I’m not certain if you’ve noticed, but there is an election happening soon. That means three things are unavoidable truths in our daily lives for a while: an endless stream of nauseating political ads, numerous arguments and discussions in our social media, and the certainty that friendships will be tested.
I myself have staked out a clear stance on the upcoming election, and it has raised the ire of more than one friend or acquaintance. I knew it would, long before the recent disagreements were spawned by the fervor whipped up by the narrowing of candidate choices, and the proximity of the election day. I decided my position several months ago.
I probably should explain both my reasoning and decision. I dislike the killing of any sentient being, believe that everyone has value that deserves respect, and don’t believe that anyone should hold sway over the life and inalienable human rights of anyone else. Using those three things as my standards, there is no candidate that meets even my most basic requirements. Of the two “electable” presidential candidates we have to choose from, one is currently violating all three of those standards, and the other hopes to. So, I have enthusiastically joined a movement to reject the presidential election process and boycott voting.
I knew that would probably make you mad. You are not alone.
I have no shortage of friends to tell me I have gone over the edge. Their arguments include anything from telling me I am throwing away my right and forfeiting my voice, to telling me I have no right to complain about anything if I don’t vote and what I should fear if I don’t support the candidate they want me to vote for. Some have even told me I should leave the country.
Truth be told, however, it doesn’t matter what position I take, I would still have plenty of people around to tell me I was wrong. That’s what we do in elections. We tell each other we are wrong. In fact, we do it with such passion and ferocity that I think some may completely turn over their Facebook fiends list with each election cycle, discarding people with whom they disagree and adding people with whom they find themselves aligned.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Politics has become embedded within our social media because the campaigns wish to take advantage of how social media have become such a part of our daily lives; it is the easiest way to reach all of us. For our part, many of us have bought into it wholeheartedly, and allowed it to become a ready forum for both discussion and debate. It’s simpler even than walking next door, having a cup of coffee over a conversation, and possibly even a healthy disagreement over whose candidate is the best, the worst, or possibly just the “lesser of two evils.” But, it makes for less than pleasant moments sometimes, because we find it easier to be either more strident or confrontational from behind a keyboard. These days, I feel like donning mental gladiator gear anytime I open my browser.
Much of the time we are not talking to each other as much as we are talking at each other, believing that we can convince our counterparts of our positions with either volume or emotional investment. Many times we are not even talking at each other, but instead are talking past each other, and some of us even resort to USING ALL CAPS, TO SIMULATE SHOUTING OVER EACH OTHER! That last one I find hilarious.
Occasionally there is that moment of jocularity, where we pull ourselves back from the tussle, recognize our mutual human experience and dilemma, and laugh together. Yet, those moments are uncommon.
Much of the time we spend each in our corners, replacing our defensiveness with aggression, reacting to what we perceive as a threat from the other. The unspoken: we are not so much hurt by what it is we think the other believes, as much as we are by what we perceive to be as their inability—or even worse, unwillingness—to understand or acknowledge our needs or feelings. We simply mask those hurt feelings in our ideological differences, and shout them at each other. I doubt any of my friends want to accept that the death of even one person needlessly is palatable, but I interpret their political alignments as allowing for it, determining it as collateral damage, and thus rejecting my feelings about it.
And they see me and interpret my positions in exactly the same way. And so it goes.
But, sometimes I learn something. A friend recently pointed out something to me I had not thought of in deciding to not cast my vote. A group with which she identifies, depending on the outcome of this election, could be pushed further down the scale of perceived human value, to the point at which even being able to function or survive in our society, in our culture, could be extremely challenging. I’d not weighed that in my decision, had not considered it a consequence. I was reminded of my privilege in her lesson.
She made me aware of this without a single shout, or through any angry post, comment, message, or email. In all the time I’ve known her, all the time I’ve spent with her, she never once raised her concerns, or any objections, or ever countered any argument I made on my own behalf. She merely listened. She listened even though she knew she didn’t really agree with me or believe that what I was saying was right for her. She disagreed, but remained silent.
One night, when the din of quarreling was at its peak pitch between several of us, she finally spoke up. In remembering it, I liken it to one of those moments in a noisy classroom full of rowdy teens, when the quiet kid in the back finally raises their hand and utters something profound. And, in her concerns I heard things I had never considered, because they were outside of my life experience, and outside the scope of priorities I had ever before considered.
The resolve of what I had decided to do suddenly came into question. But it wasn’t just what she said that struck me, it was also in how she said it. The manner in which she brought this to my attention had an impact, and my decision to not vote no longer had mere abstract implications. It gave me something more to contemplate. I may not have given her ideas or concerns as much thought, had the usual tenor of a political conversation been taking place.
I’ve found it a little unnerving when I believe I’ve considered something thoroughly and acted on it in the belief I am doing the right thing, being the best person I can be, only to find out my actions may have a very real and negative impact on someone close to me. It’s disappointing. Still, it’s difficult for me to think of changing my decision right now, because I believe deeply in the reasons why I’ve chosen to not vote. But, my decision is not so cut and dried any longer, or devoid of any emotional weight. It’s become much more difficult, and has consequences on both sides.
It’s a shame I can’t know with certainty the outcomes of any of my seemingly important decisions. I understand that none of us do. It’s also unfortunate that some, or many, decisions come with both a prize and a price. In the absence of one or the other, choices would be much clearer, and easier to make. But, I don’t have that luxury. Nor, probably, does anyone else.
Up to this point I had been warned by friends that my position was stark and uncompromising, and was an attempt to hold the world to standards I would always see it fail to meet. I knew them to be right, but not in the manner I believe they meant, and I still feel no less a conviction about what I see as a transcendental truth. Everyone deserves a life, and everyone—so long as they respect that premise—deserves to live freely.
I just didn’t know that choosing one course of action which I hoped would save someone’s life may cause yet someone else’s to be more difficult, or cause them to lose their life needlessly. I wish it didn’t have to be so. It’s not fair. But, I guess nothing is truly fair.
On November 7th, roughly half of the country will feel vindicated in their decisions, and roughly half will feel disappointed. Some will feel anticipation in the work ahead, and some will feel dread. Some will feel hope, where others will feel frustration. A vast majority will feel relieved the election is over, because it will mean the angst is over, and the outcome something necessary to deal with, or live with. There will be a call, which some will heed at least for a little while, to heal our divisions and come together.
As for me: I’ll keep pushing, and hoping, to find more answers to more questions which offer more beneficial than adverse consequences.
© 2012 Cody Kilgore. All Rights Reserved worldwide under the Berne Convention. May not be copied or distributed without prior written permission.