By Connor Harrison
BU News Service
“I think both candidates are awful, it’s really sad this is the best we can do, I’m probably not going to vote, I’m avoiding the debates” muse your less politically inclined friends. You’re used to it, but still needled: How can you not care about the most polarizing election of our lifetime, even if this duo opened this summer as the two least liked candidates ever?
If you pestered your friends enough, here’s what they might admit: Having a real opinion on politics sucks.
Our overzealous partisanship challenges friendships, alienates acquaintances, fosters ill-will toward whole sub-cultures and saps our political efficacy in the direction of disingenuous indifference. It’s not that our friends are lazy; it’s that they are plausibly frightened by the social fallout that comes from having a role in our political discourse. Whether you’re taking the fight to social media or braving the real-life theater, you’ve been trained to believe that it’s your way or the highway.
As Time observed in April, we are addicted to divisiveness, and we have the candidates themselves to blame in part. While many politicians feign bipartisanship, they readily place it on the back burner in order to substantiate identities that will galvanize support from voters demanding that level of ideological tenacity. In turn, the line between sticking to one’s beliefs and stomping on others’ has all but disappeared.
Why should we mimic our politicians?
Last fall, a friend of mine revealed over group text that he intended to vote for Donald Trump were he to secure the nomination. Diametrically opposed, I snapped back with some cheap prod no less unproductive than any soapbox like-bait comment you might find on a political meme making the rounds on Facebook. I instantly felt ashamed; he would never do that to me. John was a genuine friend, loyal to boot and full of inimitable life perspective; he’s survived multiple bouts with cancer over the course of his young life. I apologized, and we spent the remainder of the primary cycle having honest but respectful conversations about candidates on both sides of the aisle.
John made me recall something I learned in ninth grade American government: what colors someone’s political ideologically is so deeply rooted in their family dynamics and immediate environment growing up that it becomes singularly difficult to uproot their core beliefs in adulthood. Who was I to treat a class-act friend any differently because he happened to be raised conservative and myself liberal? If an olive branch worked for him, maybe it would for others.
You are entitled and should feel encouraged to change the minds of friends and strangers alike, but it requires a different setting than the one our generation currently occupies. You may never understand why someone thinks voting a certain way represents the best interests of the country, but if you let your bewilderment fade to derision and not evolve into fair-minded curiosity, you’ll never open their eyes to your perspective anyway. Stop treating people like they’re idiots; they’ll reciprocate in spades. Stop carrying on with someone who isn’t open to hearing your side of an issue; respectfully move on without another ounce of energy spent. It’s a complete waste, and, in fact, damaging to engage with someone who won’t give an inch. It may be tempting to tear the stubborn person down, but doing so leads us further into the void of closed-mindedness.
On November 9 we will wake up with a new President-elect and a foreseeable future of partisan politics. Don’t give in. We can run on the low road, or at least try to walk on the high – just try. And if we just tried, if we just mustered the patience to listen, to cast aside sardonic tones in lieu of respect, no matter how wrong we think someone might be, if we can just try to have a level-headed conversation, our collective efficacy will recover and our individual voices will magnify because more people will listen and empathize.
In a country where we should all have an opinion, we should embrace the differing ones that come from honest, well-meaning places. Just try.