Bridging the great divide: 10 tips for getting along with people with different political views

Pam Growth Leave a Comment

In case you haven’t noticed, the US is divided politically to an extent we haven’t seen in generations. Two very different, broad visions exist of what our country is supposed to be. Which will produce the most good for the most people? Should we aspire to European-style Democratic Socialism, where few become wealthy but nobody becomes destitute, and everyone has access to education and healthcare? Or should we aspire to unfettered free-market Capitalism, where everyone has an equal opportunity, through hard work and persistence, to achieve whatever level of success they desire? How do we best deal with the threat of global terrorism? How do we address the plight of the shrinking middle class?

The purpose of Koa Leaf isn’t to serve as a forum for political debate; plenty of other sites exist for that. Pam and I are not fans of Donald Trump. In almost every respect, he’s the polar opposite of what it means to live aloha. While we lean toward the Liberal end of the political spectrum (hey, we live in Portland), we don’t believe that any single ideology holds all the answers.

Like many people, we lost Facebook friends during the campaign and after the election, and we got into arguments with people who are close to us. We have friends and relatives who believe that Trump is just what this country needs. Can we all come together and find common ground? Probably not, at least in the short term. We can do things to get along with people on the other side of the political fence, though. Here are 10 tips for doing so:

1. Assume good intentions.

Most of us want the same things in life: love, friendship, a good job that pays a decent income, a safe and comfortable home, enough food that we don’t go hungry, time to relax, freedom from fear and violence, and the opportunity to become the best person we can be. Thanks to our different personalities, upbringings, environments, and experiences, though, we often have very different ideas of how to get to that shining “city on the hill.” One person thinks we should build a bridge over the river. Another person thinks we should dig a tunnel through the mountain. We can’t do both. So what do we do? If it were easy to figure out, the great divide wouldn’t exist.

2. Don’t feed the trolls.

On the other hand, not everyone has good intentions. Some people like to cause trouble, insult and demean others, and toss out grenades just to see what happens. Why? Maybe they have low self-esteem. Maybe they’re angry at everyone and everything. In any case, they thrive on attention. You’ve probably noticed that, when someone posts a comment that’s over the top in its hatefulness, well-meaning people respond in outrage and disgust—but the original poster rarely returns to comment. If nobody responded to trolls, most of them would stop posting.

3. Talk (and, more importantly, listen).

How do you separate the people with good intentions from the trolls? Talk with them—especially if you know them personally. Ask them why they think, believe, and feel the way they do. Explain why you think, believe, and feel the way you do. You might not change each other’s views, but you might come to respect them. One of my best friends is a hardcore Reagan-era Conservative. We’ve had long, thoughtful, intelligent conversations about our beliefs, and we appreciate each other’s perspectives.

4. Acknowledge your biases.

We all have biases. When I see something anti-Trump, anti-Conservative, or pro-Liberal, my first thought is that it’s probably true. Conversely, when I read something put out by the Trump  administration, my initial response is to grit my teeth and roll my eyes. But then I pause, step back, and try to be objective. I believe that some of the so-called “mainstream media” indeed are trying to find every little thing they can to make Trump look bad. Yet I also believe that he brought it on himself. And so it becomes a vicious cycle.

5. Educate yourself.

One thing that upsets me is the disdain for education expressed by so many people. Learning about history, different cultures, the arts and sciences, and so on isn’t “being brainwashed” or “becoming an elitist with no common sense.” It broadens your horizons and allows you to see things from other people’s points of view. By “education,” I don’t necessarily mean a formal degree from an Ivy League college. Some of the most well-educated people I know didn’t finish college, but they made it a point to educate themselves. The Internet has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it’s made the world a smaller place, providing us with unprecedented access to the diversity that is humankind. On the other hand, it’s enabled people with certain views to connect with and isolate themselves with people who share the same views. Don’t limit yourself to an echo chamber.

6. Resist simplistic solutions.

You’ve heard the saying that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. That “free” holiday weekend requires you to sit through a long presentation in which you’re pressured into buying fractional ownership in a time-share condo. That “bargain” house has extensive termite damage and is sitting on top of an impending sink-hole. Most humans are lazy in some areas of our lives. We want the quick-and-easy weight-loss solution, the winning lottery ticket, and the political leader who is going to fix all of our problems with a few simple policies that anyone with common sense would have implemented long ago. The problem is that the world is complex and is getting more so all the time. That seemingly no-brainer solution almost certainly will have far-reaching consequences that aren’t obvious. Don’t fall for promises of simplistic solutions to complex problems.

7. Check your facts.

Sadly, we’ve entered the “post-truth era,” where “alternative facts,” “fake news,” and opinions are considered just as valid as truth and actual facts. Many people believe that the end justifies the means—that lies told to further a goal are appropriate and necessary. If you’re one of the hold-outs who still believe in the value of good, old-fashioned truth and objectively verifiable facts, then don’t inadvertently add to the problem by repeating a supposed fact that supports your viewpoint without first checking to see if it is indeed a fact. Look it up on Snopes, PolitiFact, or one of the other fact-checking sites. And, for goodness sake, don’t knowingly repeat “fake news” by rationalizing that, well, the other side does it.

8. Don’t cherry-pick your facts.

People have become so entrenched in their ideology of choice that they refuse to concede that their ideology has its bad points, and other ideologies have their good points. Conservatives, at their most extreme, believe that big business is inherently good and big government is inherently evil. Liberals, at their most extreme, believe the converse. Both sides fail to acknowledge that business and government are run by human beings—some of whom are good, and some of whom are not so good. If you’re going to point out that Socialism encourages lazy people to take advantage of the welfare system, then acknowledge that Capitalism encourages greedy people to unfairly exploit their workers.

9. Practice aloha.

Don’t become what you hate. Calling someone a snowflake, Libtard, Dumbocrat, Republi-con, or dRumpster isn’t going to change their point of view. Take the high road, which so few people do on the Internet. Don’t respond to a post while you’re angry. If you feel that you must respond, take into account the previous eight tips. I see very little intelligent debate on the Internet. Most of it consists of the trading of lame insults.

10. Take a break from politics.

In the month following Trump’s inauguration, I noticed that most of my Facebook friends cut way back on the number of emotionally charged political posts and returned to posting about vacations, the accomplishments of their kids, cute animals, and so on. Despite the worst fears of Liberals, the US likely will survive the Donald Trump era, just as it likely would have survived a Hillary Clinton era. So post a picture of your cat. Go outside and take a walk. Read a book. Ask your family members about their day. Have a glass of wine. Relax.

What about you? Do you have any other tips to share about getting along with the “loyal opposition”?

Featured image at top: Crooked River Gorge, Oregon (with dream-like filter applied)

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