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Talking across political divides or Don’t cancel Thanksgiving

I don’t know your family. Or your many well-thought-out reasons why you don’t want to hang out with them and their crazy opinions, especially after this election. Or maybe you’re super stoked for Thanksgiving with The Fam.

Either way and regardless of your politics, I’m guessing that it’s pretty tempting right now to hole up and talk with people who agree with you. Let’s face it, that’s what most of us did in the lead up to November 8th, and probably long before that too.

This strikes me as a big, fat problem.

Conservatives and liberals are afraid of each other, and talking to each other less and less. So how do we move forward in a political system engineered to help us find common ground when we barely know how to have a conversation with a member of the other party?

Political conversation
Photo by Steve McFarland

I know this divide well, since mine is a family made up of liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, Muslims and Christians.

Before the election, we didn’t talk politics at all. But since November 9th, it’s been our main topic of conversation in texts, over the phone and on Skype. I’m shocked to report that the result of all this talking across political divides has not been debilitating waves of fear, anger and dread. In fact, I feel closer to my family than I have since I was a kid. This is not because everyone suddenly agrees. It’s because somehow, we’ve found a way to talk about our widely ranging opinions that leaves me wanting to call back or follow up with a text question rather than run far far away. We’ve stumbled upon a rare, cultural occurrence in this day and age; ours is the dodo bird of political conversations.

I’m working on an essay about this whole experience that I hope will get published on a larger platform, since I think our conversations can offer some hope and a way forward for families and friends who are feeling more divided than ever.

For now, let me share what has been helpful to all of us so far.

Stop trying to convert each other.

We all know what it’s like to have a crappy political conversation. It gets sweaty and fast, brows are furrowed, voices get tense, and talking points get volleyed back and forth. The whole thing lurches to a close with everyone feeling dissatisfied and trying to patch things up with inane sports or weather talk.

I suspect that these types of discussions suck because we walk into them with the goal of converting each other. Turns out that talking to people who are trying to change us feels patronizing as hell. It feels like they’re assuming we’re idiots or that they know better or both. And if you’re the one on a crusade, well, it gets lonely up there on your know-it-all high horse.

Stop assuming that people are their labels, and that you are yours.

As the dreamy Walt Whitman once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” Damn straight, Walt. Everyone you know is a person first and a liberal or a conservative or [insert political label] second. Since my family stopped assuming what we each think based on who we voted for, we’re discovering that few (if any) of us adhere to a strict party line on everything. So we actually have a few things—gasp!—on which we agree.

Start asking questions and actually listening.

It’s been awkward to try to understand each other without making assumptions, because it means we’ve been asking very basic and sometimes embarrassing questions, like “Has anyone ever been racist to you?” or “What’s actually so bad about the national debt? I remember reading something about why it isn’t so bad.” When you stop assuming, it means you actually have to ask questions to discover things. And the space that all those assumptions took up starts being replaced by good, old-fashioned curiosity.

Start sharing personal experiences.

Pretty much everyone I know would rather listen to a story about someone’s life rather than some list of bullet points about why they support some political ideology. When you dig deep into why you believe the stuff you do, I bet you’ll find some stories. Tell those. Ask others about theirs.

This other type of conversation I’m describing—this non-converting, non-assuming, curious, personal type of conversation—tends to not suck. You walk away thoughtful. Sure, maybe you’re still pissed or freaked out, even betrayed by Aunt Edna’s politics, but you learned a couple things you didn’t know about her, and maybe even started to question what you actually do think about the national debt.

This little list of Dos and Don’ts is essentially a recipe for openness, learning and respect, three things I want as the starting point for any family or nation of mine.

If we all had more practice having conversations across party lines in this way, I think we’d find ourselves in a different America.

That’s the America I want.


I know I’m not the only one having these conversations. If you have tips or tricks or revelations of your own in talking across the political divide, please share them in a comment below.

Mostly stay at home mom tries to carve out space for another job

I’m about to find out just how much work I do everyday. Next month, I’ll have 12 hours less every week to launder and nurse and clean and shop and cook and shuttle and coordinate.

I got a job.

The acquisition of this job was a complete miracle.

As I bounced Cal down for one of the first naps after AJ returned to work after his paternity leave, I thought one of those thoughts that feels three dimensional. It popped up like a glossy cartoon bubble with words dressed in a distinctive font above my head:

I think I want a job.

It’s time for a big caveat now because, as we all know, I already have a job. A big, fat raise-2-children-and-keep-a-house-going job. And since I had Jo, I’ve had many paying jobs—freelancing video production or taking doula clients. But the cartoon bubble thought was about an employee job, an I-do-what-you-tell-me-to-and-you-keep-the-work-coming-and-sign-the-checks job.

Literally (and I mean Literally!) half an hour later, I got a phone call from a woman I’d met at a 4-year-old birthday party the week before, and she said, “Hey, this is Ada from Lex’s birthday party. Do you want a job?”

Why yes, I do.

And so now I have one. Weird.

The day before I got the job, I was lamenting the oceans of time I had at home. I could go into existential fits about the next sink of dishes or diaper change—“Is this all there is?!”

I’d find myself fantasizing about this.

Photo by Tim Caynes
Photo by Tim Caynes

The day after I got the job, I started clinging to Cal, and feeling all nostalgic hanging the laundry up on the line. I would actually find myself enjoying, nay treasuring the idyllic fantasyland that is staying at home with your children.

IMG_1726

Grass is greener anyone?

I start mid-November, and I’m nervous about all the logistics—getting Jo to pre-school, then Cal to the nanny share, then me to work. And then, 6 hours later, do the whole thing in reverse, burst into the house and start sorting dinner out while I try to deeply re-connect with one kinetic 4 year old and one snuggly 5 monther.

The amount of energy and coordination it is taking to free my time for 12 regular hours of paid work is extraordinary.  It’s as though I have to build up enough speed to catapult myself into orbit or something. I have to coordinate childcare schedules for two different kids at three different locations, re-work my participation schedule at Jo’s pre-school, figure out the whole breast pumping palava and wonder how, after all is said and done, the groceries will find their way home and the clothes will get washed and the food get to our table.

At the risk of sounding like a privileged, ungrateful whiner, I’m resentful about the particular overwhelm I’m feeling during this transition into work.

I wanna get all 4-year-old trantrum-y and stomp my feet. It’s just not fair that I feel like I’ll still have all the same responsibilities AND 12 hours of paid work to do every week. If I don’t initiate some conversations with AJ about a significant re-organizing of responsibilities and maybe finding a house cleaner, I’m basically expecting it to look like a hell hole around here in a couple weeks. I want someone to step in and equitably re-arrange everything so that AJ and I both have equal and manageable responsibilities on the home front.

I think that person will have to be me.

Well, would you look at that—another new job.