I’m going to start this post by acknowledging that the last thing anyone really needs is another essay/article/commentary on the election and the current state of our nation. If you are tired of all things related to this topic and would rather not spend another minute of your life on this, especially reading a post by someone with no more knowledge or authority about much of anything (except, maybe, grammar) than you, I completely understand and support you in stopping here. As is usually the case with what I write on this blog, I am writing primarily to figure out my own thoughts, and while I genuinely hope that in doing so I might help one or two other people out there, I harbor no illusions that my ramblings are doing the world any type of great service. I understand that everyone functions just fine without hearing from me. Thank goodness.
A little bit about me related to politics, none of which I have ever shared publicly before: I am registered as an Independent. I tend to favor fiscally conservative policies, but also believe it is the collective people’s responsibility (represented by the government) to provide and care for its most vulnerable members. I’m against the death penalty and for increased gun control. I’m anti-abortion and support banning third-trimester abortions (except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk), but think providing women easier access to IUD’s is a smarter way to reduce abortion rates than attempting to criminalize all abortions. I support gay marriage and the right of any two consenting adults to marry, but I don’t think it’s the government’s place to force a small/private business owner to provide services for a wedding they feel conflicts with their religious beliefs. I think the government has a responsibility to err on the side of great caution and care with regards to the environment and to be proactive in funding research and development of alternative and green energy. I voted for Hillary Clinton, about whom I harbored a number of misgivings, but saw (and still see) her as a more competent and reasonable choice than Trump.
That paragraph was hard for me to write (and will be hard for me to post), because there are statements in it that any number of people, from both ends of the spectrum, might vehemently disagree with and object to. There are assumptions people might make about me and labels (or unpleasant names) that some could find easy to apply to me, especially if they (you) don’t know me personally or only know me superficially. In those cases, all you have to judge me by are those few statements, which can’t even begin to capture the amount of thought I’ve put into all of them over the span of years (often changing my mind) and the doubt I still harbor that I could be very wrong about most of them. Okay, maybe all of them, although I’d like to think that I could be right about at least one.
So why put myself out there and make myself vulnerable to misunderstanding, contempt, or attack? I suppose because I need to be reminded that behind every opinion and stance is a person with a life and context that has shaped and formed them, for better or worse, and to be reminded that I need to be as open-minded and respectful with them as I hope they would be with me. The old Golden Rule, which, as it so happens, is still a pretty good rule.
One of the things I’ve deplored most about Trump and his campaign was his active stoking of and appeal to some of people’s worst traits: fear, bigotry, and misogyny, to name a few. The easiest response to such hateful behavior? Respond with hatred. Someone scorns the rights and dignity of others? Scorn their rights and dignity. They make negative assumptions about entire groups of people? Let’s make negative assumptions about all of them. The Golden Rule might sound nice, but An Eye for An Eye feels so much better, at least in the moment. But the result is a lot of maimed and blind people, not to mention hypocrisy.
As I struggle to wrap my head around this election and the reality that so many Americans seem to truly know and understand each other so little, I’m finding some glimmers of hope in, well, neighborliness. There’s a couple down the street from me who regularly open their garage, set out lawn chairs (as well as wine, beer, and snacks), and host happy hour for anyone and everyone who wants to join them. A couple evenings after the election, I joined them and another couple from our neighborhood. Before long, the election came up. I shared who I had voted for and why, and they all listened respectfully. The hosting couple shared that they had found themselves unable to vote for either candidate, and the other couple shared that they had voted for Trump. They acknowledged their uneasiness with his flaws and explained why they felt he was still the better choice. I drank my wine and listened. And I thought about what I know about them as people.
Though I disagree with their choice, I cannot deny that these are good people, because I know them. In the more than ten years we’ve been neighbors, they’ve opened their home to numerous individuals and entire families who have needed a place to stay, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few years. They once walled off their dining room and turned it into a bedroom for over a year to accommodate one such guest—a woman with health issues who wasn’t able to work and lost her apartment. They also care for three dogs and somewhere between 7 and 9 cats, all strays they’ve adopted. Every time they come to happy hour, they bring plates full of food, eager to share what they have. They are some of the most generous and loving people I’ve ever encountered. They don’t just say they love others; they actually live it out in their actions in a deeply sacrificial way. They are not a stereotype, and they are certainly deserving of respect and compassion for the concerns they shared.
But what about those who are not-so-nice? Shouldn’t we condemn those who mistreat others and distance ourselves from them? Yes and no. Yes, we should speak out against injustice, and yes, we should speak up for what is right and good (assuming we know what that is). But distancing ourselves? Cutting off relationship? I don’t think that’s the answer. I think something approaching the answer is in this story, which details the transformation a white supremacist underwent, causing him to leave a movement he was once the shining star of. It’s an incredible story, and what struck me most in reading it was that his change of heart came from a classmate who invited him over for a Shabbat dinner and other attendees of that dinner who were equally willing to engage with this young man. Had they shunned and condemned him in the way he might have deserved in some of their eyes, he might still be a white supremacist. Instead, they treated him as a neighbor, inviting him to their table, and connecting with him as a person first, viewpoint second.
Scripture commands me to love my neighbor as myself, which can be interpreted as “love your neighbor as much as you love yourself” and/or “love your neighbor as though that neighbor were actually you.” Both require engagement and connection. Both require sacrifice and a valuing of the “other.” I struggle with this, but I’m recognizing I can only get better at it when challenged by those who differ with me and are different from me.
So, in the words of Mr. Rogers, won’t you be my neighbor?