Let’s stop playing dodge ball across an imaginary gulf

When it comes to politics, I really do believe the vast majority of us sit in an ample swath down the middle. Yet, when it comes to how we are positioned, it’s as if we’ve been picked for teams in gym class and have begun to believe in the “evils” of the other side.

In the gym classes of my younger years, picking teams wasn’t my favorite thing. Nor is it now. My political views veer in a particular direction, but I don’t see those who disagree with me as being on the other team. Voting is a competition, but it doesn’t mean that I have to throw the dodge ball at someone’s face to participate, or even win.

Out of curiosity, I wander every so often into the media environment that promotes different views. This practice hasn’t changed my views, but it has influenced how I consider the media environment that supports mine. Anger and finger-pointing exists on both sides. Spin exists on both sides. If someone talks favorably about God, ultra-conservatives are quick to claim that person for their team, a Crusader who wants to “obliterate the left” when said person’s message may have nothing to do with politics. At the opposite extreme, that same person talking about God might be held in suspicion, the expectation that they are likely anti-abortion and therefore also a white supremacist and climate change denier.

Without the benefit of polling — and we know how well that works — I can’t determine how prevalent extremists are. But I can say my personal experience indicates there are plenty of people who aren’t so far on either end that they can’t coexist with those who don’t share their precise views.

It’s brand politics. To a certain extent, we’re going to engage in it. Some may want to spend more time at Starbucks and less in an Uber (or vice-versa) because of the stand each company’s CEO has taken on the recent immigration order. This is a freedom those CEOs share with all of us — the right to stand up for what we believe in. The rewards and risks are market-related. If you are supplying something that aligns with my political views, my demand for what you offer is going to go up. But I can also avoid companies that counter my views.

The kind of brand politics I think we want to be careful about is putting others on the opposing team and leaving them there, only interacting with them to show force or prowess about our own views. As many on both sides have pointed out, our votes impact other people, including those who don’t agree with us. But we’re actually all on the same team. We share many of the same resources. We pass each other on the street. Every time we get into a car, we count on others to be good drivers. We are all sitting on the same bench.

This isn’t to stay I don’t want to talk politics with friends. It’s actually the opposite. I want more talk, but I want it to have substance. I want people to tell me why they do or don’t support something. I want us to get past name-calling, cliches and assumptions.

Because whenever you articulate your views, you cycle through your own personal vetting process. We should all be asked to this during times like these. Right now, many of the issues arising aren’t red or blue. Unless we shed those filters, though, we won’t be able to see what they really are.