Like me, maybe you have friends and family all over the political spectrum. Have you noticed that, although the content might be different, they’re suffering the same confusion and dismay?
- “People gathered all over the world to throw a collective temper tantrum and for what?”
- “How could so many women have voted for that man? He’s the reason God made restraining orders—and they let him make Executive Orders?”
- “What is wrong with people?”
Everybody’s mystified. And worried. Some worry that spineless liberals are going to make the world one green, gay, godless, vegetarian, multi-racial, organic abortion center.
Others worry that America will soon have internment camps for Muslims, Mexicans, reporters, and anyone with an IQ over 100.
We’re living in an embattled time, outward and inward, especially when we lose respect for people we want to like. It’s so disappointing. Aggravating. Heartbreaking. We lose trust, We lose sleep, we lose friends and family. We unfriend, we uninvite, we block, we flag. We take social media breaks or delete our accounts altogether. We have to, or we’ll go crazy.
And each time we do, our world gets a little saner and smaller—or so it seems.
Here are some of the tips I’m using to keep my own peace.
- Take a leap of faith that somehow, some way, you can still like, love, and respect the people you’re afraid you’re losing because of their crazy views. Right now, they’re saying the most outrageous things at your dinner table and on social media, and lately, the drama doesn’t stop—your radio shows, your television shows, your newspapers and magazines, and the links your friends post. You feel battered. You feel betrayed. You feel strangely compelled to rubber-neck at every political train wreck that hits the news. You think you don’t understand people anymore, but you do. We’re all living the same story—we start as little children. We suffer, we strive, we earn responsibilities, we risk loving, we believe, we shatter, we weep. Talk about all that other stuff. My suggestion is that even if it’s scary, try trusting people. Just as you have valid points on your side of this national divide, they do too.
Fight the divide, not people’s pride. Understand that our nation is divided by forces beyond your crazy cousin, the dog-sitter who’s nice to your dog so you assumed she voted the same way you did, or your friend’s blowhard boyfriend. Your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors who disagree with you aren’t your enemies; they’re your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Just as you’ve been led to distrust their views, someone has told them that people with your views are ignorant, selfish, foolish, self-destructive, gullible, and dangerous. In other words, you’ve each, in a way, been victims of a large-scale smear campaign. There’s your enemy. So change the subject. Let them see who you really are, and let them show you there’s more to them, too. Your social networks and choices of news media, however fair and balanced, may have led you to believe these people threaten your way of life, and they may be doing it in order to distract you from bigger battles waged against the interests that you all share. Don’t cut these people out of your life, cut out the bluster and hostility. Talk about something else, together.
- Practice not saying anything at all. Admit it. If other people who have nothing nice to say sound misinformed and misguided, maybe you do, too. Stop adding to the noise. It’s very possible that you and the people you don’t understand are simply coming from different sides of the same problem, and you each just haven’t seen the other side yet. When you feel that your interests are under threat, it’s scary to admit that you might not know everything. You feel righteous and safe hanging onto a view that seems unshakable, but there might be more to the idea you haven’t considered yet, and your foundation might be cracking. It’s scary, because if you change the way you think, who will you be? But you have changed over the years, and you will again, and you’re okay. It’s likely that we need to listen to each other to get to the whole truth. Confess to someone who opposes your view that you are baffled by their beliefs. Ask them how they arrived at them. Listen without judgement. You’ll be relieved by how much common ground there really is. Opening yourself to the humble possibility that you’re limited and fallible is how grown-ups achieve wisdom. Only God is omniscient.
- Become a beginner again. Your deeply held beliefs are being challenged. It’s not that they’re wrong—you may simply be outgrowing them. Maybe the reason you’re so upset, confused, and overwhelmed is that you’re learning. Think about the first time you swam in deep water, drove a car on the freeway, went to a new school, started a new job. Scary, huh? Right now, we’re all novices. When you realize you still have a lot to learn, the notions you find frightening may soon become exciting.
- Stop reacting. If it seems as if everything you believe in is under threat, it’s very difficult not to react, but reacting just contributes to the noise and the enmity. Shutting people out and shutting yourself down are also forms of reaction. Reacting to what you see on social media divides us. Reacting makes a fool out of you. If you’ve ever been or had a teenager, you know you can’t reason some people into giving up ideas that seem sick and insane and dangerous. The whole world is adolescent right now, and it’s got a bad social media addiction. Reacting spreads misinformation and caricaturizes you and others unfairly. Whether you’re a right-wing bi-sexual gamer or a left-wing vape-puffing dental hygienist, social media makes it too easy to narrow your lens to fit your shrinking comfort zone. While promising the unlimited blue sky of knowledge, with every click it can drive you under the rock of ignorance. Find a higher ground in your own mind from which to watch people the way you watched ants on a pavement when you were a child. Look at how they group themselves. Look how they seem to zigzag off in the wrong direction. Understand that they’re just reacting to unseen forces and signals without even realizing it. Forgive them.
- Forgive yourself. You have limits. If you’re like me, you just want to help, and right now it seems as if the world needs more help than you can give. If listening to other sides sounds overwhelming, choose one special battle topic and make a promise to listen to the opposition’s views on it. If you’re afraid the rest of the world will go to hell if you can’t pay attention to it all, remember that you’re not omnipotent, and forgive yourself for that, too. One of the good things about social media is that somewhere, somebody else is paying attention to every little thing there is out there. Trust that, together, we have everything covered.