I have told this story many times. I grew up in a very conservative household. Most of my family members, with a few exceptions, are still fairly to very conservative. It wasn’t until later in life I made a change in what I came to believe. I wasn’t won over by a lot of self-guided study.
It can feel incredibly frustrating talking to someone who has different beliefs than you do, and realizing they probably don’t want to listen. In Nuts & Bolts, I’ve talked about deep canvassing. When it comes to just talking, however, we can talk peacefully and pointedly and make sure those around us know we have their back. When we make sure that racist or rude comments do not go unchecked, we help make a better society, and we let others know that we support them. One of those interactions helped change a lot about the things I believed a long time ago when I was confronted on a viewpoint I held by someone who had actual experience, and who was willing to sit down and say: “I know you may never agree with me, but let me tell you my actual experience.” It began as one simple conversation and it is ongoing, not ending, as I continue to work at learning and growing within the progressive community.
Even among progressives, we can struggle at times to agree with each other. There are moments where we play one group against another: “Which do you want, improve the environment or voting rights?” It is sad that too often, we find it easy to fight with each other rather than have each other’s backs, helping everyone succeed.
It is easy to get frustrated. To stare at the communication and think that we are talking to a rock. It certainly can feel that way. There are times I can feel saddened talking even to family members about things I know they should care about, but they have decided it aren’t worth their time. The pandemic has brought to the surface an unfortunate number of Americans who have become hardened and radicalized in a viewpoint that is bolstered every night by Fox News and conservative talk radio. They ingest endless propaganda about what happens next and others, even family members, just avoid the discussion.
There are items that everyone can discuss. Kids and grandkids. We talk about schools and family. “Uncle so and so, or what ever happened to …” We carry on these conversations because the political divide doesn’t change the fact we are related or that we care for the future. Speaking to someone in their early eighties not too long ago, I had one of the most depressing discussions. We talked about family and kids and photos. How one grandchild worked on environmental issues and the other in the oil industry: “He’ll make more money.” I said: “He’s trying to keep production in order, and it is a job, but she is hoping to help make the world better, hoping she leaves behind a better place for her kids.” The response from him made my jaw drop a bit. “What does it matter to either of them? The Earth and the environment will live long after them. Nothing they do makes a difference in that. Waste of time to bother.”
Welp. So, I know for at least the next few elections there is a solid anti-environment voter. You could give up and walk away, but instead, it is still a chance to throw in: “I know you feel that way, but your granddaughter is committed and this is her life’s work. Nothing she is doing causes you any harm, in any way, so is there any harm in showing her that you can support her, or at least talking to her about it?”
Bingo. At least a small crack in the door.
It can feel as though you are talking to a rock. Somewhere, deep inside, there is humanity. When we talk about the things that remind us of our humanity, we get a chance to connect and change.