Self-Righteousness: 1; Tolerance: 0

skunk-2I had my chance, and I blew it!

Remember how I wanted to try engaging people who had different viewpoints than my own (versus my current strategy of avoiding conflict at all costs?) “Tell me your story,” I was to ask them and then listen with genuine curiosity and without judgment.

I had a golden opportunity to use that approach over the weekend. But, after a few minutes, I grew too incensed to even THINK of building bridges over the political divide. I wanted to crush the other person and her condescending opinions with a vicious stomp, the kind you use to obliterate an old, forgotten sand castle.

Clearly, I need remedial training in Diversity 101.

We were having dinner with cousins from our extended family, and we were talking about the frightful weather from last winter – an innocuous enough topic, don’t you think? A female cousin (a lovely and personable woman who is my age) segued the conversation to politics by saying, “Too bad the weather wasn’t bad enough to drive Obama out of Washington.” The other people around us chuckled, and I just turned my head and gazed into the distance, waiting for the unwelcome turn of conversation to pass by.

This cousin (whom I like – did I mention that already?) then proceeded to talk about the “crazy” policies coming out of DC, and who would be “crazy enough” to vote for this guy again, and she can’t wait for the next election, and what was wrong with people who supported Obama, and he’s ruining the country and blah, blah, blah.

Picture me still staring off in the distance, taking a sip of my wine. Forgetting all good intentions to be open-minded when confronted with opposing viewpoints. I heard someone say in a low, cautious voice, “You know, Cousin, we have Democrats sitting around the table.”

“Who?” she demanded, looking around and inquiring about people at the other end of the table.

At which point, I’m in. All in.

“Actually, Cousin, I’m a Democrat,” I said, turning my head to focus my irritated gaze on her.

“What? You’re married to a lawyer. How can that be?” she responded. (Don’t even ask me what one has to do with the other.)

“Well, I am. Card-carrying as a matter of fact. And I’m a big fan of Obama,” I said still staring at her - almost daring her to continue her rant in front of me.

Her response? She began to pick up the empty plates and mutter something about helping to clean up. She left the table within 15 seconds. As did the other person sitting on the other side of me, who must have decided that was the ideal moment to help clean up, too.

I took another sip of wine and just sat there – alone at my end of the table. Who knew I could clear out a place so quickly?!?!

Although I was happy that Cousin’s diatribe was halted, what did I really accomplish with my squashing the conversation? How could I have handled this differently, Wise Women?


  • Maya Says:
    8-31-2010 10:00:08

    I don’t know that you could have handled it differently, Elaine. Because as lovely as your cousin is, it sounds like she was totally intolerant of an opposing view.
    I found myself in a similar situation, on a weekend with my girlfriends in Florida where I, too, was singled out for being the only Democrat and Obama supporter. Many of these women are my dear friends and they were mortified at my defense of the President. The only thing I could do in that instance was ridicule the choice they made. “You can’t honestly tell me you voted for Sarah Palin as Vice President. Seriously? And were you pleased with George Bush as President?” It isn’t exactly being tolerant, but at least it’s demonstrating that we all find some choices totally ridiculous.

  • Catherine Says:
    8-31-2010 10:37:07

    Whatever happened to the mannerly days of not discussing religion or politics at social gatherings?

    To speak, or not to speak…

    I think it depends on whether you can let off the cuff remarks fly over or discern if they causing an inward seethe? My experience is that speaking one’s mind and expressing an opposing position, will not change opinions.

    I think it best to reserve fire for intolerant, biased remarks or ‘humorous’ comments that put down those who don’t have a voice. I think that Obama can take it!

    Lest you think that I don’t feel your pain Elaine, I am married to a Republican who listens to AM radio. I take every opportunity to calmly put forward that there is a larger picture and that we also need to consider other factors.

  • Sharon Says:
    8-31-2010 15:06:16

    I don’t think you could have done anything differently, Elaine.

    I know you like movies and have one to recommend. It’s on Netflix and you can get it instantly. Title: Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. It’s a documentary of a man who wanted to hear what other people had to say and he travels the country to do just that. It is funny, eye-opening, and makes a good point about how we think we know about other people and their opinions. My daughter recommended it and I was a bit leary at first. It’s about religion but it’s about the very thing you are talking about here.

  • Anne Says:
    9-1-2010 20:31:09

    Elaine -

    2 comments. First, you did no wrong. In my opinion, your cousin shouldn’t have walked away. You just invited a conversation, and that’s what we should all be doing – talking, representing and substantiating our views. Maybe then each side can mellow a little bit and understand where the opposing views are coming from.

    Second comment. A very similar thing happened to me last week. Standing in a lunch line at a corporate function, I was remarking that I felt bad for anyone who had chosen to take vacation that week (given the bad weather). His comment? “Yes, the weather hasn’t cleared since Obama left for the Vineyard.” Now why would anyone assume that a) I think that’s funny, and b) that I don’t like Obama? I must say that REALLY made me mad.

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