Humor Our Crazy World

I Was a Victim of Polarization Gone Wild

September 16, 2020

By Laura Black

I stood outside the bathroom door and listened for signs that my husband was in the shower. When I heard the whoosh of running water and Charles’ husky voice husky voice accompanying James Taylor singing, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,” I knew it was safe.

I tiptoed into the living room wrapped in a beige terrycloth bathrobe, my hair tucked into a matching turban. I found the remote control squished between grey sofa cushions.

After a couple of “just to be sure” glances toward the bathroom, I turned on the TV and took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Then, I whispered into the blue microphone button, “Fox News.”

As if in cahoots with my husband, the TV stood fast on CNN.

I began to sweat. Time was of the essence. I couldn’t manually change the channel because I didn’t know the station number and I was too hurried to scan through all the selections on the guide. Hoping that Charles wouldn’t hear me, I tried again. This time, in a louder voice, I repeated, “Fox News.”

It worked. An attractive, blond woman appeared on the screen. She was interviewing someone about coronavirus in nursing homes.

Lightning did not strike me. The anchorwoman did not spew poisonous particles from the screen. Yet, as if I were hiding a lover in the bedroom closet, I felt like I had committed infidelity, political infidelity.

Twenty minutes later, when the shower receded to a trickle, I picked up the remote again to turn off the TV. But I stopped in my tracks caught by the pull of righteous indignation. This was ridiculous. For the upcoming election, Charles and I were supporting the same candidate, yet I was reduced to sneaking for a peak at the other side. Ideas are not contagious. We must understand that which we reject. I was not going to succumb to the notion that exposure to conservative media was traitorous.

I was a victim of polarization gone wild.

And it’s a condition that’s going to spread in the days leading up to this election.

Grandchildren are disengaging from grandparents; families are refusing to come together, even on Zoom; and long-held friendships are disintegrating with a “I can ‘t believe you’re voting for him.” Crouched in our political corners, we avoid oppositional supporters as if they were a coronavirus-infected Gen Zer coughing without a mask.

Exposure to diverse beliefs is one thing—accepting the believer, another. How do we respect and keep relationships with friends and family that support the current administration, and vice versa? We judge their values and priorities, as they question ours. How do we separate the politics from the person?

Some have banned politics from conversations. They discuss which restaurants have the best pizza, a new workout on YouTube, whether a cousin will ever marry—anything that doesn’t lead to controversy. Others resort to “Let’s agree to disagree,” and move on. An enlightened few can participate in intellectual discourse, with tempers in check.
The key is the ability to accept that reasonable, well-intentioned people may differ in their politics. Deep-rooted belief systems, experiences, environments, and other influences work to prioritize agendas and define perceptions. Caring, giving people who love this country live on both sides of the aisle.

My sneaking around incident was a way to understand those whose views differ from my own. By exposing myself to a wide array of thought leaders, I better appreciate that not all positions are red or blue—on some, like eradication of Covid-19, we agree on the ends, just not the means. As long as they do not espouse racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination, violence, and other evils, I will listen to those with diverse points of view. Whether or not I agree with them, I will honor their freedom of opinion and hope that they honor mine.

When Charles walked into the living room, a towel around his waist, his hair still damp, he looked toward the TV and said, “How can you listen to that stuff?”

I answered, “How can you not?”

Laura Black is an attorney, business woman, speaker, and freelance writer.

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