I’m so lucky; this year, I got two Halloweens in a week! Last Wednesday, I took my violin student trick-or-treating (for his first Halloween). He got candy and I got to meet neighbors and enjoy decorations (OK, and get candy). Exploring my community in such a festive spirit reminded me why this is my favorite holiday.
And yesterday, I went canvassing for the first time. Again, I got to meet so many interesting people with different perspectives. But this time, while we still talked about landscaping, we also talked about why voting matters. We talked about how employers are required to give you up to three hours to vote. And we talked about why Phil Bredesen is a politician that will listen to both sides and put our country on a better track. In just four hours, I learned so much about where I live. Hopefully, I also persuaded some people to vote.
I should have done this before! I can’t believe I was so scared to go out and talk to my neighbors. For someone who’s always advocating conversations (and trick-or-treating), I didn’t realize knocking on doors with the explicit purpose of talking politics would be so fun and easy. Plus, this election is so important. The stakes are too high to stay home.
If you wanna join the fun, it’s not too late to canvas yourself. You can even do it on election day! At the very least, remind your friends and family to go vote this Tuesday. And remember, “polls are open 7am to 7pm. Find your local polling place beforehand. Bring the necessary ID. This election is too important to miss.”
For my final National Week of Conversation post, I’m sharing a Honky-Tonk Critters’ performance about traveling. Despite the song’s lyrics, I have not yet “been everywhere,” so to fix that I’m going on the road (again). This December, I’ll be doing an East Coast music tour as a fundraiser for Better Angels. But to make this project work, I need your help.
I plan to start in Maryland and drive north until I get to Vermont. In between, I’ll make as many stops as I have places to play (especially in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts). If you want to host, assist, or attend a house concert, please let me know. Any support is appreciated.
This tour also has the specific purpose of raising money, awareness, and participation for Better Angels. While there are many great organizations working to encourage civil discourse across our nation, I’ve chosen to support Better Angels for three reasons:
1) Better Angels has equal participation from “Reds” and “Blues”–which is unusual for these generally liberal-leaning groups. In “The Big Sort”–a book showing how America has become ideologically polarized along geographic lines–Bill Bishop argues that “mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes” (70). This principle was central to our founding fathers’ federalism and has more recently been confirmed by social psychologists. For example, Hamilton argued that while communities isolated from different ideas become more extreme, the “jarring of parties… often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses of the majority.” Like our federal system, which brings different voices together, the “Better Angels Rule” promises that “at every level of leadership we are half red and half blue.” By guaranteeing the inclusion of opposing voices, Better Angels fights conversation’s potential to provoke rather than diminish polarization.
2) Better Angels runs workshops specifically about polarization. For example, you might talk about how you think “the other side” sees you and what is and is not true about that judgment. While I’m skeptical a “Red” can persuade a “Blue” to change her mind about gun control, I believe a conversation can open that Blue’s mind to reconsider dismissive stereotypes about Red people. Even if we can’t find common ground, Better Angels can help us remember our common humanity.
3) Better Angels is a movement. Its leadership has travelled the country to spread the word, and has thereby built up grassroots participation, encouraged sustainable local chapters, and inspired independent efforts (like mine). Its message is catching, and I hope to spread it further.
Mostly, I’m supporting Better Angels because I want more people to experience the good work they are doing. If you want access yourself, for just $10/year you can become a member, which allows you to “organize workshops, build alliances, get trained as moderators,” and be included on regular, nation-wide discussions. To learn more, click a link below. For (more of) my opinions, keep following my posts and attend a show in December!
Part of my goal for this project is improving how I communicate with people I disagree with–especially on social media. Personally, I think there’s a limit to how useful social media can be for having political conversations, particularly because it’s so easy to treat people poorly and not really listen when we can’t see them. That being said, social media politics aren’t going away. Therefore, when it feels important to talk politics on Facebook, I’m trying to make my words more respectful and productive.
I will post with a goal of clarifying my point of view and not attacking the other side.
I will be civil and respectful.
I won’t make blanket statements or over generalize.
I won’t try to convert people to my “side;” I will encourage understanding and learning.
I will keep an open mind.
The core message seems to be trying to explain your own position and “learn” from others, rather than speaking to persuade or condemn. I often find this easier to do when I build conversations onto pre-existing relationships. When I type to people I already care about, I can transfer my trust/respect into more civil conversation. Furthermore, when I argue on Facebook with people I actually know off Facebook, our conversations are (usually) more productive. We actually want to better understand each other, strengthen our relationship, and come to some resolution between our ideas–whether that be finding common ground or merely accepting our differences.
In contrast, social media often starts conversation before a relationship is formed. Since good conversation is hard (and usually not fun), I don’t have much of an incentive to really listen with an open mind or be truly honest when I don’t know the person with whom I’m arguing.
The way I’ve dealt with this problem is to try to avoid political discussions with strangers online and, if I do get involved, to not take subsequent personal attacks too seriously. I don’t believe those people would say the same things if they actually knew me. At least in my own experience, I know I’m less likely to get angry, to think other people are stupid, or to reduce them to polarizing labels if I also know that person in other contexts.
How do you use social media to talk politics? Do you argue differently with strangers than with friends or family? Differently than in-person conversation? Would you make the “social media pledge?”