Sports are extremely important in the United States. School and intramural teams provide entertainment, activity for restless kids and a place for the community to gather. Professional sports is big business.
Many Americans are such great fans of sports that they want to live their political lives using the same framework. This leads to bumper stickers, t-shirts and infinite other bits of Made-in-China paraphernalia lauding one team or the other: Democrat or Republican.
Good thinking doesn’t split itself in two like that.
In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a distinct smugness among my liberal friends. I’ve even gotten into trouble voicing this observation; one of my friends eyed me cautiously for an hour afterward, in case I had surreptitiously become a fascist.
I recently attended a public event in Portland celebrating a national environmental magazine. The host observed that at the recent Republican Party convention, the words “environment” and “nature” did not come up in analyses of the speeches. He followed this fact with the assertion that no Republicans care about the environment.
I did not hear even a murmur of surprise. Imagine how you’d feel if you were a Republican in the audience, someone who supports the magazine and chose to be there. Happily, one of the featured guests spoke of knowing some conservative women in rural Oregon.
“I disagree that they don’t care about the environment,” she said, facing down her host with an anecdote to illustrate the Eastern Oregonians’ warmth and generosity. “They just think about it differently.” I applauded loudly, ignoring the stares.
The issue strikes a chord with me because this “Us Versus Them” mentality is so pervasive, and so toxic. It might be fun to approach politics as one would a football rivalry, but it’s exclusionary and it’s damaging.
When the event host made his remark about the Republicans, he exuded confidence that everyone in the room was in agreement. I’ve seen this happen at parties, and I’ve seen it at work. It reminds me of what my friends who are people of color have described they experience in a room full of white people: things and ideas presented that are simply accepted as “normal,” which practice is actually, if unconsciously, racist.
People who have liberal views are not inherently better than those who have conservative ones. It seems elementary for me to say it, but conservatives love their children just as much as liberals do. They love the Earth. We all want more or less the same things; we just have different ideas about how to get there. To suggest that conservatives are Bad People is to be exactly as closed-minded.
So please, my liberal friends, please continue to think your thoughts. Continue to volunteer in your communities. Continue to talk to others about tricky issues. But please stop thinking your views are superior. More importantly, stop thinking you are superior.
Same goes for conservatives, of course. We are all in this together.
Instead, reach out to someone who is different from you and build a friendship, and then build on that trust to explore why s/he thinks what s/he thinks. Learn that person’s heart. Living in a liberal bubble is just as unhelpful as the worst conservative opinion imaginable, and vice versa.
I fully support debating issues. But being on one “team” and sniping at the other is, at the very least, bad sportsmanship.