Take a seat

This is a post about the conversations we are not having. The conversations that we should be having. The listening we could be doing. This is a post about building bridges.

I sat down in the breakfast room of my hotel, deep in Republican country, a place with avid supporters of the NRA, and found myself greeted by the blaring morning FOX news. Initially, I told myself to take it in. To listen to the other side of the story. But the more I listened, the more I felt the truth was being distorted, changed, altered. And I found myself wondering, while chowing down on a pretty average bagel, what it would feel like to be a passionate FOX news listener stuck reading the New York Times.

My aunt had a friend who was a Trump supporter. Had, because the moment that truth became apparent, the friendship dissolved. Unfriended. And I wondered. Was unfriending a thing before the age of Facebook? Did we disavow ourselves of relationships based on political affiliations? Why are we so unwilling to listen?

I find myself sitting at a table, surrounded by my friends. We chorus louder and louder about the issue at hand. We preach to the converted and sing our gospel together. We gesticulate wildly about our points, knowing the audience will echo our call. We seek opinions that verify our own. We avoid that which questions our beliefs. And so we become siloed.

We have truths only in so far as theories which have withstood the battering of scientific and social analysis. And there are plenty of truths that are hard to deny. Climate change. Infrastructure breakdown. Healthcare failures. Increasing income inequality (the second link suggests maybe it's not as bad as we think). We know these things are happening. Politics is about our preferred way of negotiating these truths and finding solutions. Your solution and mine may not be the same. But unless we can sit down and discuss our opinions, we have no way of meeting in the middle.

I believe in the government as a safety net for us all. A protective force to help us withstand the unexpected, to build a future that can be most prosperous for the large majority (preferably all) of us. Not everyone believes in that. Not everyone wants big government. But I've seen too many families struck down by the illness of just one, too many unexpected and unpreventable deaths, too many preventable things that have come to pass because we are all human. And so, in the fragility of us all, I see safety in a government that says, yes, we will make sure you get healthcare. A government that says, yes, we will help you be educated in order for you to find a way to contribute back to the economy. A government that says, yes, we will provide for the infirm in order that their families may still engage with the community so the illness of one is the not the downfall of many. Not to say, of course, that great learning and change does not come from illness.

I have seen, even in one of the most supportive governments, the people who fall through the cracks. The people who cannot access home support for their disability because they are too young or too old. The people who cannot afford their home repayments because their illness takes them away from work. And I can only wonder, in horror, as to the fates of people who are not so well-served by their governments.

I see, here, in the land of the free, in land where we are meant to be together as one (it seems that's never quite been the case), a constant rhetoric that "in God we Trust." But if we trust so much in Him, why does He let so many down? Who is there to support those that this God has forgotten? I sit here, in a country with a second amendment that allows the bearing of increasingly powerful guns, watching people shackled by the fear that comes from not knowing if the percentage of melanin in their skin will bring them to harm. Knowing that Stand Your Ground laws may impede your family's opportunities to see justice in the event that something terrible happens.

And I feel, so strongly, that there is something terribly broken about all of this. A country founded on the backs of immigrants - forty percent of the nation is descendant just from those who passed through Ellis Island - rejecting the newest wave of freedom seekers. A country rejecting change and innovation, the very things that have built this nation into a land of opportunity. A country failing to listen in the cacophony of voices.

And so I'd really like it if we could sit around a table and listen. To take a few minutes or an hour to consider the opinions of the other, rather than harmonising to our own tune. Republicans are not bad - most people are not inherently evil or mean or devious - and have a great many spectacular presidents under their banner (check out this interesting wiki article on ranking of presidents). So too we must see that Democrats are not to be idealised as objects of perfection. Or, depending on which side of the fence you sit on, the inverse of those two statements.

Make room for thoughts and ideas that make you uncomfortable. Make space to critically analyse the propositions of your political opposites. Make time to consider the value of these policies and how your ideas and theirs can be integrated for the betterment of the nation. Put yourself in the shoes of the other. And so, timeless in its nature, remember the words of FDR: "that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." History will be the judge of our time.

A view of the Mississippi River, a provider of food and water. A feature of fearsome history.

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