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Reading each other’s newspapers

“The court of human relationships does not pivot on justice;

it pivots on connection.”

 

Politics are like gravity

I have a lot of political opinions. It was a bit unavoidable. I grew up in and around DC, where the federal government is simultaneously everywhere, and yet at the same time, invisible.

One thing I learned as a young person is that politics are Iike gravity: They effect you whether or not you’re paying attention. I decided to pay attention.

We are the world

When I was in high school, I used to take the DC Metro to Dupont Circle every morning to catch a bus to get the rest of the way to school. In those days, physical, printed-on-paper newspapers were a thing.

Back in the day, when you emerged from the crazy steep escalator for the Q Street Metro exit you found yourself at the corner of a block lined almost completely with newspaper vending boxes that sold papers from all over the world. They were in multiple languages and reported the news from all different perspectives. (This is before it became commonplace for news outlets to pull their stories verbatim from wire services.)

I could read the French paper, Le Monde, a little bit, but it was a struggle to get the nuances. I had a boyfriend in 10th grade that would read some of the Spanish language papers to me, interjecting his vehemently Marxist Salvadorian commentary throughout.

My most favored sources, however, were the Washington Post; (liberal,) the Washington Star until it folded (conservative,) the LA Times; (liberal,) the London Times (differently conservative,) and sometimes one of the other papers from wherever but was in English. I loved to look for the same news event and read all of the very different takes on what had happened in the world. It was fascinating!

“Into politics…”

People seemed to think I was “into politics.” I never have been. The political world annoys and/or angers the crap out of me and always has. What I care very much about, and have always cared about, is how human beings are being treated and how circumstances are affecting people. I care about people.

I read all of those papers because I wanted to know how the humans were doing.

I used to hear people say “I’m just not that into politics,” a lot. I’ve heard it a lot less in this most recent decade. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m older now or because people are starting to understand that their lives are profoundly affected by politics, whether or not they are paying attention.

I’m not a big fan of gravity either, but it is clearly “into” me.

 

The chasm

In DC in the 80’s, it was pretty obvious that Senators and Congresspeople were playing out roles. Stories of Representatives and Senators fighting viciously on the floor and then going out for drinks together after or showing up at the same parties or country clubs to hang out as friends were common. They attacked the issues from their different sides and sometimes even attacked one another pretty badly, but they seemed to know that it was a purposeful game and not personal.

It has all become intensely personal.

I’m quite sure it was in other eras as well – The Civil War springs to mind — but in my lifetime, I don’t remember things ever being quite this stark before. Many of the decisions being made reach far beyond what affects the humans, and deep into whether or not all of the world’s humans will be treated as actual humans. One would think that an imminent existential threat would not leave room for debate. And yet, here we are.

Recovery

I think most of us are exhausted from the insanity. We want something different. I wonder if my newspaper habit might be one way to move that direction.

What if we try reading the news from the other person’s point of view? What if we focus on caring for each other as we look at the issues together?

A good read

In order to manage this cultural shift we will need to:

  • Know and respect our limits. If you know someone’s point of view is not one you can discuss without attacking the person instead of the issue, leave the conversation alone.
  • Know and respect other people’s limits. If someone cannot discuss an issue without attacking you as a person, leave the conversation alone. You aren’t going to be effective for change.
  • “Read the other person’s newspaper” (consider their perspective) with curiosity, doing your best to imagine life through that person’s eyes.
  • Understand that we do not have to agree in order to care for one another, human to human.
  • Respect people while responding to their behavior in healthy, honest and thoughtful ways.

Wrong conversation

We sometimes imagine that getting to the bottom of an issue and discovering some objective truth will bring us peace. Who’s “right?” Who’s “wrong?” Even if we could figure that out, the answer will not heal us. If I stomp on your foot and break it, the fact that it is my fault and that it was unjust will not heal your foot.

Justice is, ostensibly, for courtrooms. The court of human relationships does not pivot on justice; it pivots on connection. I can care about what’s true for the other person without having the same interpretation of what happened or needs to happen.

The new world

We have a rare opportunity in front of us right now. We’ve just spent over a year being refined by the fire of way-too-close-proximity, daily threat assessment and re-prioritization. As we work out how to human again, let’s take advantage of everything we learned and build conscious care for the whole community into our new norms.

Let’s read each other’s newspapers, thoughtfully. Let’s work at understanding one another first, and making decisions from that well-informed place. We are all changed from the events of 2020. Let’s be intentional about using what we learned to build something that’s better for everyone.

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