I don't know if you've heard, but the United States is in the throes of a pretty heated election cycle.
Last week, the Republican National Convention (the convention for one of the two major American political parties) was held in Tampa, Florida. This week, the Democrats have their turn, with their National Convention currently being held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The election is slated for November 6, a mere 8 weeks away. So as you can imagine, you can't turn on a television, a radio, a computer or a smartphone in the US right now without seeing some sort of political message. Politics, at this point, is pervasive.
Now, before I continue, I want to be clear about something: despite the fact that I don't talk about politics here in Chookooloonks, I do follow American politics closely. In fact, the reason that I became a United States citizen back in 1994 was specifically so that I could vote. Since that time (and as long as I was living in the United States), I have never, ever missed an election. I make it an absolute priority to cast my vote each election, because frankly, I don't want people in power to have control over my life without my at least having my say.
That said, I am not going to tell you how I've historically voted. Perhaps, if you've been reading Chookooloonks for a while, you can guess. But you know what? Perhaps not. You've got 50/50 shot, after all.
What I am going to say, though, is how thoroughly horrified I am about the way political discourse in this country is trending toward becoming completely devoid of any respect or kindness or consideration. Do not get me wrong: I love heated debate, I am a lawyer, after all. But the name-calling, the slurs, the denigration that has become commonplace in political discussion these days is completely out of control. And for the record, I'm not just talking about politicians, or their handlers, or famous media personalities (although their behaviour is certainly disappointing). I'm also talking about normal, everyday people. People like you and me. People on Facebook. On Twitter. People repeating and republishing hateful and insulting messages, or sending mass emails under the auspices of "free speech" or "speaking my mind" or "just keepin' it real."
And to be extra-very clear: I'm seeing this behaviour from both party affiliations. Equally.
What's even worse (and, frankly, really embarrassing to admit): I find myself buying into it. I've always had friends who voted differently from me -- dear, dear friends -- and I've never thought twice about it. Because let's face it: how we vote is really only a tiny glimpse of the type of person we are. We are, after all, complex individuals, with unique backgrounds and experiences that help form how we think and what we believe. Political parties take various issues as their platforms, and we tend to align with the ones who seem to mirror most our own stances on similar subjects, but these parties can never fully represent every part of us. Far more trustworthy in making our opinion of a person's character is personal experience: how that person has treated us. How we've seen that person treat other people. How kind they are to friends and strangers. How they've paid respect to the people and relationships in their lives. That's where the truth about a person lies. And yet, this election? I find myself incredulous that friends would vote differently from me. How could they? I think to myself.
But really, how could I? How dare I judge the character of my friends, my family, total strangers, not on how they treat me, but ignoring that, and instead basing my opinion on the way they vote (a vote, by the way, that's supposed to be secret)?
This morning, it dawned on me that as important as I believe elections and participating in the democratic process are (and I do believe them to be incredibly important), election day is just 1 day. After November 6th, when the election is over, we all need to return to living with each other and working with each other and collaborating with each other the best way we know how. And it's ridiculous that how we work together and live together -- we, everyday, normal people -- might be coloured by how we perceive another person may have voted when they cast their secret ballot.
To not put too fine a point on it, we're gonna have to let that shit go.
So I guess my point of my little rant is twofold:
1) First, if you're a United States citizen, and you haven't done so, please register to vote. The people running for the office of the President of the United States (and all other political offices currently in contention) will have the power to make and create laws and policies that directly affect your day-to-day lives and the lives of people you love, on all sorts of issues: taxes, health care, education and welfare are just the beginning. Do not let people assume this power without you having a say. You can register to vote here.
2) If, in advance of this election, you are getting yourself educated on the issues, I fully applaud you. But before you share what you've learned and discovered, please consider how the way you say what you say will affect your friends, your neighbours, people who follow your blogs, your Facebook pages, your Twitter stream. It is absolutely possible to be passionate about your causes and your political affiliations without insulting half the world in the process. And remember, people who disagree with you aren't automatically stupid. They may simply have different experiences and background which lead them to believe the contrary.
And in a country as great as this one, with a democratic process as robust as this one, that's totally okay.
Song: Peace train by Yusuf. I fully admit that my rant above was incited by listening this morning to the following, his performance of this song before the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2006.