritual perspective would be the right way to go. So maybe . . .

No illusions
I have no illusions that this will be easy. As I watch the petulance of HWSNBN in refusing to acknowledge the life and service of Senator John McCain, I can’t separate him from his actions. However, I can also see the wounded, fearful, mistrustful, anxiety-ridden person hiding behind all the bluster. The layers are massively thick around this one’s beloved center. So I will continue to pray for the healing of that wounded human being, even as I continue to work against the damage he is causing. That is the commitment I make to civil conversation – and to my friend. 

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