Congratulations to me.
I’ve made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas with all of my relationships intact. And it isn’t because I limited my conversations to sports and the weather.
In fact, like many Americans, I’ve had my share of political discussions in the past couple of months. I’ve shared my opinions, as I always do.
But this time I’ve done my best to listen, too.
I have a son, a progressing thinker who was once arrested with Occupy Wall Street. He’s thoughtful, always informed, and very careful about his sources of information. He constantly encourages his father and me to keep our minds open. To step out of our “echo chambers” and let go of our preconceptions. He encourages us to think past what we believe and to try on new ideas.
Although like many politically informed Americans these days my opinions are ingrained and often partisan, I promised myself that I’d keep an open mind and ask people what they were thinking. I promised to try not to lecture and instead to listen.
So I did just that this holiday season, and in doing so I realized something fascinating.
No matter which side of the political debate we are on, we agree with each other far more than we disagree.
Over dinner and drinks with a conservative businessman friend, I discovered that if we leave out the partisan buzzwords, we essentially want the very same things for our families and for our communities.
For example, by leaving out the words “Socialism” and “Medicare for All,” we were able to agree that everyone should have access to medical care. We agreed that the model of private insurance is defective and inefficient. We both understood that if companies can only make money by charging high premiums and paying out as little as possible, people won’t get the care that they need. Each of us had personal stories of friends or relatives facing financial ruin because of catastrophic illnesses.
Research backs up this observation, too, so it isn’t just that my friend and I were able to be civil to each other. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 60% of Americans now believe that providing medical care should be a government responsibility. That figure is up significantly since 2016.
I’ve also been chatting with conservative Republican family members of mine. These are smart, well-educated people whom I love a lot. But we vehemently disagree on the upcoming elections and the current mess on Washington. On the surface, (and admittedly on Facebook), you’d never guess that this aging progressive Bernie supporting hippy could ever find common ground with them.
But I did.
By asking about their hopes and aspirations for their kids’ and grandkids’ educations, I discovered that we all want access to decent schools for every American. We all agree that the cost of a university education is way too expensive. We want more equitable funding for our public schools and better tech and vocational schools. Surprisingly, we also agree that student debt is too high. Again, recent research shows that most Americans feel pretty much the same way.
We all agree that giant corporations should be paying their fair share of taxes. None of us are happy knowing that Amazon, Chevron, GM, Halliburton, and other profitable companies paid no federal taxes last year. We all feel like we pay too much and get too little back.
We distrust the media to various extents and all agree that we need to continually double-check our sources of information. We are sick of both political parties. We think Congress is gridlocked and useless at this point in time.
And all of us, every one of us, agree that Donald Trump is a boor, an ego-driven and self-serving person and something of an embarrassment to the country. Even the ones who say that they will most likely cast a reluctant vote for him in the next election.
We all want the same things. Security for our families, education and good jobs for our kids, a safe country.
We simply disagree on the best ways to achieve those goals.
Isn’t it a funny thing?
If we would just stop screaming at each other and stop jumping to the defense of the political parties that have gotten us here, we’d discover that we’re not that far apart after all.
And maybe, just maybe, someone out there would dare to find a way to compromise.