I recently attended a wedding reception. It was a lovely evening: a celebration of the couple, their families and love. Everything was perfect until dinner, when I was seated between a politician and …
I recently attended a wedding reception. It was a lovely evening: a celebration of the couple, their families and love. Everything was perfect until dinner, when I was seated between a politician and a woman with diametrically opposed views. The mood was nearly as tough as my catered steak.
After 15 minutes of unrelenting pontification from both sides, I asked them a simple question: what can be done to end polarization? The conservative quickly told me what the liberal should do. The liberal told me how the conservative needed to change. They both knew what the other person should do but had no plan for themselves. No personal responsibility, just self-righteous arrogance, truth be told.
That strikes me as the norm these days. A phenomenon which is not isolated to politics, religion, death or taxes. Women know what men should do. Men mansplain in return. Many Christians assume that morality is exclusively theirs, with no room for negotiation. Agnostics aren’t so sure. Atheists just want to be left alone and are fairly sure that’s how we all end up. People who pay off their credit cards are accused of being in the upper one percent.
I generalize, but identify, pointing a finger in my own direction. I see it in others because I’m certain I’ve done it myself. No one’s guilt is separate from my own.
This dynamic is evidenced everywhere these days, including Narrowsburg, NY, which makes me sad. I think our little town deserves better. Everyone has the right to say whatever they want to, but is it constructive? Are you trying to educate people about something in which you really believe or just being a provocateur? If it’s the latter, what have you really accomplished?
How can we all engage? I’ve thought about it long and hard since that summer wedding reception, and I’ve only come up with one answer. Listen more than you talk. Let the other person explain what motivates their opinions or choices without waiting for them to take a breath so you can begin talking.
So that’s my request of the forever appreciated people using their valuable time to read this column. Over the next few weeks, reach out to someone with a point of view different from your own. Weekender engage with a local. White collar listen to blue. Man talk to woman. Boomer buy a Millennial a cup of coffee.
The minute you feel the urge to judge what they’re saying, take a deep breath. Instead of saying no, ask why. Instead of saying, “You’re wrong,” ask, “What made you start looking at things that way?” Perhaps, afterward, you’ll find yourselves standing on shared middle ground.