Seeking the Materials to Build Bridges

All for Them

So, I went to this little gathering in Washington, D. C. on January 21st. I had a couple folks ask me honestly and objectively why I was going, or why I went depending on when they caught me. I so welcome this question! A chance to talk about what it meant to me, which is likely unique from what you saw covered on fill-in-the-blank-left/right-leaning news outlet. I actually had real, tangible reasons to march, and if you want to know about them…let’s get a coffee or hop on the phone! I bet despite your notion, we share some element of my motivation to spend 15 of 36 hours driving to and from D.C., staying at a stranger’s house (who became anything but as we spent our day together), and standing in solidarity with sister and brother humans.

Let’s be real, we are all reeling from what this last election cycle and the ensuing couple months has done to some of our personal relationships. I have felt personally — and heard in various circles — “What do I do about this friend or that friend? I didn’t know he/she thought x or y.” I’m being generic here because I trust you see how this can play in any circle. How do we work our way back to each other? Do I even want to work my way back? What sort of resources can we possibly use to build these bridges?

My niece has a saying that I know she picked up from somewhere, but I first heard it from her, so Gabrielle, you get the credit. “You do you, man…you do you!” I think we have all forgotten how to let you do you, and me do me. The online aspect of our lives has erased the barrier between our private and public lives. We have a personal victory or a private revelation, we are compelled to share it online, and we open ourselves up to comment. In the opening, we risk rejection or criticism on something that — in the past — would not have been up for public consumption or commentary. Let’s look at our beliefs.

I have developed and curated a deeply held set of beliefs that are very personal to me. I recognize that others around me — others that I love fiercely — hold an entirely different set of personal beliefs that they hold just as deeply. Our reasons for holding our equal and opposite beliefs likely flow out of the same source (I’m a parent, I’m a spouse, I’m a citizen) yet land us at completely different conclusions about how to enact those beliefs. My perspective on life is solely my own, and no one else can have the same set of experiences that has crafted my personality and beliefs. I can certainly have a resonance with someone else — we can recognize a similar tone in one another’s dialog or emotions, and we can carry that tone together, but at some point even that resonance can fall out of tune.

As we share publicly — though pictures and posts — moments from our lives that have us acting out our deeply held yet personal beliefs, we are exposed. We march for one cause, while others for the exact opposite cause. Those in our circle have the opportunity to say, “Hmm, I didn’t know she felt that way.” Or “Wow, who knew he thought that?” I’m sure you can feel the judgement seeping in there. It creeps in around the edges of our thinking and our expressions of those thoughts. We stop seeing the person who makes us laugh or with whom we have a long and love-worn history, and we let his or her opposing beliefs obscure the person who holds them. We start painting this person, who has equally valid concerns and even similar sources of motivation, with a brush that is caricature — that is off-color, off-base.

Honestly, the chances of me winning one of my beloved cohorts over to my perspective is quite small if their personal beliefs are so different from mine. And vice versa! But should that stop us from looking for opportunities to connect, and look past the belief to the person within? In order to build bridges back to the people who we feel very disconnected from, it’s time to let them do them, and me do me. The materials we will build these bridges with are civility and empathy. Through benign conversation, showing I give a care, and am willing to let you do you very well may be reciprocated with your own willingness to let me be me, while finding ways to stay connected. We really are stronger together, and that means not just together with the people who look like and sound like me — together with the people who believe something quite different, but with whom I am still able to have respectful conversations…an expansion of my mind and heart.

I am no pro here. I am wending my way daily towards a place of more openness, greater empathy, to a place of looking for the resonance. And when I make progress by an inch here or a half-step there, I get to wake up the next morning and start again. The best news is, on the days I make missteps and move away from those who believe differently than I do, I get to wake up the next morning and start again.