If you're a regular reader of HeartWood, you may have noticed I was absent last week. Like many people, I was absorbing the election results. And though I had written parts of this blog post before the election, I had to think about whether what I had written truly reflected my feelings. I concluded that it does.
Don't worry, I'm not going to get all political on you. I might do that in other settings, but that's not what this blog is for. Instead, I'd like to offer something to think about, post-election, no matter how you voted or how you feel about the outcome.
One point I think we all can agree on: the events of this election year haven't exactly promoted harmony and understanding among people with differing viewpoints. If anything, our divisions are deeper, our mistrust more pronounced, our fears more troubling.
So what now? Do we live with these bad feelings and allow them to fester? Or do we, who purportedly care about connection, goodwill and peaceful conflict resolution, do what we can to turn things in a more positive direction, while still working to further the causes we believe in? I cast my vote for the latter, and I have a suggestion to pass along for how to begin.
I can't take credit for the idea. I read about it in a short piece published in O magazine in 2011. The article made such an impression on me, I saved it, and when I re-read it recently, I thought it even more relevant today than when it was written.
In the article, author Elizabeth Lesser wrote about "otherising," the distressing and dangerous practice of ordinary people demonizing other ordinary people simply because of differences in opinions, beliefs, or other traits.
Like the recent presidential race, the 2008 election saw quite a lot of otherising, wrote Lesser. "And there was one woman doing it who bothered me the most—me! I'm a true believer in our capacity to care and cooperate, but there I was, participating in otherising rants, calling whole groups of people evil wrongdoers, though I had never talked to them."
This from a woman who cofounded the Omega Institute and has written books about love, spirituality and transformation!
Does Lesser's admission strike a chord? Be honest, now. In recent months, have you found yourself making assumptions and negative remarks about people whose political views differ from yours? I'll be surprised if you say no—I'm sure we've all done some of that.
An experience similar to my canvassing and calling encounters led Lesser to the "experiment" she wrote about in the O article. After lunching with an activist from an opposing camp and conversing cordially about family, jobs and larger concerns, Lesser began to deliberately seek out such meetings, if for no other reason than to "breed civility" in her own heart.
She came up with a few ground rules for both parties to agree to (to which I've added a little of my own spin):
You don't have to seek out strangers for these discussions; most of us have friends, neighbors and relatives who feel differently than we do about hot-button issues.
I'm not saying these conversations will be easy. It's much more comfortable to speak our minds when we're among people who nod and say, "Exactly!" But when I've dared to step outside that comfort zone and talk openly with friends and acquaintances who don't share my views, I've not only come to understand them better, I've had to think more deeply about my own opinions in order to articulate them.
So what do you think about the idea of taking an Other to lunch? Is it naïve to believe it might lead to a little more understanding? Or is it worth a try?
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.