- It’s time to act – prepare for a marathon.
- “Daily activism” means talking politics – for that, get on the same page and pretend you know nothing.
Today was “No Muslim Ban #2” Rally at the White House , and it was strong. Drums, children, and thousands of people. I walked away from it feeling like this moment in our history isn’t a sprint – change will be slow and my job is to run in the marathon.
It’s time to think long term. Today’s protest, tomorrow’s workshop; how do you prepare for the marathon? How do protests and sit-in’s become a movement that propels a generation of woke true progressives into office who lead with their heart, commit to the people, break barriers and embrace the ‘other?’ My guess is it starts with how you and I communicate. Specifically, how we talk politics.
The dreaded political conversation. Values clash, facts fly, heartbeats pick up and voices rise. It always seems to end in yelling and ‘de-friending’ someone on Facebook. Here are two tips for navigating these conversations – both nuggets require work, and allow you to bring the activist energy with you everywhere.
Find the Same Page
When gun control comes up, are we discussing the 2nd amendment right to bear arms? The need to protect myself and my family? Mass shootings? Hunting? Mental health and background checks? Or all of the above? These are big issues that deserve thoughtful, careful consideration.
If someone says “It’s my right to have weapons!” and the response is “Yeah well screw that we need smart regulations to control which are available and how they’re sold!” these are actually different issues.
Person A is talking about the constitution, while Person B is arguing for policies and regulations. Of course there is overlap, but teasing out exactly what we’re talking about is important if this is going to be a decent conversation.
“Keep the immigrants out! It’s a matter of national security. We can’t afford to let in ANYONE who might pose a threat to our nation. Stronger vetting!”
“Man you’re just a close-minded bigot. Don’t you know this country is built on diversity? Where did your grandparents come from? Have some decency!”
Again, these are different subjects. National Security and Diversity are complex topics that should be talked about at length. But too often we treat them as different sides of the same issue. You talk National Security, and I respond with Diversity. This conversation is over before it gets going.
By getting on the same page we can see our common ground. Everyone in this country wants to be safe. Unless you identify as a Native American, you are an immigrant. Diversity and national security are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are deeply connected.
Speak the same language. “Are we talking about how to protect our nation? Or the role immigrants have played in shaping this country? I want to be specific about what we’re saying, because shits about to get real and I want us to communicate effectively.”
Check your Convictions at the Door
Make a ball with your hands one thumb-width from your chest. Imagine all of your knowledge and facts are stored in that little ball. Now move that ball away from your chest. First way out in front, then off to the left. When talking something as tough as politics, that’s where you want your facts. Your convictions. Your prejudices and confidences. Accessible but at an arm’s length. Doing this means you have space to let in what your counterpart is saying. The other person’s perspectives and views have direct access to you, and this person knows you will hear them clearly.
If I embrace the saying “I know nothing,” I’ll win at life. Listening, hearing, and being present with someone is a powerful skill. Recognizing that the other person is valuable and that her thoughts are worth your time is a perspective that will serve you forever. No matter how much I think I know, I ought to listen to the other person. I don’t mean wait quietly for the chance to respond. I mean focus on her words, listen closely, and attempt to see where this person is coming from.
We all have “facts.” Everything in the world today comes down to who has the Facts. Who’s got the numbers and statistics and truths to prove her point and undermine yours.
That’s a bunch of “alternative facts.” You might be familiar with a subject – you might have worked overseas, been on that campaign, eaten that very dish and dodged those bullets. Nevertheless, the truth is you don’t know. You don’t know this person’s experience, or her reality, or how she perceives the world. The beautiful part is, if you open your ears and pretend you don’t know much, you will learn something.
Talk the same language, suspend your beliefs and say you don’t know, and get ready for the long haul.