The creatures in the ocean were dying. An old woman sneaked up to the shoreline and quietly picked up a few emaciated fish – red ones and blue ones. She put them in her pockets and took them away. She nurtured them back to health in a clean pond where they thrived and propagated. When she had a large number of each, she took them back to the sea. Everything turned purple and flourished.
I had this dream during 2016’s fractious political season. And since then, the fractiousness has only grown worse. I feel bewildered by questions: What has happened? How has our society become so polarized? Why do both political parties seem to be doing their best to stonewall every idea emanating from the other side? Why do so many news outlets seem to be so one-sided? Why aren’t people listening to each other?
This polarization is not only harming my country, but also my Quaker meeting and my own family. In my meeting, one dear Friend began to feel she didn’t belong, as she listened to other Friends’ reactions to the election. Despite our efforts to listen carefully to her, she found it too hard to express an opinion opposite to what others profess. She stopped attending meeting. I wonder if we have lost other Friends.
In my family, my dearly loved siblings are not comfortable talking with me about how they voted, as they know my alternate views. This saddens me greatly. I really want to know and understand how my cherished ones are viewing the world and how various issues affect them. I began wondering whether my husband and I may have been too vocal about our political leanings.
As a social worker and Quaker, I have embraced liberal causes my whole life and have been passionate about peace and social justice issues. I’ve participated in demonstrations and lobbying efforts with a feeling of righteousness. All the people who normally surround me share my opinions. I don’t hear the other side. I get my news from sources that lean to the left; I don’t expose myself to conservative media.
A few months ago, it became clear to me that I have been falling short of my intention to look for that of God in every person. I have not been searching for the kernel of truth – however small – that resides in every opinion. I like to think I am someone who makes informed decisions, but I have been avoiding alternate views.
To remedy this situation, I started by changing my voter registration to “No Party Preference.” That gesture serves as a reminder to me to make an effort to listen carefully to both sides. My motivation is not only for the good of our country, but also for my own spiritual health; in fact, it is primarily for my own spiritual health. I truly believe that we all are created equal and need to act accordingly.
I have already seen that my understanding of divisive social issues is expanding. For example, several tragic incidents of gun violence have made the subject of gun control a widespread topic of debate recently. Ever since I was in high school, when a fellow student was accidentally shot to death, I have had an abhorrence of guns. In my view, guns do more to kill people accidentally than to serve as deterrents to crime. But recently, when I was at the gym, I listened to a man who holds a different view. I learned about his enormous fear of a hostile government taking over our country. He sees guns as not only a way to protect himself and his family, but also as a way to protect our rights. He fears that losing gun rights could be a first step towards losing all of our rights. I was shocked as these fears had never crossed my mind before. This conversation helped me better understand the extreme passion of people who defend gun rights. In truth, their fears are not beyond the realm of possibility.
When we are at our best, we Quakers have something to contribute in bringing all sides together. Like the woman in my dream, I hope that each of us can learn to heal our personal biases and help the wider culture find a blending of red and blue. ~~~
Judy Leshefka has been a member of La Jolla Friends Meeting (PYM) for thirty years. Her intention to have a balanced viewpoint is currently being exerted as she listens to her neighbors’ extremely volatile reactions towards the proposed construction of housing in their area for chronically homeless individuals.