When we meet someone for the first time, we typically ask some basic questions – who are you? Where do you live? Where are you from?
When we get past the niceties, we move to some deeper things pretty quick – more of our identity – who we say we are. What we claim in the area says a great deal about ourselves.
Many will define themselves by the work they do, or their place in their family (ie Father/Mother, etc).
Some will identify themselves by their faith. Some by their allegiance to a sports team. (Surprisingly, you can learn a lot great deal about a person from their sports allegiances, but that is for another blog post).
There seems to be an increasing number of people who are identifying themselves based on their political allegiances. I don’t have any solid data to point to here, but more my own observations. So, I can certainly be way off here. It could just be a coincidence that I come across more people lately who are expressing who they are based on their politics. I hope that is the case.
A political identification can be helpful – don’t get me wrong. It can be useful information for the other person, just like any of the other identifications. It gives a person some information to determine how similar or different another person is and also how to approach the other person.
For example, if you are a staunch Democrat and you are introduced to a hard-core conservative Republican and you both openly identify yourselves as such, then you have both gained some valuable information. The question is what you do with that. In this instance, it would make the most sense to avoid the subject of politics as you know it could spiral out of hand quite quickly. Neither of you are going to convince the other of anything and if you are honest, you probably aren’t open to being persuaded either. At least at this initial meeting.
Which leads to the more important point – The reason why neither of you would be persuaded is because you don’t really know the other person as a person. You have no relationship with the person – why would you listen to something so important as politics, which you have claimed as part of your identity?
It would only be after establishing a relationship, based on mutual trust and respect, that you would open yourself to hearing the other person, their ideas, beliefs, and values. And they would listen to you as well. But at this point in a relationship you aren’t interested in trying to be right and convincing the other person that you are right and they are wrong. Instead, you are more interested in learning how the other person came to their conclusions. You care more about the person, than in being right. The relationship becomes more important than the politics.
I would argue that this would be true for other areas of identification too – religion, sports, work, etc.
But the challenge with this is that it goes against our current culture – the culture of the immediate. Relationships take time – a real investment of time. Relationships require being vulnerable, open, and respectful. They take work.
And all of that is difficult in an environment that doesn’t encourage people to trust one another. Our current political culture and the leaders who foster this environment, are nurturing a culture of distrust between people. When we don’t trust one another, it impacts a great deal of society and how society functions or doesn’t function.
It is easy to blame our political leaders for this. It’s easy to scapegoat them and vote them out and send in new people. But I think that would only be distracting ourselves from dealing with the real problem. And that is us. If we looked inward at ourselves, we would see a whole lot of mistrust. Do we trust other people? Or do we live in fear? Right now, the answer to that question seems to be that we live in fear and mistrust. And so we elect people who are just bigger expressions of this. We want them to implement policies that calm our fears – or at least seem like they do. We want to feel safer and better. This is what most policies do – they medicate us and our fears without actually solving the problem at hand. We treat the symptoms, rather than the real diseases.
So, what’s the answer? There’s a nice easy solution to the problem. There’s a solution we could do right now to solve this. Are you ready. It’s recognizing that there aren’t nice easy and simple answers to the problems we face. Problems in our culture involve people and people are messy and complex. These problems simmer and brew and age over time. And the solutions are going to be painful. And we don’t like pain. We don’t like sacrifice. We want easy and quick. And that is not a recipe for improvement.
At least not right now. I continue to be hopeful though. I continue to be hopeful as I meet people who recognize the complexities of life and culture. I continue to be hopeful as I meet and talk with people who are committed to the long-term changes that need to be made and are willing to keep at it – slowly, but surely. Many of the ills we face are systemic in nature. Systems require great effort and cost to change.
And I believe that this starts with making investments in relationships. Getting to know people – especially people who are different from myself in many ways. To begin to understand who they are and why they believe what they believe. And it is in understanding how we are different that we can search for and find the things we hold in common. And that is where things start to change. We have to start somewhere. This is as good a place as any.