Want to start an argument?
No? Well, that's strange. Seems as if arguing is right up there with eating breakfast these days. Wake up; brush your teeth; glance at the news; and ... EXPLODE!
Jeanne Johnson was sick of it.
Johnson is a mom of two in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and a local activist. A few years back, she got the city to make its crosswalks more obvious, to encourage kids to walk — and cars to stop. Last week, she wanted to encourage something else to stop: the demonization of everyone who voted for someone other than the someone you voted for.
So to a local social hall she invited Guy Benson, a conservative author; Julie Roginsky, a Democratic strategist; and Kennedy, the mordantly hilarious libertarian who has a show on Fox Business. In fact, all three are on cable news shows all the time, often sparring but also always happy to see one another.
That's what Johnson wanted her fellow citizens to witness with their own eyes. You can disagree with someone's politics, even vehemently, and not despise the person as a human.
As crazy as that sounds.
Kennedy moderated the chat by asking the kind of questions that can stop a "you a—hole!" in midair. For instance, she wondered, was there ever a time when either of the other two realized the other side is not evil incarnate?
Roginsky recalled a time back in college when she and her fellow feminists took a bus to a Rhode Island abortion clinic, where nuns and priests were protesting outside. As Roginsky and her retinue shouted "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!" she looked at the clergy members, who were fervently praying, and suddenly it hit her: For them, blocking the clinic was no different from grabbing the gun from some nut holding a hostage. To this day, Roginsky remains adamantly pro-choice. But instead of seeing pro-lifers as bad people, she sees them simply as ... people.
For his part, Benson flashed back on 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in to office on a wave of Democratic euphoria. Conservatives were beside themselves. Here was a president who would sign every piece of liberal legislation this side of Sweden. So Benson said, smirk-free, he truly empathizes with what the Democrats are feeling now.
For Johnson, that was the whole point. Because of space constraints, guests of all political stripes ended up having to sit at the same tables together. She'd deliberately chosen round tables so everyone would be looking at everyone else, and she picked purple tablecloths. Not red. Not blue. Purple. The cookies for the event were iced in purple frosting reading, "Together." Cookies are always an icebreaker.
Onstage, more ice was breaking as Roginsky and Benson were asked about free speech. They'd just gotten word about the unrest — riots? — at the University of California, Berkeley, where masked agitators had caused $100,000 in damage as they protested a speech to be given by right-wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos. Roginsky was appalled. She is hardly a fan of his, but "free speech wins," she said. "Always."
For his part, Benson was ready with some advice for the Democrats. "If everything is an outrage, nothing is." In other words, if liberals reject absolutely everyone and everything President Donald Trump proposes, their message will get tuned out. Pick your battles, he advised, to get more traction.
How did the two opposites manage to stay friends through the election and postelection season? The same way they handle the Twitter taunts that come their way. The trick is to "listen generously," said Benson. Don't assume people who didn't vote your way chose another candidate out of bigotry or stupidity. Assume they had their varied reasons, just as you had yours. Give folks the benefit of the doubt.
The sanity you save may be your own.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, "World's Worst Mom," airs on Discovery Life. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.