It is not politics but values that define relationships

As I sat in one of my zoom classes the afternoon of Nov. 10, 2020, I listened to my peers talk about politics, the election, and who they had voted for. This has been the most common topic in every setting—classrooms, workspaces, dinner tables—which made me feel pretty bored. The monotony of politics felt like it droned on and on, especially because nearly all my friends share similar political views with me.

But then, one of my close friends in the meeting mentioned casually which presidential candidate she was rooting for in the election. Although we had not really discussed our political views until this point, I had been sure they would be similar since we got along so well and had so much in common. Without even realizing, my opinion of her shifted, and I found myself annoyed listening to her speak on her views in class. 

It wasn’t a conscious decision to be annoyed by her or to shift my opinion of her, but it still happened. This is a common reaction that we all need to acknowledge and face. Often, people hear of political parties or a preferred presidential candidate, and this is enough to destroy any and all respect for a person, whether they are a colleague, peers, or friend. Even without going to that extreme, differing political views are enough to make communication tense and uncomfortable. 

Dr. Andrew Gunnoe, a sociology professor at Maryville College, expressed the challenges that come with political opinions in the classroom and in personal relationships. 

“In the classroom, students don’t speak up because they feel like they’ll be attacked,” he said.

Even when presented with a safe space, mediated by a professor, students tend to stay quiet to avoid conflict with other students. These tensions among political parties silence people because they know one wrong word could destroy relationships and mutual respect. 

Gunnoe said he tries to create a safe space in his classroom, as other professors do, as a way to urge students to disagree, discuss, and learn. 

“The reality is, we need to get past this by confronting it,” Gunnoe said. “Talking about it is better than ignoring.” 

According to Gunnoe, a productive first step to resolving conflict is “talking and understanding where they are at.” These means you should try to see a person’s point of view and discuss with them stating at their understanding and expanding.  

If a classmate has completely opposite political views, it can seem impossible to get along with them, but asking why they feel that way might relieve those tensions and lack of understanding. The same goes for people’s preferred presidential candidates and understanding how their political views match with the candidate and understand their reasoning. 

It is understandably difficult, especially during such a politically charged time, not to immediately judge another person based on their views. 

However, Gunnoe draws our attention to an important point: “Try to see people in their complexity instead of allowing politics to shade over their person.” 

In reference to my earlier point, my first thought when that classmate wanted to go to dinner later that day was, “How could I sit and have dinner with someone who believes what you do.” But I realized, I had already done so plenty of times, and it had never been a problem until I heard her talk about her political standing. Until then, I had known her to be an upstanding and reliable friend. That did not change just because she voted for a different candidate. 

The people around you—friends, classmates, and coworkers—are more than politics. As this election passes, we still have to cooperate and communicate. So, I challenge you to see past a vote, and instead, focus on values, morals, and growth.

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