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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Why We Bother
. . . . . . .
Tuesday, August 5,2014

Why We Bother

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

Jonna Shutowick, M.S. Ed. is a high school history teacher for the Palm Beach County school district. She has created a character named Rosey Shades TM , whose philosophy teaches students about the importance of choosing optimism over pessimism by asking, “What color are the clouds in your world?

For more information, visit http://roseyshades-onthebrightside.blogspot.com/

They say you should never talk about politics at cocktail parties or family gatherings and this is probably sound advice. So why do we? My own engagement in these debates has evolved as I’ve matured, but the emotions attached to these conversations remains heightened. When I was younger I welcomed a vigorous political debate in hopes of moving people to “my” side. I naively believed that this was actually the purpose of these discussions. It didn’t take long to realize that I had about the same chance to change someone’s mind as they did mine. Yet I continued to engage with the same people about the same topics, each of us more firmly planted on our sides with every passing year. It stopped being fun when politics became more important than friendship. The more I learned about the inner leanings of the people in my social circle, the more - or less - I felt connected to them. It was unnerving to feel a kinship with someone one moment and then, with one Facebook post, feel a shift happening just because we were on different sides of a political issue. Regretfully, some friendships were notably demoted to acquaintances and others elevated to “inner circle” status. And I’m sure that was a two-way street.

Proverbial walls went up and lines were drawn, and social circles changed.

Eliminating politics from social situations, however, has been easier than with the extended family.

Though most of us would rather avoid the discomfort of frustrated dissenters smiling through gritted teeth at holiday gatherings, political assertions, and sometimes barbs, work their way in, directly proportional to the number of empty wine bottles collecting on the counter. Gatherings during election years actually have rules of engagement. Overall, we’ve come a long way considering our very diverse viewpoints. Still, we occasionally find ourselves back at the drawing board, outlining the rationale of our positions and expressing our mutual disbelief at each other’s perspectives. After a recent, rather benign discussion, my father-in-law laughed and noted, “I don’t know why we bother.” It wasn’t meant to be a profound statement, really just an amused observation. But it got me thinking. Why do we bother?

We already know where the other stands. We know that no minds will be changed. Yet we feel compelled to explain our views, and are still surprised when we do not reach common ground. But we bother. Time and time and time again, we bother. What are we really trying to accomplish? I think we may be trying to build bridges between the political abyss between us. Being at opposite ends of the spectrum from people with whom you share so much else in common feels unnatural.

Deep down we all just want to be understood by those we love. But we don’t argue about our various hobbies or tastes in music. We don’t try to persuade each other to come to “our side” when it comes to the television shows we watch or the kinds of cars we drive. In those matters “to each his own.” But political viewpoints are more than mere preferences; they are doctrine.

They act as a religion of sorts, evoking deep emotions about right and wrong. Just as religion is the script for how to conduct one’s life individually, politics provide the script for how we operate collectively. And our bi-polar political system leaves little room for compatibility. Thus, political differences leave us feeling more isolated than merely some being “a little more country” or “a little more rock-and-roll”. I think we bother because we want to remove the chasm that separates our clan. These are our “peeps”! We bother because family is important to us and we want to feel close and connected to each other. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t bother.

 

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