It took me a long, long time to realize a fundamental life maxim: you're not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you. Thrown their complicated set of problems through their entire lives, you wouldn't carry yourself any better than they would, and vice versa.
It was this realization that led me to stop sharing my political beliefs, and stop trying to convince people to see eye to eye with what I believe. In public, I have become much less political, in my writing and in my daily conversations with people. As a populist-leaning liberal, I still abhor out of touch mainstream democrats and republican politicians alike. I still shake my head every time Donald Trump tweets something I disagree with. I fundamentally believe that anger should always be pointed up, at the ruling elite who have the power and resources to actually change things, rather than those who are just surviving day to day.
But that's just me. That's where I stand. I'm not going to try to get anyone else to see that way. I try to take from my beliefs to better myself as a person and my communities by never giving up on people, always giving them the benefit of the doubt, and welcoming anybody and any person into my communities.
Where did I realize that I wasn't better than anyone - that it wasn't my mission to dismantle a core set of beliefs people spent their entire lives forming?
I read one Guardian article over the summer titled "$6.40 an hour and a few raises in nine years: how I got stuck in a Walmart career." I clicked immediately because as a former temporary Walmart employee, I imagined that the author's story resonated with many of my co-workers.
The author described his interactions with a co-worker named Nathan, who he looked down on as a "lifer" and a right-wing. A lifer at Walmart is someone whose career is seemingly stuck there and who has worked there a number of years or even decades.
One day, the author and Nathan had to unload pallets near the end of their shift and got into a heated argument over how they should do it. When the author insisted he was right and that he knew what he was doing, Nathan shouted back at him:
"You don't know shit!"
Short story short, in the midst of this argument, a box of grape juice falls as the author is unloading his pallet, he slips and falls on his face, his pants are soaked, and, ultimately, his pride is profoundly wounded. Nathan, even though they were in a heated argument, helps him up, asks if he's OK, and never mentions the incident to anyone else. The author would later say that:
"Over the years, I learned that Nathan was quick to forgive, and would drop everything to assist anyone who needed help. Despite his not-so-politically-correct, rightwing remarks and jokes, Nathan greeted and talked to everyone he encountered with genuine respect and kindness, regardless of that person’s age, gender, or ethnicity."
When talking politics, I'm right.
I'm always right, and those heathens who think any differently are stupid, wrong, and need to be conditioned to think the same way as I do.
Needless to say, that's the worst of me. When I'm political, I'm not fighting for a cause. I'm trying to win the battle of right and wrong, put down the other person, and stroke my ego and vanity.
I'm stubborn as hell, and if others are anything like me, getting into a political argument that puts both sides on the defensive only entrenches each side's beliefs.
I hope to impart my values
"You don't know shit" is the truth for everyone's life but your own.
We know it, but we don't quite accept it. Everyone who has a perspective has experienced life vastly different than you, and hence not everyone is going to agree on everything. That's just the state of affairs. I just accepted that what other people believe and value is something I'll never fully understand. I wrote about not putting other people into boxes a couple of weeks ago, but another thing I've started to value is not imposing on other people's issues when you don't know the full story and are not involved.
So what's happened now that I don't talk politics as much anymore? I'm listening better.
Before, when I was participating in these arguments, I could only see what the person was saying without really grasping it. Now that I'm stepping aside, I'm much better at seeing why and how they believe what they believe. The conservatives that I know often grew up in conservative communities and conservative families, and the liberals grew up in often liberal communities and liberal families. Some people rebel and saw dysfunction in their family's core set of beliefs. I know I did.
There's a story behind why people do what they do, and how they came to believe what they believe. Only when you mutually understand those stories can you really reach across the aisle, and subject yourself to being reached as well. Being apolitical meant giving up that battle of being right or wrong. For now, it is helping me capture and understand those stories.