Both Republican AND Democrat

I try not to be dogmatic about my political positions, and they don’t collectively fit neatly within either of the two major US political parties. Recently, I’ve found myself looking more at the humanity of our issues and the people struggling with them in an effort to find practical solutions. Unfortunately, our politics don’t seem to be moving in that direction. I see a growing need to balance communal well-being and individual rights. It’s a “both/and” situation rather than an “either/or”. We need both collective action and individual responsibility. And the only open path in that direction is kindness and a willingness to see the humanity in the “other”.

Members of both political parties rally around their principles even as they demonize the opposition. It might be more accurate to say that they have weaponized their principles. They behave like ruthless players in the game of Monopoly attempting to destroy their opponents. It has become us vs. them rather than simply us working together to find mutually agreed upon ways to address our collective issues.

We need to recognize that we are all members of one family, US citizens. And like all families, we won’t always agree. But how we choose to disagree is critical to us continuing to behave like a family and move forward together. Politicians set up issues in false pairs, implying that we cannot address the challenges presented by refugees at our southern border while at the same time improving the lot of our underemployed and working poor in our own country. We can do both, but that requires us to be willing to listen to and learn from our political rivals. This is the lesson we need to learn from our modern divided politics.

The election of Donald Trump as president was the result of our unwillingness to listen rather than its cause. Because ideological purity had become so much a part of modern politics, rural America felt isolated and unheard, even unrepresented. Trump tapped into that and made them feel seen and heard. But the way he did it has divided the country even further. Trump encouraged supporters who chanted “Lock her up!” while Clinton referred to half of his supporters as a “basket of deplorables”.

The answer to this dilemma is neither the blustering hyperbole of the president nor the self-righteous indignation of his opposition. Instead all of us on both sides need to see that our opposition has a perspective that we are lacking. We need to learn from each other what we are missing from our political evaluations. We need to “seek first to understand, then to be understood“. And the first step in this direction is to see the humanity in our rivals and to treat them with kindness. Like all good things in life, this will be difficult, requiring action with no guarantee of reciprocity. But if no one is willing to go first, the only direction we are heading is more divided politics.

Overcoming Obstacles

man jumping across a small chasm

It has been a very rainy fall where I live. In fact, a few weeks back as I passed through the woods on my morning walk, I discovered my way blocked where the path was flooded. No problem, I thought. I know another path through. I backtracked and followed the other path. I soon came upon a similar situation. I tried going around the flooded path but found no success. I struggled to decide what to do.

I could simply walk back the way I had came instead of completing my regular loop. But that felt like giving up without trying, which I didn’t want to do. So, I headed back to the first path to look for a way through or around.

Once I arrived, I could see there was no way around. The flooding was too extensive. I looked for the shortest span I thought I could jump across without getting wet. I did my best to make it, but got my feet went anyway. I sloshed a short distance and came upon more flooding on my path. This time there were logs that I could walk across to stay dry. It was cold and the logs were slippery, but I managed to not get wet again. The rest of my walk home was soggy but obstacle-free.

As I walked home, I thought about what had happened. I was happy to not have been thwarted by the flooded paths. But I wanted to find a better way to get over them, one that would leave my feet dry. I didn’t know what I would do, but I was determined to find a way.

The next time I walked through those woods, the flooding had not receded at all. This time I found a fallen branch that I laid across the place I had jumped across previously. Then I found a long, thick branch to use as a walking stick. I used that to steady myself as I crossed the branch over the water. Success!

As I walked away, I realized I would need a walking stick the next day when I came back through. So I tossed the stick I had used back across the flooded area so I could use it the next morning. As I approached the next flooded area, I found another walking stick to cross over the logs and tossed it back for the next day’s walk.

Over the next week or so, the water slowly receded as I continued to use resources I had found in the woods to make my way down the path. Now the water has completely abated, but I am so grateful for the challenge that I overcame in the weeks previous. I feel stronger and more prepared to face difficulties on my walk should I encounter them.

During the those days when I had to get over or around that water in my path, something changed about my relationship to the woods and that path. I had been walking that woods since the summer and as fall progressed, it changed from dense green to being wide open and leafless. But it was more than that. My attention had been directed toward the pooling of water in the woods. I was noticing subtle low-lying areas that I had simply walked past before without noticing. By changing where my focus was, the obstacles had deepened and broadened my experience of the woods.

This lesson reminds of a book that I read last summer, The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs by Ryan Holiday. Every day has its obstacles and difficulties. When I encounter them, I can choose to give up and turn back. Or, I can look around me for the resources to find a way around, through, or over the difficulty. In doing so, I will gain a perspective and vision that I had not had prior to the trial. Even though I don’t actively seek out challenges in my life, I no longer try so hard to avoid them. They are helping me grow into the person I strive to become.