There is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately but for some reason I’ve not put pen to paper on this. It’s kind of like that old saying about gathering with family, something to the effect of “you can talk about anything, except religion and politics” – you could say I’ve heard that a few times in my life, particularly when it comes to the large gathering of extended family around the Thanksgiving table. I think this thread of thought has been winding through my head for several weeks now, and I’ve been questioning some of my decisions to include (or mostly exclude) any discourse on these two topics on this blog. I might dance around them a bit, but it’s just that – a little dance. I question why I do that. This is my space, I write for myself, I don’t have sponsors and I don’t track followers or depend upon income from this place. It’s just me and a keyboard and a desire to document and preserve a little slice of this life we are making here.
And then I read a post on a favorite blog of mine – a post with weekly links to other interesting places on the web. One was a political link – a link to a particularly well designed site that I’ve enjoyed reading lately. And the comments came roaring in – nasty, mean spirited comments. Comments full of outrage and disappointment and even anger that a blogger might actually have the nerve to link to (and thus reveal) her political position. It was so incredibly discouraging to me. There were even commenters who took the opportunity to draw from previous posts by this blogger on her husband’s current employment status, accusing her of spending her husband’s government funded unemployment checks on lavish clothing and decor items for her blog. I think the majority of us tune out the crazy comments on most internet news articles – those inarticulate rants that are fired off anonymously – but most design blogs have a readership that is generally educated, articulate, respectful and courteous. No one is going to like everything posted by certain bloggers, but I am still amazed that the simple act of linking to a particular political website would illicit such pointed attacks on a person’s character and their sweet family.
And I get it. I get why people leave it out – off their websites and out of their daily discussions. Because somewhere along the line it became less of that kind of sports-team-rival level and more of a giant dividing line – one of those big, fat sharpie poster markers, or a masking tape line down the center of the room. If you let your allegiance slip then you automatically alienate half of your audience / friends / family – or at least 47% of them, right? I’ve been cringing so much lately at the discourse that I think my shoulders are permanently tense. I’m not a Facebook user, but I know the format, and I’ve seen the layout. It feels so much like a yearbook page to me – a photo, a list of clubs and affiliations, likes and dislikes, recent comments. For me it feels like such a surface reading – a screenshot capture of a person, without the depth and nuance that we all possess inside of us. If I scan your page am I looking for tells? Signals that we could – or should – be friends, move in the same circles? If you like homemade ice cream, children’s literature, coffee shops and Sarah Palin, do I connect with 75% of you? Could we meet up for a cone or a cup and just not talk politics? Or do I dismiss you completely because the brief summary you’ve chosen to describe yourself with alienates you from my fundamental assessment of all things acceptable and worthy? I fear that the latter is happening more and more, and as a result we’re missing so many opportunities to talk about weightier issues over that coffee and to find that we aren’t as far apart as our “LIKES” might have led us to believe.
I discussed this with my dad a couple of weeks ago – this typecasting that goes on now between political parties, and what used to be an underlying suspicion of the other side has become a full throated critique. And it puts all of us in a constant state of defensiveness. Four years ago I felt the utter frustration of the values war – family values, faith values, marriage values. It all seemed so absurd. Do we really believe that one half of the room holds these values while the other half disdains them completely? Are we patriotic enough? Do we love our country enough? Are we American enough? Do we wear the right lapel pin, hold our hand across our heart correctly? Does God love us more? It’s equally absurd this time around, but we’ve moved on from our moral grounds to our economic status. Are we takers? Lazy? Unwilling to take responsibility? Moochers? Union thugs? Thugs in general? When did we stop listening to ourselves? Do we think before we speak, or is that line so deep and stained across our landscape that we cannot stop for one second and consider the judgements we make, and how they seem to stand in direct contradiction to those values we so brazenly claim as our own?
I consider myself deeply religious and politically engaged. I talk little about both of these things outside of my innermost community. I feel that my beliefs feed my positions, my spiritual life guides my political decisions. But they are independent things, and come with no strings – or allegiances – attached. I was raised in a church and then set free to find my own way, and my own home. I was raised in a family of voters who quietly lived out the values of a particular party, but didn’t post signs about them in the yard. I have planted my children in community and spiritual circles that encompass diverse voices and that encourage discourse. I pray that they will be inspired and nurtured and challenged by the people that surround them. People of varied ages and races and education and economic levels and political leanings. I pray this for them everyday, and I vote in a country and for a direction that places an emphasis on nurturing these dialogues and strives for an ever more inclusive gathering at the table for these talks.