A time to re-learn how to have conversations

By Melody Jan, guest writer

I know, I know. Yet another opinion article about the election?

You’re probably thinking: It’s already been a month. When can we finally stop talking about the election? Well, I hear you, fellow human being and person anywhere in the blast zone of American politics (which would appear to be just about everybody, quite unfortunately).

You’re tired. I’m tired. The last year-and-a-half has been absolutely exhausting, and we all wish we could just shut out the noise and go back to the good ol’ days, when a person could safely snuggle into a cute Internet video of a kitten jumping into a box, without the niggling reminder of Pussygate or a “basket of deplorables” in the back of our minds, the dark fuzz of things we never should have had to see or hear.

But here we are. It’s December 2016, America has a new President-elect, and we have indeed seen and heard those things. So it’s time to face our shared reality together. And our reality is this: Our country is ugly, divided and sore. It has become a place where arrogance, scoffing and rage dominate political exchange, a place where taking a stance of peace and encouraging dialogue and compromise has, in and of itself, become controversial.

My friend, this cannot continue. A house divided cannot stand. If we continue to hurl insults at each other and grind our wheels into the sand, we will be unable to heal and make true progress.

If you’re an avid Trump supporter, I would like to gently remind you that Obama began his presidency eight years ago with a Democrat-controlled Senate and House. Within two years of his presidency, the government was gridlocked. Within eight, the tables have clearly turned. So now you know, perhaps from personal experience, that if a group of “losers” are laughed and scoffed at repeatedly, they will eventually retaliate.

If you supported Clinton, I would like to gently remind you that this election clearly didn’t end as you would have liked it to. This shows that your tactics didn’t work, and that you need to be able to appeal to a wider base of people in order to succeed within the existing framework of our country’s political system.

And, well, if you voted for a third party candidate or didn’t vote at all, I respect your right to choose what you wanted to do with your vote and voice.

But in truth, I wish we could move beyond this petty discussion of tactics to “win” and “lose,” as if our country is made up of opponents that must always gain the upper hand. Are we not all Americans? Do we pledge allegiance to the Democratic Party, to the Republican Party or to any political party?

We need to learn how to have conversations again. We need to learn how to communicate with people with different opinions. In fact, we need to practice this skill, just like any other.

The next time someone expresses an opinion that you disagree with, pause. Take three seconds to either audibly or internally—though preferably audibly, because this will allow the other person to correct you if you’re wrong—rephrase what they have just said (“So, what you’re saying is…”). This practice of patience will ensure that you don’t make assumptions of the other person, of what they’re saying based upon preexisting stereotypes. It will slow down and measure the pace of the conversation so that it doesn’t devolve into shouting and name-calling.

I can tell you from personal experience that this will be difficult.

But it is only by doing so that we can learn to humanize each other again, that we can come to realize that we aren’t made up of only “winners” or “losers” and to realize that—just like you and me—every person will make decisions that make sense within the context of their lives.

Because admit it: Who doesn’t like a good cat video?