We are taught from a young age not to talk about politics in polite company, and for most of my adult life I thought this was ridiculous. Politics has always been personal for me. It wasn’t until 2015 that I gained the right to legally marry my wife in this country, and it was 2020 before workplace discrimination protections were put in place for me and other LGBTQ Americans. I have always been loud and proud about my political beliefs, partly because I knew I was correct and partly out of reverence to those who fought for the rights I’m now able to enjoy.
I cannot begin to count the number of friends I’ve lost on social media over the years because of politics. I’ve even developed strained relationships with a handful of friends and family in real life due to our extreme political differences.
Perhaps I’ve gained perspective by being confronted by my own mortality through this pandemic, or maybe I’ve just mellowed in my old age, but I am ready to admit I was wrong. I no longer believe the most important thing in life is politics. It is relationships. And I am done putting my political beliefs ahead of relationships with people I love.
How did we get to a place of such division in our country? There is a false dichotomy here that was born of our two-party system of government and is fed by the extremism that exists on both sides. On my side, for example, I have friends who believe voting Republican is an act of violence against LGBTQ people. On the other side, I have friends who believe voting Democrat will lead to baby killing and gun confiscation. Neither, in my opinion, is quite accurate, and this manner of thinking is toxic. As former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake said, “Tribalism is ruining us. It is tearing our country apart.”
We like our ideas black and white; everything should be clean, quantifiable, and easily placed in boxes. Yet the truth is nearly always nestled somewhere in the gray area most people avoid because it’s messy and complicated.
I believe the only way to heal our country is for us to release our belief that ours is the “right” way and embrace a both/and way of thinking. There is room here for people of all beliefs and political persuasions, just as there is room for people of all races and cultures. But it is the insistence for us to be “right” the other side has to be “wrong” (and lately, not just “wrong” but “stupid”) that has divided us.
My family has given me the opportunity to practice both/and thinking. My parents are staunch Republicans and even have a Trump sticker on their car. My friends are always shocked to learn this because they know what a bleeding-heart liberal I am. Despite this difference, I am very close to my parents; in fact, they live in the same neighborhood and I see them often. How do we make it work? In the words of Kenny Chesney, we “get along while we can, always give love the upper hand.” Our love for each other transcends politics, and I make a conscious decision each day to remember that. In this presidential election cycle that’s not easy.
I do not simply tolerate my parents’ political beliefs, however. I support their right to vote however they want. They were voters long before I was born and have seen 14 presidents lead this country so far. It would be arrogant for me to assume I know the “right” way for them to vote. I trust they vote using their heads and their hearts, based on the issues that are most important to them, just as I do. Truth be told, not all my beliefs fit neatly into a Democratic box and I know not all theirs fit into a Republican one, although we do usually cancel each other out at the ballot box.
By embracing this new paradigm, I hope to model for my children that there is room in our family for both political parties. I want them to grow up to be free thinkers who can make their own decisions, and that includes choosing the party affiliation that best aligns with their beliefs.
Politicians come and go, and political climates change for better and for worse, but a loving family and supportive friends are irreplaceable. Can we remember this as we head towards November? Yes, politics is still personal for me and I remain involved in causes that I care about. I still speak up when I see injustice and actively work to get my preferred candidates elected. But my new mantra is people over politics. President John F. Kennedy admonished: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” What if being kind is the right answer? When faced with a potential political argument with someone you love, why not choose being kind over being right? I believe letting love lead the way is the only way for us all to win in November— and beyond.