Last week on the flight from Washington to Boston, Ginna was reeling from the shock that America had elected a misogynistic, racist, egotistical demagogue for president. She decided to turn to her seatmate and ask, “Who did you vote for?”
A little shocked at her courage or foolishness, he hesitated before he said, “I voted for Trump.”
Slightly emboldened that she had successfully breeched a bit of social etiquette, she asked, “Why did you vote for Trump?”
“Because I think this country needs change.”
Then, she asked: “Are you a racist?”
“Wow,” he said. “That took courage. No. I’m not a racist. I don’t agree with everything he says, and I half think he doesn’t actually mean many of the things he says. I just decided I don’t want more of the same.”
Contrary to her expectation, Ginna found herself sitting next to a smart, successful guy who cared about so many of the things she cared about and shared many of her values, and yet he had voted for the absolute opposite person from “anyone she would ever vote for.” In doing so Ginna overcame a prejudice, and built a relationship with someone she could easily have identified as an enemy.
Such conversations are the adhesive of a democracy, the glue that makes it possible for a group of people to be a group without needing an autocratic authority figure to keep us from killing each other. But to pull this off Ginna had to overcome some cultural norms.
Some may judge her for being too aggressive, impolite, or “spoiling for a fight.” I can hear many voices saying, “I would never do such a thing.” Some might even feel, “That’s way too pushy for a woman.”
These notions and feelings and many others like them interfere with making a democracy work. Our schools and families need to raise children who are comfortable with conflict. Comfort with conflict is at the core of a culture that prepares young people for leading creative, effective and graceful lives in a democracy.
Take Your Enemy to Lunch Day
- Have one goal: “At least he won’t be able to say I didn’t listen.” This will mean:
- Don’t persuade, Defend or Interrupt.
- At least twice say: “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying. You are saying…” and “…Is there anything else?”
- You could, perhaps, have a second goal: he’ll want to have lunch with you again.
- Then (and only then), you might even go for: “He understands why I believe what I believe.”
- …and you know what else. It can’t just be once a year. If we want the human race to survive, we have to do it every day,
- …and let’s not have it require a meal, or even a cup of coffee.
- …and one more thing: This kind of behavior needs to become politically correct. In fact, it must transcend political correctness and become understood as morally correct—for everyone.
If you are feeling afraid or defensive or a lone voice of reason in a dangerous America and need emotional support to pull this off, remember, it was a close race: over 60 million people on both sides.