We live in an either/or type of society. It's all right or all wrong. My issue versus your issue. My yard sign against your yard sign. It's me against you.
There does seem to be so much anger this year. And in no way do I mean to trivialize anyone's feelings. I get it. People have a lot to be angry about. I'm just tired. Tired of the anger, tired of the fighting, tired of the hating, tired of the lack of respect and compassion from everybody to everybody.
Campaigns can really screw with people. Friendships can be tested. Neighborhoods can be full of tension. Even families can get all kinds of angry during an election year.
Even though this year seems to be more contentious, this is nothing new. Its been happening election after election, year after year, generation after generation. I recently watched an episode of The Brady Bunch that showed just how ugly an election can get. And if it can happen to the Bradys, it can happen to anyone.
You might be surprised that I was watching an episode of The Brady Bunch. Or that I didn’t go further back in history for a more pertinent example of civil discourse. Or maybe you thought I would use real people in my examples. Sorry, my inspiration is coming from 1960s cult classic television.
Here’s a description of the particular episode from TV.com:
Both Greg and Marcia rush home after school with the news that they're both running for student body president. May the best candidate win, as the boys and girls each take sides and soon each one of them is accusing the other of sabotage.
This episode makes a strong statement against the use of negative campaigning (which had run rampant during the 1968 presidential campaign). Toward the end of the show, Greg and his campaign committee are projecting how the vote will go and discover the race will be tight. Rusty (Greg's campaign manager) comes up with the bright idea to spread a nasty rumor about Marcia, that she and local creep Felix Brown were seen making out at the movie theater. Greg is appalled; not only does he totally object, but he fires him, threatens him with bodily harm if such rumors do surface and orders him to leave. Marcia, who had been listening in on the proceedings (unknown to Greg), gains new admiration and respect for her new brother.
As a grown up and parent, watching the episode had a whole new meaning. Carol and Mike try hard to stay impartial and fair and with four kids, I can relate. I can’t help but think how tough it must have been for Carol and Mike, I mean they had just gotten married and blended the family. I also can’t help but notice what a terrible crier Marcia, is. And my god, I wish I had an Alice to help manage my family.
But here’s the thing, we could all learn a thing or two from the Bradys.
“If you’re going to run for any kind of office you have to expect the opposition to be well, rude,” says the wise Carol Brady. “On the other hand, you shouldn’t have to expect it in your own home.”
“I don’t want to make a big thing about this,” says Mike Brady. “But we’re going to be a family for a lot longer than either Marsha or Greg will be in office.”
Preach it Bradys.
You see, we’re going to be neighbors, family, friends...a community a lot longer than this election of 2012. We can take a cue from the classic TV family and stop the rudeness. Stop the all the anger.
Last week, I met with two of my pastors from church to discuss a Sunday school class I was putting together called How To Love Your Neighbor in an Election Year. Here are a few tips we came up with:
-Listen. Be open to hearing the other person and respect that you may never agree with them or understand why they have a certain viewpoint.
-Find commonality. On my personal blog, Jumping With My Fingers Crossed, I wrote a post about a very polarizing topic. I wrote a post about how I hate cats. There was a long story about my tortured past with a mean family cat that left me jaded and confused. There was a story about how my husband thought it would be a good idea to surprise me and the kids with a kitten. And in that story, I called my husband a very bad name. It was controversial. It pushed some buttons. People responded.
The Sunday after I wrote the post, I sat down in my normal pew at church and felt a tap on my shoulder. A woman who is about as far away as possible from me in political beliefs leaned over and whispered "I hate cats too."
Bam! We found commonality. We will quite possibly never, ever vote for the same candidate in any election on a local or national level, but we can still relate to each other. We can still respect each other.
-Breathe. Before responding take a deep breath, pause and then calmly respond. Or just breathe and don't respond. Just don't forget to breathe.
-Don't make it personal. You can disagree with someone’s politics and still respect them as a person. Really, it's possible.
-Teach your kids it’s okay to disagree. Parents can model the behavior of peaceful disagreement and civil discourse. Also you should ask your tweens and teens how they feel about politics, policy and our leaders. Engage in insightful discussions, thoughtful debates and open-mindedness.
-Acceptance. Accept that your neighbor or spouse will never agree with you and quit trying to sway them or convince them to switch sides.
-Respect the process. No matter what side you’re on, we are pretty damn lucky we live in a country where we can put yard signs out to support our candidate and exercise our right to vote.
As Mike Brady said, I don’t want to make a big deal about this, but I think we can all get along, even if we disagree. Go ahead, put out your groovy yard signs, find some commonality and let go of the anger and the rudeness. Because if you don't, that neighborhood cookie exchange is going to be awfully awkward.