During each of the seven previous presidential elections that has occurred since I turned 18, I have voted.
I will do so again come election 2016.
However, in these nearly 30 years of adulthood, only once have I ever told anyone how I voted.
For that year’s election, I opted for a write-in nomination, neatly printing the name of a friend of mine. It was the only way I could think of to continue to exercise my right to vote while not being able to, in good conscience, get behind any of the officially proffered candidates that year. My friend was amused when I told him; and he can now truthfully tell his children and grandchildren that he was once on the ballot to become President of the United States.
I’m a pretty open person. But there are some things I just don’t talk about. My vote (in fact, politics on the whole) is one of them.
Why all the secrecy? As is my way, let me start with a story.
Back when the Internet was new and shiny – when AOL chat rooms were where the cool kids hung out, and emails containing poorly written and saccharine poetry frightened people into Forwarding them by questioning your love for Jesus if you didn’t – I used to get “those” questionnaires from friends. You know the ones. They had 50 to 100 questions (why so many, I’ll never understand), asking such insightful things as “Peanut butter or bologna?” or “If you could only wear one color ever again, what would it be?” And, of course, you’d also wind up getting a whole slew of these questionnaires from the dozens of other people who had received it and spent good chunks of their day answering every question in detail.
A variant of the questionnaire was the online quiz. You’d go to a website, make up 10 questions about yourself with multiple-choice answers, and then send the link around to your friends, complete with the taunt “Let’s see which of my friends really knows me the best.” Of course, this was always fodder for much interpersonal drama when people who fancied themselves your “bestest bud” would get a 20% and then claim that you somehow cheated.
Well, I caved in and made one such quiz (don’t judge me, I was young once). I don’t recall all of the questions I posed, but I do recall this one:
I have befriended all of the following except:
A. a porn star
B. a deaf-blind Indian boy
C. a nun
D. a serial killer
And, of course, at the time, the correct answer was …
C. a nun
(For those who don’t know the back stories on some of these, it’s probably best that you don’t start jumping to conclusions.)
I’m happy to report that I have also since befriended a few nuns (though I frisked them for rulers first).
The point is – I like people. All kinds of people. And that means that I count the most liberal of left-wing Democrats and the most conservative of right-wing Republicans among my friends.
I have friends who cover their vehicles in bumper stickers announcing how they will vote.
I have friends who have told me, “I love my church! They just hand out pamphlets that tell you how Christians should vote on every issue and candidate. I used to get confused, but now it’s so easy!”
I have friends who have quite literally ignored every political issue beyond finding out a candidate’s public stand on abortion and gay marriage, and that is how they cast their vote.
I have friends who sigh in admiration at the name of Barack Obama while sucking their teeth in disgust at the mere mention of Ronald Reagan. And I have friends who are still seething that Obama was ever elected in the first place, while affectionately caressing their retro bobblehead of Reagan as they perpetually mourn the end of his term in office.
The funny thing is, I’d be willing to bet that if you asked anyone within this wide scope of friends how they think I vote, they would each tell you that I vote exactly the same way they do.
So how is it, with my never having told anyone how I vote, that such disparate political proponents would all believe that I’m casting my vote in alignment with their thinking?
My best friend, Dib, hosted my 40th birthday party at her home. Guests around the table included those closest to me at the time, some of whom had never met before then. I was seated at the head of the table, where a golden crown was placed on my head. Many hugs were exchanged. Teary toasts were given. Faces were lit with joy all around.
What’s more, everyone exclaimed for weeks afterward how much they each enjoyed not only the celebration, but meeting the other important people in my life. Virtues were extolled – how generous or fun or intelligent or kind this one thought that one was. The term “good people” ushered forth from lips many times in these discourses.
Yet mere minutes later, as the conversations shifted topics, the same people would vehemently assert things like, “What kind of [fill in unsavory label, e.g., moron, bigot, etc.] would ever vote for [fill in name of presidential candidate from the opposing political party]?” with the clear assumption that I was in full agreement with them. Some have even gone so far as to say they “could never be friends” with anyone who voted this way or that on an issue, or for a candidate they opposed.
Really? They all thought the world of one another at the party, where no one had considered how anyone else might cast their vote. It caused me to wonder: would their positive opinions of one another change on a dime if they knew that the person they’d been seated next to at the party was casting their vote for the other guy?
It all begs the question: how is it that I’ve managed to remain friends with so many people who have such adamant and yet polar opposite viewpoints from one another? Moreover, how have I so long escaped having been “found out” for my true political beliefs? I mean, clearly, many of my friends would have to include me among the list of [morons, bigots, nincompoops, etc.] if they knew my political beliefs.
Really, when it all comes down to it, according to lines they themselves have drawn in the sand, they would be obliged to hate me, should they discover that my viewpoints conflicted with their own.
It’s not that I have no thoughts or beliefs or convictions.
I don’t just pander to whomever I happen to be with at the moment.
I’m not afraid of being rejected for having thoughts, beliefs or stands that may not align with those of friends.
I started this post telling you that I’ve never told anyone how I’ve voted. I’ve given you some observations, stories and cases in point. Now let me spell out for you why I’ve chosen not to reveal my hand when it comes to politics.
Chapter 24 of The Best Advice So Far has this central piece of advice:
Focus on the person not the problem.
In making the choice not to assert my own “rightness” regarding issues or candidates, I allow others to express their own beliefs and the reasons for them, freely and unchecked.
My goal is not to get someone to agree with my take on things; it’s merely to understand theirs better, and in so doing, to understand that person better. This is a much more worthwhile “cause” for me than debating over any political stand.
NOTE: You can read Chapter 24 of The Best Advice So Far in its entirety HERE, right now!
Chapter 21 of The Best Advice So Far focuses on this advice:
Asking the right kind of questions works better than making statements.
In choosing to refrain from telling people about my political beliefs, I leave room for asking more of the right kind of questions – questions that, for instance, start with “What if …?” or “How might …?”
While I’ve never seen anyone argue anyone else into changing a political (or religious) belief, I have witnessed the power of earning the right to ask questions that cause people to reflect on why they believe what they believe. And over time, I actually have seen people gradually open themselves up to new perspectives and either change their stance entirely or at least begin to experience true empathy and tolerance for those who don’t see things in quite the same way.
To be sure, there are times when people will outright ask me, “So what do you think about [insert political issue or candidate]?” And my answer is most always the same, some version of this: “Funny you should ask. I’ve never told anyone how I vote or what my political beliefs are. Do you see me as a reasonable, intelligent, caring person who wants the best for other people and for the country?” And the reply is usually, “Yes, that’s why I want to know what you think,” to which I reply, “… and that is exactly why I don’t tell anyone. I might agree with you 100%. I might not. What if you were to find I don’t agree with your position?”
It’s fun to watch the other person’s eyes go wide, to hear the audible swallow as they think (most likely for the first time), Oh my god! Is he one of … them?!
But what it does over time is cause them to really think – to ponder that “what if …?” without the immediate barrier of being able to neatly place me in “the other camp” where their auto-response of prejudice can kick in.
I usually try to tie up posts with a clear take-away point. It seems antithetical with this one. I’m not trying to convince you to take my approach, to avoid talking politics (or any other topic). Rather, I hope I’ve at least opened your mind to some new thinking. What you do with it, if anything, is your choice.