|An odd couple / Cindy La Ferle|
While clearing out the last of the summer planters and perennial beds, Doug found the tiny gnome (above) buried in a tangle of expired morning glories. Setting the little guy next to a garden angel on the window sill, he didn't realize that he'd gifted me with a photo opportunity -- and inspired a philosophical reverie.
As soon as I noticed the unlikely pair perched together, I thought about the courage it takes to find common ground with people who are different or don't share our point of view. And then I thought about how our nation has become so tribal and polarized on matters of politics and policy. I've been struggling, unsuccessfully, to come to terms with this awkward divide in my own social life.
With the exception of my most intimate friends, everyone seems to be avoiding the difficult conversations.
The safest thing to do, of course, is to stick with non-controversial topics. My late father believed that discussing one's religion and politics in public was impolite. (Does impolite behavior even bother anyone now?) My father's post-Edwardian mindset still makes perfect sense if you're trying to maintain your professional boundaries with colleagues or coworkers, or if you prefer keeping casual friends or relatives at a well-guarded distance.
But as any psychologist will tell you, the key to building close and enduring friendships is honest self-disclosure. If we conceal our problems, withhold our strong opinions, and never discuss our core values with each other, our relationships will likely remain superficial or transient.
I'm equally guilty of practicing avoidance techniques. Over the past year, I've had in-depth political discussions only with my trusted tribe -- the friends with whom I feel safe and comfortable. Whenever I'm the least bit unsure of someone, I tend to soft-pedal my viewpoint or hide my beliefs out of fear of being judged or shamed.
I know this is a painful topic. And I'm not promoting hostile or confrontational discussion. We get enough of that on our cable news stations.
But I am talking about opening our hearts and minds to each other on a much deeper level. As sociologist Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead: "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen."
I enjoy few things more than engaging with fair-minded people who are willing to discuss the important stuff, the big issues. I want to know what my friends and family are thinking about current events. I want to understand the moral compass that guides them, how they study the issues, what they're reading and watching, how they make hard choices, and what truly matters to them politically as well as personally. Today, more than ever, the political is personal. I'm willing to listen -- and learn -- even when I'm not comfortable with what I'm hearing.
Our country is in deep crisis. If we can't begin to talk about it, well, I guess I'll have to leave it at that. ~Cindy La Ferle