In my current career I work alongside a number of people who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me. Amazingly, we’re not at each others’ throats most of the time. When we discuss politics my coworkers disagree, mostly in a civil fashion, but the rest of the time we work together, we talk about the weather, or kids, or pets, or we share ideas about saving money or we gripe about life’s annoyances.
And, the converse is true. Though I vehemently disagree with the politics of many of my coworkers, but, with some exceptions (ahem), I like them as people.
So, how is it that we can get along in person, in the micro sense, when we can’t get along politically, in the macro sense?
I think it’s because when people vilify those who disagree with them politically, they’re vilifying an “other” and that the best antidote to “othering” is closer inspection. It’s easy to fear or hate the leftist pinko you saw on the news, marching in the streets and insulting your president. It’s harder to hate the leftist pinko you just worked alongside for 8 hours, while chatting about finances, cars, places you’ve traveled to, or how the Man is just trying to keep us all down.
To a large extent humans all want the same things. Home, safety, love, control over our own lives, enough money to be comfortable.
And when we talk to people as individuals, that becomes apparent. I really do think that probably 80% of people in the world want the same things. Of course there are megalomaniacs – orange-hued and otherwise. And there are people who are just genuinely crappy who prefer dominance over happiness. (As an aside, in my prior career I knew someone who didn’t understand the concept of “would rather be right than happy.” He didn’t understand how you could be happy if you weren’t right.)
But if we look at the bulk of the human population, it’s made up of people who just want their own slice of home/comfort/affection/safety/security. It takes different forms – anyone who has ever watched home improvement shows knows that even within the U.S. there’s a huge range of what people find attractive and comfortable. For some it might mean enough room for a hunting trophy collection, while another person might want to ensure they are surrounded by musical instruments. But the concept is the same – home is home.
The main area of disagreement, then, isn’t about what we want – it’s about how we think it can be achieved, and whether we think security is a zero-sum game. Because, really, isn’t that a big part of what the current political climate is about? Fear that if quarter is given the whole will be taken? That there’s not enough to go around, so we better make sure that only the people we approve of get a share of the pie?
I just wish that the people who are OK with denying others what they themselves value so much could see that we’re all really not that different.