For This First Day of February

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Today, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to argue about any number of things:  guns, immigration, abortion, political candidates, the origins of poverty, same-sex marriage, health care, standardized testing, gender equality, Black Lives Matter, the economy, climate change, and more.

Occasionally, when we have our wits about us and we manage to listen at least as much as we speak, these discussions are worthwhile. We walk away thinking a bit differently—even when there’s no consensus.

More often than not, though, conversations about social woes and political issues leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated. We lose respect, or even develop contempt, for people who “just don’t get it.” Meanwhile, those same people at whom we’re shaking our heads in stunned disbelief—the people with whom we can’t seem to find any political common ground—are wading through the same four inches of shit we are:

Financial pressures
Marital tension
Car repairs
Unfulfilling work
Health concerns
A deepening awareness of not fitting in
Kids who are struggling in school
Job-related stress
Crumbling relationships
Caring for aging parents

It’s good to have robust, passionate conversations about complicated topics. It’s also good—and right—that we actually know the people with whom we’re debating. So today, before we open our mouths to talk about a single controversial issue, let’s see one another, okay? Let’s be open to the (admittedly unsettling) mixture of vulnerability and empathy. Before we ask, “What’s the latest on the Caucus?” let’s ask how one another’s kids are and if we’re dealing okay with our mom’s illness and if our house has sold yet and if our test results have come back yet. 

Just a thought for this first day of February.