My goodness the candidates and pundits are busy these days. The election conversation just never ends. TV, social media, magazines, newspapers – everyone is putting in their two cents. It has never been easier to promote your point of view, or to ask questions intended to make someone else defend or reconsider theirs.
People like to say that this election year is “the worst,” and in some ways, it just might be. The characters are sure colorful, and the mudslinging seems to be getting worse every day. But then again, my own personal history reminds me that division along political lines is nothing new, and it often becomes ugly because arrogance and self-righteousness run deep in our human hearts.
Around 8 a.m. on November 8, 2000, I went to my voting precinct in Arlington, Virginia. There were, of course, many candidates on the ballot that day, but two were attracting the lion’s share of attention. Bush. And Gore.
The line to the precinct door snaked around the side of the building and then back and forth in gentle curves like a fat roll of ribbon candy. I got in line and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be there for awhile.
About 10 minutes into my wait, I somehow started chatting with the elderly black woman in front of me. She was a beautiful, petite woman with salt-and-pepper hair, bright eyes, and an easy laugh. We talked nonstop for at least 30 minutes about where we’d grown up and our current lives in Northern Virginia. Naturally, she told me all about her grandchildren, and I could see how proud she was. I felt a deep enough kinship with this sweet woman, that when we ascended the steep steps leading into the building, I was perfectly comfortable encouraging her to be careful.
A yard or so from the precinct door, she looked at me with an earnest smile and said, “So I guess you’re voting for Gore.”
“Uhm, no actually,” I replied.
Her eyes grew wide. She seemed startled.
Then, she turned away from me.
As she squared her shoulders and faced the front, I heard her murmur under her breath, “I thought you were nice.”
I stood there – stunned and uneasy – for the next few minutes until we were finally admitted and each assigned a voting booth.
At the time, I worked for the Close Up Foundation, a nonpartisan civic education group, and I wrote books about federal policy for high school students. Our texts were designed to encourage young minds to think about issues from myriad points of view before forming political opinions. From that experience, I learned that issues are not simple. There are no easy answers. And NO candidate is a perfect choice. We all do the best we can with the small minds and limited information we have, and the experiences that form our consciences.
At Close Up, I worked with many people whose political opinions differed from mine, and a few of them became beloved friends.
Because when you live in close proximity to others and take the time to listen – really listen – to their stories, it’s nearly impossible to develop resentment and hatred toward them.
If we think we know more than the next person…
If we think we have perfect solutions…
If we think ‘our guy’ is going to make everything better…
then we are arrogant.
And we are wrong.
“Those people” – the ones I don’t hang out with – the ones who seem different from me – God made them, and loves them, and has called me to serve them with His Love.
So before I enter into another tense conversation, before I send that snarky email or post an incendiary link, I’m going to think…
What does Love require of me?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”