She’s one of the most likeable women you’d ever meet—sweet, positive, and so down-to-earth that you forget to be intimidated by her ridiculous beauty. She gave birth to her first child while her husband was deployed overseas, and she continues to raise their babies with enthusiasm while maintaining a fairytale marriage and caring, deeply, for her friends and extended family. I haven’t seen her in several years, but we keep up[ish] through Facebook, and I’d love to have a coffee with her (or run a marathon, which is more her style and might have something to do with the ridiculous beauty factor).

That is, I’d love to have a coffee with her if I could be certain that politics would never enter the conversation. Regularly since the 2008 election, she’s been posting hate-laced statuses about our current American president, and not just pointing out policies she doesn’t agree with, but defaming his character, blaming him for everything she sees wrong in the world, claiming that his presidency is literally making her sick, and viciously insulting anyone who wishes him well. And see, that anyone happens to include me.

She’s not the only one either, and according to my Facebook home page, some of my friends—all good people who would never say the following to my face—indirectly call me an ignorant commie, heretical, devoid of common sense, a jaw-flapping liberal, anti-American, a fool. Keep in mind that this is before the election; votes have yet to be cast, and the vitriol loading down friend feeds across the world is directed solely toward… well, belief.

I honestly don’t know how to shrug off the weight of that. I haven’t voted yet—I haven’t even decided which candidate will get my vote—but I know that my thought processes about government and standard of living are enough in themselves to attract poison-tipped backlashes, even if I never try to propagate those thoughts. Just the fact that they’re different from some others’ is enough. I want so badly to believe that we as a humanity have matured, that the people of today would never put Galileo on trial for claiming that our planet revolved around the sun, that we would never imprison Dostoevsky for discussing Western philosophy with his friends or condemn Socrates for encouraging free thought in his students or launch inquisitions to force orthodoxy on the populace… but I don’t know if it’s that we’re more mature now or if we simply have less power to turn hateful opinions into hateful actions.

I’d planned to keep my blog a politics-free zone this election season, to stay far out of the various lines of fire and [fingers crossed] avoid any combative holiday dinners. I’m still hurting from some of the things said about me, my husband, and even our sweet little girls back in 2008, and I don’t want to open up my beliefs again to that kind of derision. On the other hand, I know deep down that it’s not enough to step back and passively disapprove. I can’t hope to see change by refusing to engage any more than I could by dashing off snide critiques of the presidential debate, and I don’t want the better part of my identity, the part that stands for rather than against, to atrophy simply because I’m afraid of criticism.

So here, friends, is what makes my heart beat stronger in this election season, what I believe in enough to brave the often-toxic political climate and speak up:

– Respectful, curiosity-fueled discussions meant to better understand another’s way of thinking rather than bash that thinking as wrong or stupid. I know the Presidential Debate isn’t likely to become the Presidential Win-Win Relational Learning Hour anytime soon, but interviewing a friend with a different outlook could be a great start. (Rachel Held Evan’s “Ask a…” series is a fantastic example.)

– Open-mindedness and sincere consideration of all sides. Our political affiliations are so often determined by our family backgrounds rather than our core values, and even though honest reflection will probably lead us right back to our original positions, we can hopefully come back with more personal conviction, a deeper regard for those who arrive at other conclusions, and a sense that our nation is not red and blue so much as it is purple.

– Love across party lines—when we put down the pitchforks and snarky e-cards and choose to see people’s worth apart from their political leanings. Dan is not one microspeck less the man I love because we sometimes vote differently, and despite our many conversations about politics through the years, he has yet to realize he’s married to an anti-American commie heretic. I’ve lost out on so much goodness in the past by letting political fervor cloud my view of the people in my life, and I can personally attest that there is no victory in making a point at the expense of relationships.

– Grace toward those who make us angry, either by their differing beliefs or through their harsh words. This is the hardest one for me, but I recognize that my adorable military-wife friend needs me to take her cruel words with perspective and forgiveness just as much as I need her to take my support of the president with understanding and respect. This grace thing, it goes both ways.

You know, I was thisclose to bowing out of Facebook this morning. I had the status box already filled in with a quippy explanation of how all the political posts were driving me away, but as my finger hovered over the “Post” button, I caught a glimpse of my words as others would see them—as a conversation-ender, a slammed door. I might not have been posting vitriol or preaching what I think you should think about economic reform, but it was graceless all the same, a 180° deviation from the open mind and heart I so want to cultivate.

I don’t have an exact picture of what my role should look like, now that soap-boxer and head-buried ostrich are out, but I’m willing to explore the possibilities in between. I might just stick with listener (and occasional blogger) for now. Like so many other Americans, I want change, but the change I’m craving has less to do with policies and more to do with people, and people aren’t something to be argued away. We’re all roommates on this planet, charged by our very design with caring for each other, and the fact that we’re each wired to see the world uniquely doesn’t have to be a curse. I’d much rather take it as a gift, these purple-colored glasses for election season, these opportunities to stand for my belief in understanding yours better.

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  1. So good, Bethany. I have similar feelings about the religions/political vitriol streaming through my feed these days. It makes me sick inside, and sad. Sometimes I want to slam that door but, like you said, love keeps me from doing so. They’ve got the right to feel passionately and to express those passions. But I admit my eyes are doing a lot of skipping as I peruse my feed. 🙂 Skipping is better than slamming, right? 🙂

  2. Did you know that my favorite color is purple? Truly. This was a wonderful post. I feel the same way. And, at least your HUSBAND doesn’t call you a communist. I am not that lucky.

  3. I get the Socialist label all the time because I live in Sweden AND I vote Democrat. If people want to call me other names because of it, they can knock themselves out. But I don’t have to listen and I don’t have to care. I just have to educate myself and do what’s right. Rock on, Bethany!

  4. Krista – You’re so right about skipping being better than slamming, though I need every reminder of that I can get some days. 🙂

    Megsie – You get called a communist at home? Oh hun! I wish there were a way to keep politics from doing that to people, but as long as you’ve earned the label, maybe you could have some fun with it? Put up Chairman Mao-style posters of yourself around the house, maybe? 🙂

    Laurie – Thanks!

    Liz – Ha! You know, I think I probably give certain relatives coronaries every time I mention how well our universal health care system has treated us… and that’s without mentioning that Italy has an active communist party! I’ll happily join you in not listening to name-calling and going for what we think is right regardless.

  5. I missed this earlier this month.

    This year has been very bad. I have de-friended some people who write non-respectful things on my posts, and I hide posts from a few people who constantly post them on their own wall. It’s helped a bit. I haven’t talked much about politics either, except to make fun of the whole thing.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that politics are like sports… a game to keep people entertained… self-medication to escape problems in their own lives.

  6. Eliot – Thanks for your comment. It has been hard to navigate friendships lately, especially online ones where the focus is less on personal conversation and more on opinion. I don’t know if you planned your trip to coincide with the elections, but I’m thinking it was a brilliant move. 🙂

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