A few days ago, I walked away from a conversation about conflicting political identities feeling invigorated.
Joe Liechty, professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, led my Global Issues class in an exercise in which we were able to share political influences in our lives. My peers and I shared with each other the political alignments of our families, schools, friends and churches.
It was almost as if we were displaying our political history to each other. We explained the situations we had experienced where we the “other.” We shared stories where we sided with the majority.
And after the conversation, I walked away feeling at peace — something that is rare for me.
As a journalist, I’m often expected to remain unbiased in these situations. Once I begin working for a professional newspaper, I will no longer be able to speak openly about presidential candidates I admire and plan to vote for. I won’t be able to participate in protests, wear pins, contribute money to campaigns or participate in any political activity in fear of signifying a bias.
I’ll admit, this is a part of journalism that doesn’t appeal to me. I’m passionate about what I believe in, and it feels like a large part of my identity.
Because of this, I often find myself in heated discussions with those who disagree with my stance.
But the other day, when we shared our political histories in my Global Issues class, I was able to better understand the political journeys of my peers.
Everyone had reasons for their political leanings — and it wasn’t as straightforward as it often appeared. Many students said they couldn’t simply label themselves as conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, and that their political identity felt much more complicated.
And the more my peers explained their political identities, the more I was able to understand them as complex humans instead of people I occasionally disagreed with.
Maybe this sounds naive — and maybe it is. But I believe there’s power in getting to know those you find yourself in conflict with. I realize I’m saying this from a place of privilege — I am not being directly affected by any of the beliefs that others might have.
But maybe, in the right situations, in which safety and empathy are prioritized, these conversations can create change and spur transformation.
As the municipal election nears and next year’s presidential election looms, I’d suggest getting to know those you disagree with. Listen to their stories, their motivations and their beliefs. It won’t instantly fix conflicts, but it will at least give you a better perspective and understanding of those that are different.