By: Donna Mack
My political philosophy has been born of two competitive, overbearing, and acrimonious parent ideologies. I was born and raised in Montana, a highly conservative state, both politically and socially. After 18 years baking in the red, I was tossed into the deep blue of Massachusetts when I left for college at MIT in Boston. Maturing in these two extremes has allowed me to see and understand both sides of the political divide, something that’s become seemingly impossible for the U.S. and the broader world. If there’s going to be viable solutions to the horrendous challenges ahead, our governments aren’t able to just work across the aisle -- they’re forced to jump an ever increasing chasm of hate and mistrust.
My upbringing in Montana was a bit unconventional, politically speaking. My parents rarely spoke of politics in the house due to their own ideological differences. My dad is an Australian immigrant, and leans towards what many Americans considers socialist policies -- universal health care, low cost higher education, and support for the poor and the elderly. My mom is a native Montanan, and the daughter of a staunchly Republican Korean war vet. She’s usually on the side of traditional Republican ideas -- small government, limited business interference, and letting Americans make their own way. You can imagine the dinner table whenever politics came up. Given that my immediate family didn’t focus on politics, my major influences growing up were my grandfather, the Korean war vet, and my aunts and uncles. They were all right-leaning to one degree or another, small business owners or ranchers, and wanted to be in charge of their own lives. We were a Catholic family, and social values followed typical Christian themes. I somewhat unconsciously adopted these values for myself, as we all do when we’re young. The real lessons came when I left for college.
I went to university at MIT. Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the U.S., and Boston is the epicenter. For the first time, I had to evaluate why I believed certain things and lived the way I did, because hardly anyone around me came from a background like mine. Most of my friends in school had liberal upbringings, and weren’t shy when talking about politics. We were in school during Trump’s nomination and win, and during the rise of populism in Western Europe -- which embroiled campus and led to high political engagement. Most of my friends staunchly supported Democratic values, including social causes, and openly talked about how frustrated they were with the way things were moving. Discussions with them were often challenging, but forced me to question things I had always taken for granted, including my own privilege as a white woman from a middle-class background. During those four years, my ideas and beliefs changed so many times it was hard to track, but the really valuable thing I learned was how to talk with those who disagreed with me.
I lay out my background for you here to show that two sides of the divide can coexist and create a more complete perspective. The sides of my development -- the Montana and the Massachusetts, are at complete odds with each other. I constantly have to navigate between the two, speaking with friends and family from both sides of the divide. The conversations have gotten harder and less civil these last few years, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the fact that people take any question to their beliefs as an attack, instead of an opportunity to teach or learn. I’m tired of the fact that even though we’re facing some of the worst crises humanity has known, we’re all so caught up in which party is in power we’ve lost sight of how to come together to solve problems with the best ideas from multiple perspectives. I’m tired of the lack of human decency in the media, social or otherwise, and the shift to treating those with opposing views as if they’re trash we can throw on the curb and call unspeakable names.
I don’t know what the solution is to the state of politics today. I do know that it’s possible to work across the aisle, either in government or even in our own lives. We need diverse perspectives and ideas to be able to solve the incredible challenges facing us -- climate change, geopolitical crises, hunger in our own backyards, sexism, racism, and so many others. Instead of reacting with anger or disbelief when someone questions your beliefs or expresses one different than your own, train yourself to ask questions first in a civil tone. Aim to understand and learn, instead of attack. Read articles and news stories from outlets you don’t normally engage with, and books from authors of different backgrounds than your own. Even if you don’t agree with someone, they are a human deserving of respect and compassion -- remember that above all else, please.
These ideas aren’t a cure all, and I am far from an expert, but it seems that people have forgotten the basics. I’ve been forged from opposing political philosophies, and manage to navigate friendships and family gatherings with people from both sides. It’s possible to do without being a jerk, and you can learn something new in the process if you’re willing to open up a bit. Embrace the diversity so many of us claim to support, listen to ideas, and support differences of all kinds.