Be Careful What You Resolve To Do…you just might do it

 By Rev. Kate Braestrup

As a rule, my New Year’s resolutions are notable neither for originality nor for their chances of being fulfilled. Year after year, along with so many of my fellow Americans, I resolve to– -surprise!– – exercise and lose weight. Year after year, my failure to do either is discouragingly evident by February.

New Years 2015 was different.

Though I was as fat and out of shape as ever, my usual half-hearted feint at overcoming the common sins of greed and sloth seemed self-indulgent. Surely, given the urgent issues playing out in full-color rage and riot in the news, I should resolve to do something that might make me a better person, and more useful citizen?

Kate-Heros
Rev. Braestrup, along with Maine State Troopers, get some cheer from a Dallas child while in that city for the funerals of fallen police officers.

What seemed most striking about the national mood wasn’t just the explosive intensity of the passions in play. It was the complete absence of anything like a true national dialogue or even a real debate. Americans on the left and right weren’t so much quarreling with one another as talking past each other, preaching to their respective choirs and reinforcing the beliefs of the true believers.

The issues involved seemed to be the same urgent issues my classmates and I had hollered about back in college; racism, abortion, gay rights, what to do about guns, what to do about crime and poverty? College students may be forgiven for making noise rather than progress, but adult citizens of a mature democracy are supposed to possess sufficient self-discipline to engage in constructive conversations and find common ground with those with whom they disagree.

And yet, according to the Pew Research Center, Republicans and Democrats in the United States are, today, more divided along ideological lines, and the resulting political acrimony is deeper and more extensive, than at any point in recent U.S. history.

It would be one thing if these political divisions were resulting in hope, happiness or at least a little triumphant schadenfreude for one of the two, broadly-defined sides. Instead, everywhere I looked there was evidence of a pessimism bordering on despair. “Conservatives and liberals don’t just disagree, we loathe each another,” a friend agreed and then proceeded to explain how the blame lay entirely with conservatives. He concluded with an emphatic “those people are crazy.”

That dialogue has broken down is a point affirmed and explained in a book by the science writer Jonathan Haidt’s called The Righteous Mind; why good people are
divided by religion and politics.

Ah, religion and politics! The two famously divisive subjects, the ones our mothers told us never to discuss in polite company. We are in polite company now, of course but this is a website for religious liberals, so we sort of have to discuss religion. And though we like to think of ourselves as post-Christian, there’s probably a Holy Bible on the bookshelf in our various homes, a book in which these two subjects– -religion and politics– -are intertwined and indivisible.

Human moral reasoning is made manifest in religion and politics. “Help the poor,” is an original- religious imperative we translate into secular public policy– -Aid to Families with Dependent Children and the like. Signs reading “Thou Shalt Not Kill” are held aloft at political protests against both capital punishment and abortion, even if plaques listing the Ten Commandments are taken down from courthouse walls. There’s a reason that even the most theologically liberal, avowedly non-hierarchical clergyperson, who normally eschews clerical garb, will put on her collar and robe when picketing the White House on behalf of illegal immigrants, and “who would Jesus Bomb?” was an anti-war message even atheist pacifists were known to stick onto their bumpers.

A phrase from the Gospel of Matthew jumped out at me on a winter Sunday: “leave your gift there at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Maybe those conservatives are crazy, I thought, but they are my brothers. And the phrase that I, for one, take as an absolute, implacable command– – “love one another” —is inclusive. I’m pretty sure it means that I’m supposed to love even those whose moral reasoning I don’t agree with.

I highly recommend Haidt’s book as a fascinating look at what scientists are finding out about how precarious and flawed our moral reasoning can be. For example, Haidt explains how all of us—-and I mean all of us—-are subject to what scientists call the confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what we already think.

In fact, we’re hard-wired for it: Being right, or confirmed in one’s rightness releases a little hit of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the ventral striatum, a pleasure/reward center in the brain. Lab rats given the chance to press a lever and get a dose of dopamine have been known to keep pressing that lever, forsaking all other activities including eating, until they starve to death. Being wise in your own sight– -having your biases confirmed — -isn’t just fun, it’s potentially addictive.

One of the particular and important claims made by the Unitarian Universalist movement is that we-wee….UUs …deliberately try to counteract the seduction of the confirmation bias in ourselves and in one another. Unitarian Universalists aim and claim to tolerate people whose lifestyles, experiences and ideas are different from our own, to allow ourselves to be challenged by them, and learn something from them. However, simply declaring oneself or one’s church to be tolerant and open-minded does not make it so.

I worry that, having defined ourselves as “open minded” we UUs can too easily imagine ourselves exempt from the natural human tendency to create like-minded communities. How often do we engage in substantive, meaningful conversation with people who are ideologically different?

So I resolved to spend 2015 talking to … conservatives.

Confession time: I came into the world a liberal, back in 1962, the year I was born to a pair of Kennedy Democrats. When I was in high school in Washington, DC, I used to cut class and spend whole days down on the Mall, marching and protesting for the ERA (Equal Rights [for women] Amendment), the legalization of marijuana, the Nuclear Freeze and the Sandinistas, against South African Apartheid and Japanese whale hunts and (because I was a little confused) both for and against the Shah of Iran.

I grew up and married a liberal State Trooper– -yes, these exist. More recently, I was ordained as a minister in the most theologically and politically liberal denomination in the country.

So yes, I wanted to, as Jesus recommended, leave my gift before the altar and go find my brother and be reconciled…but my actual brother is a liberal, and so are most of my close personal friends, and all of my colleagues in Unitarian-Universalist ministry. On the other hand I did have one big advantage. I’ve spent the past 14 years or so working with game wardens. Though there are exceptions, law enforcement officers tend to lean conservative. I may be the Maine Warden Services’ token, Birkenstock-and- Socks Liberal but I dearly love my wardens. At times, I trust my life to them. And I know they love me.

“If we agree in love, there is no disagreement that can do us any injury,” wrote the great Universalist preacher Hosea Ballou. I believe that. If nothing else, my relationship with Maine game wardens proved that it was possible for a liberal to agree in love with a conservative.

But I didn’t want to force Maine game wardens into political and religious arguments while we were, say, at a search-and- rescue scene. So I had to make a real effort to find some other conservatives to argue with, but the effort was definitely worth it. I’ve learned a lot. For example: get this! There are different kinds of conservatives! Social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives– -Catholic, Protestant and Jewish– -there are atheist libertarians, gay libertarians, Right-Wing Republicans and Republicans In Name Only: socons, ficons, RINOs…

And they aren’t all white, Christian men either. I’ve met truck drivers and doctors, schoolteachers and stay-at-home moms and dads, Buddhists, bartenders and businessmen, physicists, psychologists and public defenders… and yup, they’re male and female, black, brown, white, Asian, gay, straight, trans—such diversity! Who knew?

One of my new conservative acquaintances is—-get this—-a female, immigrant Hindu libertarian gun nut. Top that?

Yeah, I’ll admit it: subconsciously, at least, I was sure I would be able to persuade all of these fine people that they were wrong about …well, about everything, really. I’m a persuasive person. I’d convert them all to liberalism! Birkenstocks and socks all around! Isn’t that the way we all secretly hope to be reconciled to our brother? To make him reconcile himself to you? This was going to be awesome!

Is It Warm?Well, it has been fun. And…interesting. After two years of serving as a secret agent of liberalism, an agent provocateur in conservative circles I have not, so far as I know, made a single convert to political or religious liberalism.

I have, on the other hand, made friends. I’ve had long arguments with bona fide, right-wing wing-nut conservatives and come away feeling challenged, stimulated, provoked to new and expanded thought… and humbled. Lots and lots of humbling: I’ve also had to admit, more than once, that some long-held righteous opinion of mine wasn’t just different, it was wrong. Wrong facts, wrong conclusion, wrong opinion.

That’s been unsettling.

There are a lot of intimidatingly smart and very knowledgeable conservatives. There are those who are passionate about one subject, and others who are interested in everything. There are some who express themselves with patience and restraint. And there are those who just like to kick the hornet’s nest and see what comes flying out.

I’m a little like that myself… so I’m growing used to getting stung. Luckily, I am meeting lots of deeply compassionate and humane conservatives. Let me repeat that, for the liberals among my readers; I am meeting a lot of deeply compassionate and humane
conservatives. I’ve been part of discussions that go deeply into very difficult terrain—“like running through a field of mesquite” as one conservative friend wrote– -and resolve themselves not in agreement but in what the same writer described as “kindness and the honest attempt to understand views we may never personally hold…” It’s been impressive.

How strange it was to realize that a liberal might learn a lot about patience, tolerance and love …from conservatives.

I can tell by the looks on your virtual faces that you are inspired by my example! Still, pastoral responsibility demands that I offer a note of caution: Be careful what resolutions you make, because you just might fulfill them. Resolutions are always about change, and change is, by definition, unsettling at best, painful and unpleasant at worst.

As my cousin Ollie remarked, “You can’t really call yourself open-minded if you never actually change your mind,” but it’s a whole lot easier not to change, easier to go on doing the same things in the same ways, easier to go on thinking in the same ways, reading the same kinds of books, having the same kinds of conversations with the same sorts of people from pretty much the same perspectives. Friends, let me testify: My life was a whole lot easier when I was an automatic progressive.

Yes, I had to swallow the occasional lump of incredulity.

Yes, I had to pretend not to notice a few uncomfortable facts and endure the occasional bout of cognitive dissonance.

But the pleasure and reward centers in my brain got regular doses of dopamine, my membership in my familial social, religious and clerical circles was regularly affirmed, and I got to enjoy the feeling of safety such membership bestows.

But growth— intellectual growth, spiritual growth, growth in one’s ability to love God and neighbor—-isn’t safe, and it’s never painless. That same Holy Bible (or the Four Noble Truths, if you prefer) can tell you that much. Whatever our political persuasion, and however we feel, as citizens and as individuals of conscience, about the state of race relations or any other vexing issue, members of my denomination—-Unitarian Universalists—-are the adherents of a religion that claims to prize not creeds, not dogmas, not exclusive blueprints for individual or collective salvation, but a principled process of which the free and responsible search for truth and meaning is bedrock.

It’s not easy. It is, however, most definitely worth it.

Copyright 2017 © Kate Braestrup

38 comments

  1. Wow. Thank you Reverend Braestrup for this humble and insightful piece. To put this in strictly UU terms, I (along with several UU ministers) have done presentations on the need we have to be more open to non-liberals. What scares me is the number of people who pull me aside secretly to let me know they are conservative in some areas, but are frightened to admit it in a UU setting. This should be unacceptable in a UU setting.
    Kudos for your fortitude in undertaking that resolution.

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    1. Thanks, Paul, for your comment. What you’re describing is a large part of why we’ve launched this blog. I hope to attend your December 3 service. Please consider writing something for us, or adapting your coming sermon for this blog.

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  2. Paul, that’s happened to me, too, at virtually every church I’ve preached in—some nice, UU person will come up to me after the service, lower his or her voice and glance around for evesdroppers before whispering “I’m a Republican.” It shouldn’t be that way.

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  3. I love this. One of the troubling aspects of Unitarian Universalism, to me, is its perception – either credible or not – as a wing of the Democratic party. Some incredibly deep and insightful conversations in Council at the UU in Pittsfield occurred when a Tea Party Conservative pushed back against the liberal bias of most of the rest of the Council. I think we’re seeing today how the two-party system is, in many respects, no longer helpful for many of us… and it’s further troubling that this broken system has become a part of – whether imagined or real – the theological life of a church/denomination.

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    1. Well said, Holly. I’d add that labels like conservative and liberal are no longer useful, either. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative — they no longer represent principles. We need churches that do.

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  4. Thank you for starting this blog. I’m liberal but I have friends who are conservatives. It’s shocking to me that many of my liberal friends think all conservatives are hateful racists. I like to see my UU friends after services, but am increasingly disillusioned with the UUA. For me, it’s clear that sexism & other forms of discrimination or violence toward women is not a big issue for the UUA. It has taken till 2017 to have a woman president. Why? Because the UUA is all about survival and increasing membership. Women will continue to attend churches even if sexism isn’t mentioned. The very-white UUA prioritizes anti-racism work in hopes of luring more people of color. I think we might lure more people of color (and white people like me) if we didn’t play the same old boring hymns; our services were more spiritual and less like a lecture; and we took better care of our own congregants.

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  5. Suzie, you bring up a really interesting question for me. It strikes me that there is a huge temptation present in any church (or other organization, for that matter): we start to see our church/ denomination as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.

    Often imperceptibly, a church can begin to act not according to its stated goals (e.g. “to bring people to faith in Christ”) but rather to maintain its assets, income, career tracks, power and prestige.

    The only legitimate reason to attempt to lure anyone into our churches is the sincere belief that our church has something wonderful and unique and necessary to offer her.

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    1. I’m a retired journalist, and I’ve seen how people and policies that seemed wonderful don’t always work out that way. For example, liberals believed in Urban Renewal and forced busing to achieve desegregation. Busing African-American children out of their neighborhoods hurt parents’ ability to participate in school events. And Urban Renewal chopped up neighborhoods. I think we should always be open to the possibility that we’re wrong.

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  6. I’ve come across a number of these types of blogs, articles, and even books: a liberal decides to set aside his or her preconceived notions about conservatives and talk to them as people. These are worthy endeavors, and a lot is learned. But I’m curious: has anyone found or read an analogous blog from the other side? I mean, one in which a conservative decides to talk to liberals like they are people of worth and dignity and listen to what they have to say? I’d really be interested in reading something like that.

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    1. Yes. Well, I don’t know about a whole blog devoted wholly to that purpose, K.L., (let me know if you find one!) but I have certainly come across articles like this one, in which a conservative respectfully engaged with progressives on a very vexing subject (abortion).

      http://thefederalist.com/2017/05/25/5-things-right-can-learn-abortion-supporters-yale-law/

      And I have been privileged to engage in long, long discussions with conservatives wherein they showed considerable patience and kindness toward me, once they were convinced that I wasn’t going to sucker-punch them with accusations of bigotry or stupidity.

      Jonathan Haidt has reported that conservatives are generally a lot more aware of how progressives think than the other way around. This is because most of the culture is, frankly, liberal in outlook. Academia, Hollywood, the mainstream media—New York Times, NPR, CNN, all the late-night talk shows, Saturday Night Live, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Oprah—all of these lean (or completely flop) to the left. The reason that we on the left have been inclined to think of these as “neutral,” is because we are like fish who don’t realize that water is wet.

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  7. Thanks for the article! That was an interesting read. (It was also a little terrifying.) I’m skeptical of the contentions in your last paragraph. Not skeptical that Haidt said that, I just disagree. I don’t believe “the culture” is really all that liberal. This is mostly because I don’t think there is anything that can be pointed to as “the culture” and that right/left liberal/conservative labels have outlived their usefulness. I don’t think we’re ever going to get beyond the dreadful polarization in this country if we don’t find better language to use than that. And please don’t just assume to include me in “we on the left” without asking first.

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      1. I guess I came to the blog hoping to see something more like, “we don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative,” or “let’s leave politics at the door and get on with a spiritual journey.” One arena in which I find it is easiest to do that is music. (That’s where I have probably met most of my more-conservative-than-I friends). People can disagree politically but still play music together, at least when it’s about the music. Ideally that’s what I think a church should be like too. You start from first principles and maybe the politics and activism follow from those principles, but maybe they don’t. I think the most important unifying issue facing all of us today is the 7th principle: the interdependent web of which we are a part. We all live on this planet and we all have to care for it or we all die. I think I would start with the 7 principles first, with a special emphasis on the interdependent web of existence. A web has many spokes, it’s not a binary.

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      2. One other idea I had, in addition to what I wrote above, was to use the type of language that Rev. William Barber (founder of the Moral Mondays movement) uses. I read The Third Reconstruction a while ago and I was impressed with how he seemed to be more of a uniter than a divider. He has a newish organization now called “Repairers of the Breach.” http://www.breachrepairers.org/

        It’s true, he does use the liberal/conservative labels on the repairers website, but it’s hard to get away from them entirely. Rather than focusing on that, however, I prefer this quote: “Our communities are torn apart by hateful violence and words, often in the name of opportunistic and hypocritical interpretations of the world’s oldest holy books and teachings. To repair the breaches caused by centuries old systems of racial and gender inequality, we need thousands of clergy and lay leaders who will dedicate their lives to rebuilding, raising up and repairing our moral infrastructure. They shall be called, “The Repairers of the Breach: The Restorers of Our Communities”. Later on the same page, he writes about “moral values of justice, fairness, and the general welfare.” He’s coming from a Christian perspective and he quotes the Bible. I think as UUs, we can and should similarly quote our own principles and sources, and we can also draw from the “Jewish and Christian sources.” The language is about restoring communities and lifting people up. It’s not about putting people down, showing them that they are wrong, stereotyping them, or making them give up their so-called privilege. It just assumes we are all in this together and all need lifting up from time to time.

        I’d also like to see more of the language of science. Someone quoted above the observation that urban renewal and forced busing didn’t work as hoped, and actually had harmful unintended consequences. How do we know this? By looking at the results of policies and studying the evidence. It seems to me that this method should be applied to all policies: outcomes should always be measured and policies should be tweaked and improved based on those findings. I don’t think it helps at all to associate the scientific method with a liberal bias. Science can and should give us a way to step outside the hall of mirrors of opinions and “alternative facts.”

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      3. Science can and does help many people see more clearly on issues like global warming. But, at least for now, it can’t help us with what was said, or how it was said, in a phone call to a Gold Star mother that wasn’t recorded. It can’t help us know why someone shoots hundreds of people or how to prevent that in the future. It can’t tell us what strategy will lead to the best outcome in dealing with North Korea. And putting what science knows about race into the BLM dialogue enrages many anti-racists, who feel their race as a very real thing.

        But, having said that, would you be interested in doing a guest post on how science CAN help.

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      4. I didn’t mean to suggest that you have to stick to my limits, but if it fits where you end up going I’d love to see that sort of thing addressed. But write as you see it.

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  8. K.L., Here is a thought experiment for you: Which of the following two statements would be more likely to get the speaker sneered at, ostracized or even fired from Yale University, the New York Times or at the Unitarian-Universalist Association?

    1.) ““Trump’s victory depended heavily upon uneducated white voters who lacked a college degree.”

    2.) “ Obama’s victory depended heavily upon uneducated black voters who lacked a college degree.”

    The second sentence, by the way, is factually correct—black Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats and, according to the Census Bureau, only about eighteen percent of black Americans hold at least a bachelor’s degree or higher, meaning that 82% are just as “uneducated” as the stereotypical Trump voter.

    For the record, I don’t think the lack of a bachelor’s degree guarantees that a person of any color is “uneducated.” It certainly doesn’t mean they are stupid.

    But that’s a different issue: I was at a UU church one Sunday in which a woman parroted sentence #1 in a voice just dripping with contempt… during Joys and Concerns! No one in the congregation indicated the slightest disapproval.

    How comfortable would you be saying sentence @ 2 out loud at your local UU on Sunday?
    Or try these two:

    1.) The National Rifle Association buys political influence. Since 1998, the NRA has donated more than 2.5 million dollars to current members of congress.

    2) Planned Parenthood buys political influence. In 2016 alone, Planned Parenthood donated more than 38 million dollars to current members of congress.

    Notice that these are just facts. They aren’t even opinions.
    But it does depend a little bit on where you live. If you dwell in a city on either coast or in one of the blue dots sprinkled about the otherwise red mass of what is known as “flyover country” you are probably so immersed in liberalism that you’ve stopped noticing it. This was definitely true of me—and I actually hang out with conservatives! And the media, the movies, the big universities and, of course, opinion-makers of various kinds tend to also be swimming around in liberal-land: New York city, Washington, DC, Hollywood. Hence the profound astonishment of all the major news outlets when Trump won. “How can this be?” My liberal friends wailed, along with Rachel Maddow. “I don’t know a single person who voted for Trump!”

    Well, right. Exactly.

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    1. I am offering the thought experiments as just that—an experiment, to test whether the culture I interact with—ordinary, go-to-church, read-the-paper, watch-tv culture—resembles the one you interact with. Mine is not neutral. It has a “tilt.”

      It was very disorienting to recognize this myself. I didn’t like it. But once I recognized it, I had some choices.

      I could decide “well, good! I like it this way!” And in many ways that’s true: I certainly don’t object to the fact that my culture is by and large sympathetic to same-sex marriage, or accepts female clergy.

      But if my personal, spiritual goal is not comfort…if, instead, I want to get better (and better) at love, it was important for me to take a good, long look at my world through a different lens. I needed to notice the tilt, the built-in biases and assumptions, and consider how these might feel for people who don’t lean in the same direction?

      At the moment, as Mel Pine eloquently points out, “normal, ordinary” society has become pretty punitive even toward people who deviate even a little bit. And this seems to me to be getting worse, not better.

      But—I could be wrong!

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      1. I think that “normal, ordinary” society has always been punitive, even (or especially) toward people who deviate even a little bit. I’m a little surprised that you folks seem to think this is a new phenomenon.

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    1. I do have a bad habit of using the word “you” when I mean “one.” As in ‘if one lives on either of the two coasts, one might not notice…” blah blah.

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    1. I’m not making assumptions about you—just pointing something out about the culture. It is very possible (since I dont’ actually know you!) that your experience is different. I’d be so happy to know that there are plenty of places where someone could say one of those #2 sentences without being slammed for it?

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  9. The labels are difficult, aren’t they? I don’t know what to call myself anymore either, and I’m not sure what to call anyone else either! I think I was lucky, in a way, to have begun this project of engaging conservatives before everything got quite so muddled. I could just say “hi, I’m a liberal,” and start from there. And my conservative soon-to-be friends could say “yup, we’re conservative.” But things have gotten confused in the Age of Trump.

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  10. As I think both of you know, I don’t like the right/left binary either. Most of us have complex views that don’t fall neatly into categories. But I think Kate’s thought experiments were in response to this sentence: “I don’t believe ‘the culture’ is really all that liberal.” There may not be one overriding American culture, and there may not be neatly defined leftists and rightists, but the thought experiments demonstrate why Haidt could say and Kate could believe (as I do) that “liberal” thought, if you’ll allow me to use the term, does dominate many institutions with strong cultural influence.

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  11. Okay, I guess I could at least consider Mel’s formulation “the thought experiments demonstrate why Haidt could say and Kate could believe (as I do) that “liberal” thought, if you’ll allow me to use the term, does dominate many institutions with strong cultural influence.”

    But I really don’t know if this is true or not. People are in such bubbles these days that I am skeptical that the New York Times really has that much cultural influence. I don’t read it myself, except for the science section. (Kenneth Chang, one of their science reporters, is a personal friend of mine from college. I’m his Facebook friend and I read his articles when he posts them to Facebook) The current leader of the free world likes to dump on the NYT every chance he gets. And the Trump supporters I know think the NYT is a lying liberal rag and they don’t read it either. I really don’t understand why people are so scared of the NYT and/or think it has so much power and influence. Yale? I also couldn’t say. I didn’t go to Yale; I went to one of their rivals, the alma mater of Dick Cheney, Andrew Schlafly, and Ted Cruz. And the UUA? Even UUs don’t know what the UUA does. I think it would be highly presumptuous of me to try to answer that first question. So I won’t.

    I personally would not say *any* of the sentences in the thought experiment aloud: not in church, not at the family dinner table, not anywhere. Although I live in CA now, I grew up in flyover country. I know people who voted for Trump–I’m related to some. One of them shouted invective at me and my husband last summer on a family vacation in response to my husband uttering the words “I think she would be a good President” about Hillary Clinton.

    That exemplifies much of my experience with talking about politics in the liberal/conservative frame: getting yelled at. So I’m afraid I can’t offer you the nice example of a situation where you could say any of those sentences without getting slammed. I tend to get yelled at more often by people who are identified as “conservative” in this binary than by people who are identified as “liberal.” People have also called me a “liberal” as an insult and said it with a sneer, even when I didn’t use the word myself. I remain friends and on good terms with people by not talking about politics and by keeping my opinions to myself. It’s a pretty deep-seated strategy for me that goes back to adolescence if not childhood.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to feel the limits of that strategy, to chafe against it, and to put it aside at certain times when I feel that I can. But that strategy isn’t about something as trivial as my “comfort.” At its root it’s about mental health, sanity, even survival.

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  12. “I guess I came to the blog hoping to see something more like, “we don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative,” or “let’s leave politics at the door and get on with a spiritual journey.” One arena in which I find it is easiest to do that is music. (That’s where I have probably met most of my more-conservative-than-I friends). People can disagree politically but still play music together, at least when it’s about the music. Ideally that’s what I think a church should be like too. You start from first principles and maybe the politics and activism follow from those principles, but maybe they don’t.”

    I liked this so much I had to repeat it.

    There are what I think of as “bridge” people—-sometimes because of the way they interact with the world, sometimes because of the world(s) they happen to find themselves in. As I mentioned in the O.P., I felt really lucky to get the chance to “leave politics at the door” (in my case, it may be at the door of the cruiser or truck, or maybe at the edge of the woods!). The game wardens and I get on with what I think could fairly be described as a spiritual journey, namely the effort to find and rescue or at least recover the body of a lost person, and provide comfort and companionship to the worried and/or bereaved. The fact that a majority of the guys (mostly guys) I worked with might describe themselves as relatively conservative didn’t matter at all. They were and remain wonderful, curious, funny, capable and compassionate people.

    Which has the salutary effect of making it difficult to dismiss them as “deplorable.”

    Some environments are more conducive to this sort of thing than others. The two you mentioned—music and the hard sciences—are excellent examples of fields in which political opposites can be found working together on a project they both love (a symphony, a wildlife study, etc.). And so bridges get built. Complexity is accomodated. Things don’t always seem quite so black and white. And so on. There are other areas that I think are very prone to polarization—the social sciences and humanities, for example,but doubtless theology and religion too, perhaps because the facts (to the extent that facts are involved) are more malleable and subjective?

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    1. Well said, Kate. Sounds like a good basis for a blog post — how we overcome polarization through music and through missions like those of you and the game wardens.

      I once took a course with the saxophonist and band leader Paul Winter in a technique he used around the world to bring people closer. That particular method never really took off, but I’ve never forgotten what I learned from him 35 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same for me with law enforcement officers,Paul —they tease me for being their token, Birkenstocks-and-Socks liberal, and then we get on with taking care of the people who need taking care of that day! I wonder if the premise of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (https://www.amazon.com/Bowling-Alone-Collapse-American-Community/dp/0743203046/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508851864&sr=1-1&keywords=Bowling+Alone) applies here too? That fewer people engage in group activities (including church, by the way!) that, at least in theory, have nothing to do with politics.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. “I tend to get yelled at more often by people who are identified as “conservative” in this binary than by people who are identified as “liberal.” People have also called me a “liberal” as an insult and said it with a sneer, even when I didn’t use the word myself.”

    I’m really interested by this! My experience is the opposite—that conservatives have been accommodating and polite, while I’ve been screamed at (literally) by progressives.

    Like

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