I registered as an independent the day I turned 18. I’m still registered as an independent. Perhaps I had some inkling that I was interested in the ability to change my mind, or see things from the other’s perspective—even if I disagreed. More likely, I was struggling with labels, being put into a box, and trying to reconcile some of my own views in contrast to the views of my family. I was certainly concerned about being judged and rejected.
At 44, my reasons for remaining registered as an Independent have changed and grown.
Belonging to one of the two major political parties can create solidarity around issues and ultimately candidates who may or may not act on those issues. There are good reasons for forming a group to get something done. Groups create a sense of belonging, safety, and purpose. Groups can also, most often unintentionally, generate divisions, judgement, exclusion, and stuckness.
The more I observe, the more I see that the two major political parties in this country (along with all the local and related subsidiaries) are often behaving like two sides of the same coin. More often than not, both act out of fear of the Other, the need to control a situation, or the belief that they are more right.
Until we are ready to sit down at the table and talk to one another and listen to one another, we are going to continue to carve away at this developing canyon that divides us. We must find a way to invite each other onto common ground. The reality is: We are so much more alike than we are different.
Saying you are ready to listen when (listing your terms), or that you will work with them if (listing the conditions) is NOT ready. No judgment and no excuses. It is okay to not be ready—but take responsibility.
Sometimes being ready is about feeling safe. There have been some terrible things happening across the board to human beings in the world, and in this country. Hate is violent, oppressive, and frightening especially when it is directed at you. It is often horrific what human beings do to one another. If being ready is a matter of safety, groups often provide that protection, that safety of numbers and resources is important.
If we are the group or individual who might be perceived as a threat, it is important to recognize it. Perhaps because of our title, our skin color, our status or profession in the world we have legitimate or perceived power and authority.
Ready is ready no matter what the other person across the table does. Ready is understanding we do not control anyone but ourselves, at best. Ready is walking open heartedly to do the next right thing. Ready is willing—willing to be wrong, willing to understand, willing to change. Ready is not knowing how the conversation will end ahead of time.
Having hard conversations can be scary—we don’t know what will happen. We don’t know the outcome, and we cannot control it. Hard conversations, when everyone agrees to speak honestly, kindly, and to listen deeply almost always have progress even if no decision is made or conversion occurs. It is about connecting with another who we once called the Other.
Ready means saying: Your behavior is not okay. If we witness bullying, hatred, or dishonesty—the hard conversation is about our calling it what it is. It is about listening to someone else’s fears or misunderstandings that we never even considered.
Ready means: I will not judge you on your past behavior, but I might want to ask you about it. Was what I saw the whole story? What was that like for you?
Ready means: I am willing to find ways we can do good work in the world together, or next to each other, or without undermining or being deceitful toward one another.
A group advocating for voice must be sure they are ready to advocate for every voice, the smallest voice, the voice of dissent. It is up to the membership to hold the group accountable. A coalition defined by tolerance and unification must be ready to include those with whom they do not agree or like. If it is about a threat to the sense of safety to the group, then perhaps a conversation needs to be had to address these concerns. This does not mean all behavior will be accepted—there most certainly is a time when someone must be asked to leave when they are a threat or harm to the greater good of the group. However, having to address these difficult situations is absolutely an opportunity for everyone to behave better and potentially address hateful, inappropriate, or oppressive behavior that is in direct contrast to the values the group has formed around. Ready is Whole, from the top down, inside and out, and is a place of regular self-assessment.
Ready is willing to sit down together, no matter how different or right we think we are.
Until we can sit down with a congressman we did not vote for or our neighbor who we have judged a racist or who has judged us to be “anti-American”, we are not really ready. Hard conversations are hard—and doing so with the man or woman next door or down the road is hardest of all. Inviting each other into a conversation is when we can make great progress. This is not a simple task, nor is it a challenge I am proposing. It is an opportunity to first go inward, be honest about where you are. Ready or not, we need to know ourselves before we can engage with what it is uncomfortable, threatening, different.