Relationships and politics

Our causes and communities would both be better served by political discussions that respect the complexity and totality of our relationships

You open Facebook over your morning coffee, looking for signs of life, joy, and human connection. Your normal community activities are cancelled, every day is feeling a bit like Groundhog Day, and you could use a boost. And you get one! A friend you haven’t seen in ages writes and wants to know how you’ve been, what your family’s been up to, how you’re holding up a couple weeks into the school year.

You think to yourself, “Isn’t technology great? We may be physically distant, but we can still have relationships.” You reply warmly, telling her about the kids’ school’s safety measures, a little about the socially distanced beach vacation you took (not the same, but what a lifesaver!), you ask how her family is managing. The reply comes: “We’re doing great. In fact, better than great, my new business selling press on nails is really taking off. The other day, I was just trying to think of stylish ladies I know who might be interested in a flexible work arrangement and making some easy $$$, and I IMMEDIATELY thought of you. I can offer you a great discount on our starter sales….”

The bait and switch feels like a little betrayal, doesn’t it? Someone showed interest in connecting with you, but your previous relationship was used as nothing more than the means to sell you something.

Do you recognize this scenario? It’s pretty easy to condemn the “friend” who perpetrated the bait and switch, but it’s worth considering whether many of us do the same thing when we engage in conversations about politics.

In our fervor to convert people to our political point of view, we often rely on the connection of personal relationships, then exploit that familiarity in an attempt to convince someone of our position. It may not be the exact bait and switch of the Facebook exchange, but all of us are occasionally guilty of forgetting that there’s a real human being on the other side of the discussion. We focus only on the win of converting our “lead” into an actual “sale” and run the risk of disappointing those who trust us to think about their feelings, too.

We may have good reasons for our single-minded focus, especially when the political stakes are high. But our causes and communities would both be better served by political discussions that respect the complexity and totality of our relationships. In this election season, we can all spend more time reflecting on what kinds of conversations we want to have and whether we value successful “conversions” over the personal connections that matter well beyond November.

Photo by TenWit on Adobe Stock