by Suzanne McAllister, Ph.D.
I’m just back from a delightful visit to one of my brother’s homes near the bay and ocean on Long Island. We were outside much of the time. Salt air, sun, walking on the beach. I came home exhausted. Could be for several reasons: time spent on the water and in the sun; time spent with others more than I usually do since I live alone, or, more likely, time spent with others whose interests and values are different from mine.
I love my brother, his wife, and his daughter. We have fun together, however, when it comes time to talk about the things dearest to me, I either speak up and get pushback or little response, or clam up, anticipating I’ll get pushback, or little or no response.
My brother and I have vastly different political views. He is conservative. I am liberal. We’ve had heated arguments in the past, and generally, we have decided to agree to disagree. I found myself feeling defensive when the topic of immigration came up. They (my brother and his wife) are champions of Gov. Abbott of Texas’ decision to transport busloads of immigrants to New York and other ‘sanctuary’ cities. They are of the opinion that immigrants are taking jobs from college students who want to work in low-paying, seasonal and menial jobs, and that immigrants are a drain on government resources and contribute nothing to society. They shout statistics at me that I cannot rebut since I don’t have an arsenal of statistics at my fingertips. I have no idea if their statistics are accurate.
This time as I found myself getting defensive I did something different. I took a deep breath, recognized that I felt vulnerable to their attack and challenge, but decided I would speak anyway. I told them I felt defensive but that shutting down as a way to ‘protect’ myself was not useful and that I wanted to understand their point of view better.
They had been attacking progressives – The Squad, Elizabeth Warren, etc. Instead of shutting down, I asked them if they could tell me what they meant when they used the term ‘progressive’, that it was hard to have a discussion when terms are used and we don’t really know what the other means by the word or term.
I’m glad I took the risk. It was helpful. They gave me some information. It slowed the conversation (more accurately the soliloquy) down. I asked questions.
Eventually the clarification of what they mean by ‘progressive’, with some examples of ‘progressiveness’, came to an end. Throughout, I didn’t counter what they said. I just listened and asked more questions. They never asked me what I meant by the word progressive.
Even though they expressed no interest in how I see things, I decided to risk again and told them my vision of the world – what is deepest in my heart. I told them that I thought what is happening to any one person – an immigrant fleeing violence or poverty in Latin America impacts us all. That we are all connected even if it isn’t visible or apparent. I also believe – but didn’t say – that I include non-human animals in my connected world. My brother said – not in a mean way – ‘that’s very idealistic’. I said, ‘I guess it is’. I wish I had added, ‘yes, and having a vision for how one wants the world to be, is a start, and a guide to how I want to behave’ – but I wasn’t quick enough to say that.
There was a small victory later that evening. We were watching a program about the mycelium network that undergirds much of life on earth. My brother turned to me and said ‘I guess that is what you were talking about’. I smiled and said ‘yes’.
I doubt my brother’s political views are likely to change, but we had a moment of connection for which I am grateful.