Disagreements are a part of life. Even when we feel like we essentially share everything in common with someone, we ultimately still disagree on something. Sometimes, disagreements turn into frustration over the conflict, disgust with the opposing viewpoint, or apathy and avoidance if the difference feels insurmountable. Sometimes, disagreements provide an opportunity to listen, communicate, and respect differing opinions that will likely remain unchanged. Yet other times, a compromise is found. Compromises are a daily part of my life: my four year old refuses to change out of his pajamas after getting up in the morning, so we found a compromise and he changes into clothes after eating breakfast; I want the family to eat home-cooked meals all the time and my husband loves to eat out, so on the weekdays we cook and weekends we indulge in a couple take-out meals.
I could go on about the basic, relatively benign disagreements and compromises that happen on a regular basis, but there are also disagreements that happen on a much larger scale. In politics, for example. Although President’s Day technically honors George Washington’s birthday, I’d like to take a more generalized approach for this holiday to elaborate on politics, and, specifically, acknowledge that respectful communication and compromise can and does happen (even in politics). To clarify, I won’t actually get that political – I’m not a policy wonk, political junkie, or even very political at all, but I do have personal experience and some relevant thoughts on the matter as many of us pause for a day to recognize political leaders.
My husband and I disagree on almost every political issue. When we met in Washington, D.C. over ten years ago, it was immediately evident we came from very different ideological perspectives. At the time, I found our differences exciting and, if I’m being completely honest, I secretly believed his views would eventually change to better align with mine. Maturity, a rocky political landscape, and an ever-increasing divide between our sides has caused me to realize that in fact he will never change his mind and neither will I. However, despite our political differences, we still deeply love and respect each other. This is where communication and compromise, on the smallest microcosm of political discourse, comes into play. Obviously, we aren’t making policy decisions or writing legislation, but we are doing our best to have a better understanding of each other and the issues we deeply disagree about. And, importantly, we are doing our best to model respectful communication and compromise for our children. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully appreciate his viewpoint on most issues, but I do have a better understanding of his side of the political aisle. I also now understand many, if not most, issues are more nuanced, certainly from a policy perspective, than they are often portrayed.
We all like to believe that our political perspective has the lock-step on truth (as my husband loves to remind me, “Of course I think I’m right; why would I believe something I think is wrong?”), and lately it seems we’ve taken extreme measures to insulate ourselves from the viewpoints of our opponents. Compromise has become somewhat of a dirty word, particularly as it relates to politically-charged topics. We crave leaders who present purity in their messaging. We praise people for being strong and not wavering in their convictions; then we scorn those who acknowledge nuance or indicate they might be open to compromise. It is important to acknowledge there are fundamental issues where the notion of compromise is simply not an option; there are absolutely ideas and values that should not be compromised. However, there are countless complex issues and topics that contain nuance and whose policy responses benefit from varying viewpoints.
There are people working across the politically-divided aisle on numerous issues. I often think back to one of my former bosses, a US congressman, who maintained strong convictions while also respectfully communicating with individuals on the opposing side (even sharing friendships across the aisle – and he wasn’t the only one). The political climate was divisive (maybe not quite to the extent it is today) but there were individuals who allowed for conversations and accepted the nuance that is present in politics. Logically this makes sense, because nuance is present in life itself. I imagine there are many politicians today who have similar connections, they’re just not exactly headline-worthy.
In our current political era, where purity in perspective reigns supreme, I’m hoping my husband and I can, at the least, model for our two kids what it looks like to disagree and yet communicate and work to find compromise, when possible, with someone you love. Because, really, life is full of compromise. And our expectation for politics doesn’t need to be so different. We can accept that there will be people, possibly many, in our lives with whom we disagree – and that’s okay. We are not weaker and our positions are not tainted from genuine listening and honest, respectful communication. In fact, we are stronger together, and we can all benefit from a deeper understanding of each other’s views and the nuance present in most issues. And hopefully, whenever possible, we can continue the hard work of finding compromise together.
My husband and I recently read Dr. Jeanne Safer’s “I Love You, But I Hate Your Politics.” We enthusiastically devoured her book. Not only does the author also differ from her husband politically, which is a characteristic we hardly ever come across in other couples, but she shared examples of other couples in similar situations. Her book was not a how-to on interacting with individuals from opposing political viewpoints; however, she provided insight into the current politically divisive climate, how people are working to better interact with individuals of opposing viewpoints and how we need to overcome the tendency to place a person’s entire worth on what political party they align with. If someone you are close to dramatically disagrees with you on any or all political topics, I’d recommend this book for a gentle reminder to see the humanity present in even the most antithetical-to-everything-you-believe-and-hold-dear individual.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
*photo credit: personal photos of a fridge magnet and the United States Capitol*