Look, I’m not delusional. I know I can’t always steer things my way or get people to agree with me. But do I have to constantly feel like a drunk Australian bumbling my way through politics?
Because sometimes that’s exactly how I feel.
I first met Andrew, my drunk Australian friend, by walking the streets of Jakarta as I worked to help refugees and displaced people. Andrew wasn’t homeless and he wasn’t a refugee. He was a bum of a guy who specifically picked Indonesia for the easy access and affordability of all of his vices. He loved telling me in graphic detail all about it. He was usually drunk by 10am when I’d arrive to pass out the donations I’d collected and make my rounds. He never asked for items himself, he’d just hang around and talked — very loudly. He was dirty and smelly from not caring for himself. He had scabs and scars all over from the times he’d fallen in a drunken stupor. He was poorly dressed and overly obnoxious.
I feel your pain, Andrew. I really do.
I went to a meeting a few weeks ago, a “civic engagement” meeting where I was greatly outnumbered as far as political leanings. I kept quiet for the most part, showing respect and focused on listening. But at one point I decided to offer a suggestion based on some experience I’d had. Bam! I was immediately slammed down for not considering people with disabilities enough. Oh sure, my idea included wheelchair access, but did it consider all of the other physical disabilities???
About a month ago I decided to get more involved in the discussion about adjusting a party platform so that it could be more inclusive. The topic was abortion, a naturally sensitive and divisive issue, but one that matters a lot to a lot of people. I wasn’t advocating for my personal beliefs but trying to make sure people across the political spectrum could relate to something in the statement. What did I get? I got poli-splained (politically explained) to death and after multiple attempts to be heard, the platform remains unchanged.
Yeah, Andrew. No one wants to listen to us.
I’ve seen it happen to other people too. A person goes out on a limb to make a comment or share a point and – boom! – they get shot down immediately. It makes me so sad to see someone make a comment, maybe including something incorrect or a little insensitive, and then getting completely chewed up and spit out for it.
This is why people avoid politics.
Now some of you may not be as aggressive towards people of different political views. When I first met Andrew, I found him mildly entertaining. I wondered what foolish thing would come out of his mouth next. I was curious how graphic he’d get when he’d talk about the prostitute waiting for him, at that very moment, in his room. He didn’t seem to worry about what people thought of him or how ridiculous he sounded. He’d just yell out, either to me or no one in particular, stupid things and I could simply laugh at him.
And then, maybe on the second or third visit, I randomly decided to greet him by shaking his hand and looking him right in the eyes. He was a little less drunk that day and the gesture caught him off guard. I could see a shadow of a spark light up in his eyes. He was quiet and thoughtful for a moment. Then he asked me my name and where I came from. That’s when I learned his name and that he had a daughter named Emily, just like me. He told me a little about his childhood and some of the jobs he’d had. On the next visit he was drunk as usual, but he tried standing up straighter when he saw me coming. He apologized for his bad language and rudeness. As he would wander into unsavory subjects he’s catch himself and apologize, and then out of habit, keep talking about it.
But the biggest difference wasn’t the effect I had on him when I started treating him more like a person, it was the effect he had on me. True, he didn’t look like much, but all of those scars and sweaty dirt smears represented experiences, perspective, and authenticity. Underneath the smell, the appearance, and the offensive language was a really valuable person. Of course, he believed and lived in a way completely opposite to the way I believed, but so? Acknowledging him didn’t change me or what I believed. It did allow us to relate and connect as fellow human beings. It allowed for common ground and the beginning of a bridge.
Most important of all, I realized he was and is just as valuable as I am. With all of his vices and failings and in spite of all of my good choices and “lesser mistakes”, that didn’t make me better or more important, didn’t make him worse or less relevant.
You may have plenty of drunk Australians joining your political conversations. You may feel like one. Maybe you are one. But our objective shouldn’t be to point out all the stupid things that are said. We shouldn’t worry about proving whatever high moral ground we think we stand on. Despite what you may believe, each one of us is valuable.
We might need to have someone shake our hand, look us in the eye, and remind us of just how valuable we are.