I’ve generally kept my political views out of public sight — not as a matter of pride or principal; it is simply good business. I would hate to think that my political views propelled an otherwise inclined person to reject me as their guide through the self-confronting and rewarding process of stepping into one’s authority.
But that choice was much easier before social media, before an intense polarization between parties, candidates, and ideologies was paraded before us via constant stream. It’s harder to keep my opinions invisible, and I find myself struggling in moments like a recent one in which my clicker hovered unsteadily over the Unfriend button, my shallow breathing undermining my attempts to think straight. I was too mad. I clicked, and it was done.
I ejected a generally kind person from a different generation and part of the country from my digital community because, even though she was a part of the same leadership group, she decimated someone I deeply respect and admire. The vehemence in her opinions — which are clearly different from mine — was so strong, I perceived it as hatred. Perhaps it was a form of hatred. But is that a good enough reason to cut a person off — because she feels passionately and differently about a public figure’s actions than I do? I mean, who doesn’t hate some thing, some person, some food? If I reject her, am I just adding to the hate cycle?
In the swamp of my post-Unfriend guilt, I brushed up against these and more questions, questions you might have also found bubbling beneath the surface of our over-heated political climate. Questions like:
Am I supposed to make peace with someone whose views are so different from mine it makes my head spin? Why or why not? Should I open to the truth in another’s perspective, when it appears, at first glance, to be archaic, hateful, foolhardy or deranged?
Perhaps it’s not so important to consider these questions with online acquaintances, but the truth of the matter is — political stances, opinions, and parties aside — these types of polarities may exist Right There in Your Home.
Examples: Your spouse has a very different idea of how to handle money, and you are terrified about your retirement; your teenage son wants to pierce the same innocent baby face you once held tenderly between your palms, in three places; a recent crises means you will have to see your siblings, whose choice of lifestyle makes you wonder if they even really grew up in the same household.
Even if you live alone, you’re not exempt. Your landlord may have very different ideas, for example, about how much heat you should be using (she writes, as she remembers being huddled over her computer with hot tea, seven layers, and a blanket, waiting for someone to come and fix the washing machine which had ice floating in it.)
Difference may in fact be reason to disengage from people and situations, but very few of us have the skills to deal with difference gracefully. There is so much pressure to be a certain way, to fit in, that it isn’t readily taught. We all suffer as a result.
The many strategies for mastering difference are too broad to encompass in a post (although I invite you to put your favorites in the comments, please!), but I have a good starting place: The purpose of a relationship can tell you whether or not it’s worth it. If you have a relationship in mind as you’re reading this, I ask you: what is that particular relationship’s vision or function? Does it have enough reason, joy, commonality and connection to withstand difference? Some differences feel, and in fact may be, irreconcilable. Another’s words and behavior may push you away — temporarily or permanently. If the purpose of a relationship — e.g. being co-parents, business partners, old friends with a rich history of many years, or lovers trying to create a life together — is strong, learning how to manage difference will be necessary to move forward.
Once the vision for a relationship is clear, focusing on the common purpose can orient you away from reckless reactivity and towards connection. Then, you can focus on learning other essential skills such as how to talk about differences, manage your reactions, listen more deeply, and bring true curiosity to who the other is and what makes them tick. There is pleasure in getting to know what forces drive a person you care about (providing they are not a sociopath), and, through deeper understanding, in discovering that their views might be less hateful and deranged than you initially thought.