This won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time, but in case you’re new (or haven’t been paying very close attention): I’m the designated non-Republican in my marriage. I’m actually the designated non-Republican in my entire extended family, but it’s never felt quite as acutely as it is with my husband.
As you’d imagine, this disparity has caused a great many spirited discussions, ranging in intensity from “I’m going to pick my words carefully so this doesn’t escalate from ‘discussion’ to ‘argument” to “I need to get out of this house and go for a walk immediately, because I’m so mad I can’t even look at you right now.”
After all the horrific and polarizing events of this past week – the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, followed so closely by the murders of the five police officers in Dallas – I knew from past experience that 1) we’d have very, very different takes on the situation, and 2) that any conversation we’d might have about it would be emotionally charged.
That conversation happened a couple of days ago, and I was right, on both counts.
But then, afterwards, I was able to take a step back, and I finally realized something. An epiphany, if that word works for you. (I’ve been having a lot of those lately. A steady dose of mood stabilizers and weekly therapy appointments will do that to you):
If we can’t find a point of commonality within our own home, how on earth could we expect to do it in our country?
Here then are four (important!) things on which this liberal Democrat and conservative Republican can agree, even as the rest of the country argues on.
1 Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, especially those who are mistreated or maligned or oppressed by much of society. When our eight year old heard our slowly rising voices the other day, and came into the room to make sure all was okay (she’s our little peace-maker), she asked what side each of us was on. I explained that we weren’t really taking sides, and she pressed a little harder, asking me what it was that I wanted to happen. “I just want people to be nice to each other, baby,” I told her. And as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I knew. My husband wants the same thing. We may differ on the path that will take us there, and we might not even agree on what it ultimately looks like, but kindness, respect, and love are always the ultimate goal. For both of us.
2 A little bit of empathy goes a long way. I pretty much walk through the world as one big, open, bleeding, ball of exposed feelings, and Mike is led more by logic and practicality. But when it comes down to it? He has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. He knows how to put himself in someone else’s shoes, and he knows how to put others’ needs ahead of his own. We are both painfully familiar with the feeling of being alone and of being the outcast, for various reasons. At the same time, we both recognize that there are others that feel more alone, and for much deeper reasons.
3 We have to keep having the conversation. Open communication is key here. The only way we can grow, and better ourselves, and learn, is to keep having the uncomfortable discussions. Asking the hard questions. Genuinely trying to hear the other side. Shutting up periodically in order to just listen. Over the past week, I’ve observed a couple of mature, respectful discussions between people with opposing views; people who were honestly hearing each other. Unfortunately I saw far more of this: people stubbornly shouting their beliefs with a bullhorn, and straight-up refusing to hear anything else…. some with figurative fingers in their ears, while they chanted, “Lalalalalala I can’t hear you!” and others with full-on internet tantrums, complete with yelling, stomping, and “Leave me alone!”s Having the conversations and being open to hearing the other side (even if you continue to disagree!) is so, so important. And shutting down a conversation with name calling and insults and being a general jerk about it is never the answer. Mike and I both know this, which is why we keep talking about it, and keep revisiting the same issues – discomfort be damned. We miss the mark
most of the time sometimes, but we keep on trying.
4 The best place to start making changes is in our home, with our own children. There is a bumper sticker that says something like, “World peace begins at home. Be nicer to your kids.” Wiser words were never spoken. We are sending our four kids out into a world that is confused and broken and – in times like this past week – downright scary. But we have hope (both for our kids and for the world they’re going to inhabit) because we can see with our own eyes how powerful it is to raise kids with kindness instead of control. Respect instead of coercion. Compassion instead of punishment. We can’t fix all the ills of society. We often don’t even know where to start. But being nicer to our kids? That we can do. That’s something that all of us can do. We can raise kids that care about other people. Kids that are compassionate and strong and who stand up for the needs of others. Kids that do the right thing, not because it’s what we’ve told them to do, or because they might get punished if they don’t do it, but because it’s the right thing. And more than anything, kids who know how to love… deeply, fully, and without condition.
As L.R. Knost so beautifully states:
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
And I honestly believe – indeed, I have to believe – that my kids (and your kids too!) will help make that a reality.
There are some pretty big things that we’re never going to see eye-to-eye on, to be sure, but if we can continue to agree on the above, I think my husband and I will be okay.
And maybe, eventually, the rest of us will be okay, too.