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I Choose To Honor You

| | Personal Leadership
I Choose to Honor You

I find myself feeling an alarming sense of anxiety and distress from the 2016 US election conversation.  Sadly, I know I am not alone.

A long-time friend who is a devout Muslim American shared recently that she has had nightmares that someone will come and take her family from their home.  She is someone who has worked tirelessly with an interfaith alliance to bring people of different faiths together to promote understanding, fellowship and peace. She also shared how much the Muslim American community has done to promote peace and stand up to terrorism, yet she is frustrated at the lack of news coverage of any of it.

A young woman whom I have known since she was 5 years old is now a mom with a 1 year old son. She is a professional graphic designer who has chosen to be a stay at home mom. She, too, shared about the anxiety she feels, especially as a mother wondering what kind of world her son will inherit.

Many are asking themselves: how did it come to this?

The answer to this question is complex to say the least.  However, I would like to offer an observation that I believe could have contributed greatly to the state of the US Presidential election.

My observation is that we have been socialized to believe that you should never talk about 2 things in public — politics and religion.

These subjects are perceived to be dangerous because discussion about them can cause uncomfortable interactions and even harm friendships. So instead, we have these kind of conversations only behind closed doors with the like-minded people with whom we feel safe.

Yet now that our differences in belief, attitudes, and political views are being laid bare, we unfortunately have little to no experience talking about them with civility or with an intent to learn something new from those who aren’t like us and those who don’t think like us.  What is worse is that even when we try, angry reactions and character assaults all too often ensue.

We also used to be able to depend on the news to help us fill in the details and understand the issues, yet now we are lulled into complacency by easy to remember sound bytes.  Arguments made for or against either candidate all too often amount to nothing more than a regurgitation of those sound bytes with the content conveniently provided by your news channel of choice.

The result is that we seem to have become “dug in” with our views in a way that has us act more like rabid sports fans than collaborators in this grand experiment called democracy.

Conversations about the opposing candidate don’t tend to go well.  And so when we know we don’t agree, we decide just not to talk politics and go on with business as usual. After all, we know neither one of us is likely to change our view so why ruin a friendship over an election that will be over soon?  Except this year the conversation is not likely to be over on November 9th.

The bottom line is that democracy takes hard work.

And I have come to believe that we, as citizens, haven’t been doing enough of the work necessary to make it work. My evidence for this is that we have 2 candidates who are the most hated and distrusted Presidential candidates in US history. “They” didn’t do this to us. “We” the American people unwittingly let this happen.  After all, it is our country, so doesn’t that mean the future of our country is up to us?

The question is what do we do now?

I offer this as a place to start…

We need to start talking with one another about the things that are hard to talk about.

We need to engage in conversations with people who do not look or think like us so we can learn.

We need to be far more curious and much more discerning about what we believe and what we think we know.

We need to seek truth rather than assume we are being told the truth.

My friend Chery Gegelman launched an idea called Conversation Safari’s as a way to do just that. Inspired by Chery, I wrote the poem below, I Choose to Honor You, in an attempt to capture the spirit we need to bring to our conversations with each other if we truly want to be constructive participants and collaborators in our democracy.

So here is my challenge to you: engage in one conversation in the next week about a specific issue with someone who you know is voting for “the other” candidate.

I Choose to Honor You

Go into the conversation not to convince them of anything, but rather to learn from them and to find some seed of common ground, no matter how small.  Ask questions. Engage with the intent to learn something new.

It may not change anyone’s vote.  But it will begin to build a much-needed bridge of understanding.

After this election, we will have much work to do if we truly want to be “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Why not start now?

 

Image credit: msync

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Enter A Comment

Chery Gegelman   |   23 October 2016   |   Reply

Susan – I know you know you are preaching to the choir on this. And I appreciate that both of us have done deep dives into both candidate’s – learning more about each of their strengths, weaknesses, vision, and character.

And I love this, “We need to start talking with one another about the things that are hard to talk about.
We need to engage in conversations with people who do not look or think like us so we can learn.
We need to be far more curious and much more discerning about what we believe and what we think we know.
We need to seek truth rather than assume we are being told the truth.”

Thank you for the Conversation Safari mention too!

Susan Mazza   |   25 October 2016   |   Reply

Thank you Chery. You continue to be a source of inspiration to me as we travel this inquiry together!

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™   |   24 October 2016   |   Reply

Hi Susan,
I was thrilled to read your post. In this contentious election, I have seen more and more people saying/suggesting that talking about politics is a bad thing to do.

HUH? I started to say when did this happen? Speaking about these issues is not only our right. I see it as a civic responsibility of democracy. By speaking about it I mean discussing it honestly with an open mind and a courteous tongue.

Was thrilled to read your post and will share it on my social streams.

With gratitude,
Kate

Susan Mazza   |   25 October 2016   |   Reply

Thanks so much for your comment and your sharing of this post Kate. It is great to know I am not alone in thinking we need to talk more, not less about the things that really matter!

Mino F Akhtar   |   26 October 2016   |   Reply

Dear Susan, I am so appreciative of your compassion and profound insights about what has led to this hateful state of affairs. Like you, I lament how we as Americans have lost our sense of kindness, compassion and love for each other, and how the media has fueled and amplified this so much. Moreover, we live in an interconnected world with greater complexity which cannot be reduced to a few soundbytes that trigger our animal brains! There is such an opportunity to utilize technology to foster greater understanding, rather than fomenting war and chaos. And I truly hope the next generation will value and implement a nobler vision for humanity than we have done so far. Love, Mino

Susan Mazza   |   26 November 2016   |   Reply

I share this hope Mino: “I truly hope the next generation will value and implement a nobler vision for humanity than we have done so far.” Thank you for your kind words here and for your friendship. (P.S. Thought I had replied to this but apparently I did not press send — sorry for the delay in my response!)