Year-end thoughts: Community and Beyond

New photo added to galleryHere we are on the eve of the end of the year, 21 days away from a man we didn’t think could be president becoming president.  I have always agonized a bit over my lack of “involvement”.  I don’t quite know what it means.  But I can’t help but feel now more than ever, that I should be doing more.  One small thing I did over the holidays was to donate money in people’s honor instead of buying them presents I wasn’t sure they’d even like.  Or that they could buy themselves.  I also donated money shortly after the election and I hope to continue contributing to causes I care about and that can do good in the world.  But that doesn’t strike me as being particularly involved.  I’m sure it helps and it certainly made me feel pretty good, but it’s not getting my hands dirty.

The other day, our whole family had a heated argument about the election and why Trump won and what we can do.  It’s interesting to have two smart, but very young, kids participating in the conversation.  Both of our kids follow the news.  They often bring information to us before we’ve seen it.  Geeky Boy’s argument is that the two sides don’t talk anymore and that the way forward is to start talking to people on the other side (or on no side, which is a larger percentage) and to convince them to vote and to vote for your candidate.  Geeky Girl agrees.  Mr. Geeky countered that that won’t work.  He’s spent a year and a half arguing with the other side and hasn’t convinced anyone to change their minds.  I agree with both.  I agree with my kids that it’s important to try to engage people that you disagree with.  It’s possible to change minds, but it’s hard.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  But I also agree with Mr. Geeky that there are people on the other side who can’t be swayed.  Not only do they not respond to logic, but they often won’t even respond to an appeal to emotion or empathy.  There’s no way in.  Mr. Geeky has taken that to its logical conclusion and feels much more cynical about the next four years than my kids and I do.

But what do we do with our earnestness?  There are local politics, which I’ve been involved in before and could be involved in again.  There are state level politics, but frankly, not a lot is happening on that front. In my district, our state reps are both Democrats.  At the national level, we just re-elected our Republican Senator.  The Democrat is up in 2018, but he’s so moderate, I doubt he’ll be seriously challenged.  And my guess is the Democrats won’t run someone against him that’s to his left.  All politics is local, but the real action is happening at the national level.  Sure, I can call my senators every time I’m pissed off, but 2018 needs to be about flipping one of the houses.  Locally, the best we can do is keep our seat.  Beyond that, we need some decent candidates.

But how does a busy working woman and her family really dig in and do something? That’s the question I keep coming back to.  Here’s a thing I keep thinking about. We, neither as a family nor as individuals, belong to a community organization.  We don’t go to church and beyond church, we don’t even know what organization to belong to.  It’s honestly not that I don’t want to belong to something.  It’s just that there’s not much out there beyond religious organizations (and I live in a large city).  Rotary Club (religion infused), nope.  I played bridge in college and grad school, and once looked to find a bridge club.  There are some, but most meet in the middle of the day on weekdays.  You must be retired or unemployed to join.  There are a handful of civic organizations but they don’t seem to meet very often or have super specific goals, like working in particular park, etc.  So we’re mostly on our own, socializing with friends, but rarely interacting at a deeper level with those who might hold different views from us, something we might gain from being in an organization.

So I don’t know where we go from here, or in what way I might engage beyond my immediate family.  I do know that the Internet isn’t enough.  It’s a starting point, but it’s not the same as engaging face to face.  That, my whole family agrees on.

2 Replies to “Year-end thoughts: Community and Beyond”

  1. Hello from a long-time reader. Thanks for being so open about your process of thinking this through. When you think about those civic organizations, are you hesitating to join because you’re worried that it will involve a lot of time invested with not a lot of action or accomplishment? I can understand that it might be important to pick something that both feels, and is, productive. I’m not very familiar with Rotary, so I just looked up the Rotary Wikipedia page, where the “secular” claim is very front and centre. Is it a particular project or person associated wit your local Rotary that makes you worry that it would be uncomfortably religious?

    Anyway, I understand the desire to work collectively in an organized environment — whether with like-minded people, or as a way to engage with people outside my “bubble”. I started attending <a href="http://www.fgcquaker.org/connect/quaker-finder"Quaker meetings myself, for exactly that reason. Even though I’m some kind of atheist/agnostic hybrid, they didn’t seem to much care (and I’m not the only one). Hope you find a way to engage that feels fruitful.

    One other thing I thought about while reading — I agree with both your children, *and* your husband. And you. Engaging with people who disagree with me is important, but arguing doesn’t work, and neither do appeals to logic or empathy. I don’t know if you’re like me, but if someone from the “other side” tried to convince me to vote for their candidate, their arguing would make me think they were argumentative, I would find the information they provided suspect, and I would probably find their appeals to empathy manipulative 🙂

    I started studying and practicing conflict mediation a few years ago. I learned lots of things, but a very simple lesson from Day 1 of the course is the one I’ve made the most hay with: people don’t soften their position if you talk to them. That often makes people more defensive. But they will sometimes soften their position if you listen to them. Instead of arguing, appealing, or providing, we can ask (especially about values and fears), cultivate genuine curiosity, restate the other person’s position in our own words to make sure we understood them, avoid starting any sentence with “yeah but”, and generally delay stating our own position, values, and fears until the other person feels like they’ve been really understood. If we’re lucky, they will then do the same for us. But even if we’re unlucky, we will have woven one tiny thread into the fabric of our community.

    I hope your winter break has brought you lots of love that can help keep the cynicism and sadness from seeming too overwhelming… and that you find someplace that welcomes and feeds your energy. After all, I believe all hands are needed.

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