With election day only days away, the unresolved issues with which I continue to wrestle have very little to do with for whom I shall cast my vote for President. On that point I am firmly resolved. I don’t think my candidate is perfect, but I think he seeks the best for our country. I’m quite sure my friends on the other side of the aisle have similar feelings about the candidate they support.
My struggle is in wondering where we draw the line, impose or don’t impose, take a stand or avoid the subject entirely. Like many, I have grown increasingly frustrated with some of the highly negative talk generated by both sides on Facebook and other social media. There have been moments I have jumped up with the crowd to yell, “this is not the place!” I know folks who manage to gracefully change the subject when political talk is introduced. But I have also read posts from friends trying to explain, in as rational a way as they can, their very heartfelt feelings about why a particular candidate should be supported.
As a teacher, I am discouraged from discussing my political beliefs with my students. And I am beginning to wonder if this is wise or healthy. Part of the rationale, I think, is the circle of influence we have with our students and the fact that we might exercise undue persuasive tactics that might result in our students being confused or manipulated. I don’t condone manipulation and intimidation in the classroom on Facebook or with my friends. Ministers are also discouraged from using the power of the pulpit to sway the political views of their parishoners. I fear, however, that in the effort to protect, we once again throw out the baby with the bath water. Whatever happened to honest, intellectual discourse? Must we now boycott the topic entirely and leave the mouthpiece of information in the hands of groups paying for political ads?
I, for one, have always appreciated hearing thoughtful opinions from those in my circle of influence. They influence me for a reason. That doesn’t mean that I agree with them on every point, but they make me think in the gray spaces. They help me to look at different sides of issues, or issues about which I haven’t thought at all. The final episode of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing series concludes with Jimmy Smits having won the Presidential election, and talking his opponent, Alan Alda, into accepting the position of Secretary of State. Alda comments something to the effect, “But we don’t agree on hardly anything!” To which Smits replies, “I’m surrounded by people who agree with me - I need you to help me see the whole picture.” (loosely remembered and quoted - but this is the gist). And the episode ends with them having an animated, but healthy and engaging conversation - but not necessarily an agreeable one.
I am voting for Obama. I place a high priority on my civil rights as a gay American, and I would like to see them acknowledged as rights, so that we can move on to the important economic and educational issues that so desperately need our attention. But my rights to be legally joined to my spouse, visit her in the hospital, make medical decisions for her, inheritance issues, the right of gay couples to adopt and raise families together, etc. are very important to me, and I would like to see the government acknowledge them as "rights" and not a behavior to be condoned or regulated. I don’t think the Republican platform will support me in this. But I have also really wanted to hear from some of my friends who are considered “small business” owners about which platform they genuinely feel will support them. I suspect I would hear advocates for both sides, but I want to hear from them, not political candidates far removed from this reality. I want to be able to discuss this - without fear of becoming a political pariah - so that I can become more informed about the whole picture, and so friends and acquaintances who do not walk in my shoes can become more informed about my reality. Until we are willing to take a stand, how can any of this discussion take place? As long as we avoid all political talk, how will we ever understand the needs faced by our neighbor?
I think we need to rethink taking a stand with each other, and spending a little more time in the gray spaces - together.