The work of campaigning is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I’m much more comfortable reading a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research than I am waving signs on the side of the road or knocking on people’s doors. But, as I’m learning, part of running for office is to force yourself out of your comfort zone. For me, it’s all WAY out of my comfort zone.

As Barack Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope, campaigns are “sometimes uplifting, occasionally harrowing, but always slightly ridiculous.” The reason we swallow our shame and jump through these hoops (waving, knocking, standing on street corners passing out fliers, etc.) is to connect with people. Not just to get you to vote (though that’s helpful too), but to glimpse into your life. Whether it’s just an instant of eye contact on your way to work or a conversation about policy on your doorstep — these are the connections that allow for understanding and, ultimately, better decision making.

I strongly believe that the only way to represent all of Kaua’i is to develop the capacity to empathize with everyone. Much more important than any specific policy or ideology is the ability to see an issue from someone else’s perspective. So that when we disagree, as we eventually will, I can understand where you are coming from and you can understand where I am coming from.

From housing to climate change, the choices we make over the next few years will determine our island’s course for generations. And there are no simple solutions. To move forward we need both the courage to act boldly and the ability to engage in difficult and emotional conversations. If we allow the corrosive tribalism that’s overtaken national politics to dominate our local dialogue, we make it harder to work together on solutions. And if we mix up personal identity with policy prescriptions, then progress becomes impossible.

Seeing each other as neighbors and community members rather than members of an opposing ideology is the most important step we can take towards building a new kind of politics. One that’s focused on solutions and not divisions.

And so I step out of my car, I grab my banner, and I wave.