I usually try to play it safe. My conversation with Phil taught me that hard lesson. There are just some things you can’t talk about. Certain people will take it wrong and you (and everyone connected) will end up suffering. So since then, I’ve tried to stick to topics that are easy and non-divisive.
But lately I’ve felt like being brave. I decided to take a chance and start a conversation with my friend Andrea.
Andrea isn’t shy — at all. She aligns with the liberal/progressive side of most things and is very knowledgeable about almost any political topic. She regularly communicates with her representatives and encourages others to do the same. Yeah, she’s intimidating. She’s a great and loving friend, but she’s just one of those confident, amazing people that kinda leaves you speechless sometimes, ya know?
So, holding my breath, I reached out to Andrea and asked if she’d be willing to help me understand her perspective of a particular topic… abortion.
I know, I know. That topic again. *Sigh. Maybe I wanted a sense of balance since almost every conversation I’ve ever had on the topic (starting with Phil) has not gone very well. It might have been that I wanted to prove to myself that it is possible to talk about abortion. At any rate, I felt like taking a chance.
What followed? Just about the best conversation I’ve ever had. It was like eating an entire carton of my favorite ice cream on a hot afternoon, but without the weight gain because I’d already burned 4000 calories sweating and working out all morning! It was like shopping for three hours with no luck and then finding the perfect dress and not only did they have my size, it was on sale for 90% off so I could buy it in two colors!
It was like… when I miscarried four times in a row and I was giving birth to my miracle baby.
Not only was balance restored, but I was reminded how important it is to talk things out and try to understand where other people are coming from on these issues. This conversation gave me a glimpse of what’s possible.
But wait. Most political conversations are awful. What made my conversation with Andrea so great?
First, Andrea started the conversation by asking me what part of the issue I wanted to discuss. Very smart. This not only helped her focus her thoughts and find a starting point, it also helped her get an idea where I stood on the issue. Then, as she explained her views, she worked to find common ground and often acknowledged things that were important to me. This helped me feel valued and validated.
In return, I made a special effort to listen to Andrea. After all, I already know what I know, but I didn’t know what she knew. These issues are tricky. It can be hard for us, any of us, to express ourselves — specially during difficult conversations. I tried to give her time to formulate her thoughts and express herself before jumping in and making assumptions. And as I listened, I was surprised to hear her echo so many of my own thoughts on abortion, even if from a slightly different angle.
We laughed, we cried. (Well, at least I laughed and I cried.) I came to understand that the topic is important to both of us. And because we share the same fundamental values, which we managed to establish during the conversation, we expressed similar solutions. Yet, and this is the saddest part, I rarely hear amazing solutions like ours being talked about.
Because we don’t really talk about it.
There is so much more to these issues. Rarely is the answer found in the black and the white, but in the colors and the textures of real life.
It is a risk to talk about politics. It’s not easy to express our thoughts, stay informed, and humbly acknowledge what we don’t know. It’s equally hard to speak up and express what we do know. But as I’ve talked with Lezhai about Jerusalem, Anna about gun control, and Roxana about international relations, in addition to Andrea about abortion, I have learned so much. I know the world needs your thoughts, your experience, your talents, your colors and textures to guide us through to better solutions.
Politics needs us to take a chance.