About a year and a half into my college career, I came home for Thanksgiving break and announced to my family that I was changing my major from English to Political Science. My parents seemed baffled by this, as I had never really shown an interest in politics outside of registering to vote. Now that I look back on it, I understand their bewilderment. But I was nineteen and not exactly loving college and wanted a change. Besides, my English classes were much less likable than the required American Government class I was taking at the time. Professor Paula Maras-Roberts made government and the study of how people interact with it seem like the most exciting thing in the world. I had a serious crush on Political Science and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to act on it. That's what you're supposed to do in college, right? Take risks and make moderately rash decisions?
I actually think it was a good choice for me. I did really end up liking my classes. The department was small, but had a wonderful staff. I was able to take several courses as one-on-one independent studies with the head of the department. We would meet once a week in his tiny corner office that was crammed with books and hash out all sorts of topics. However, the more I studied political science, the more I knew I didn't want anything to do with politics. After I graduated I got a job working on projects at an IT company and left my political science years behind me.
Yet lately I've been drawn more and more back to that realm. Not that I have a desire to leave my current job and take up politics, but just seeing what is happening in our country, how divided it is and how toxic the rhetoric has become, it makes me wish I could do something. I've started reading more political articles and trying to engage in conversations with people to encourage them to take a step back and see those they disagree with first as fellow human beings and Americans before they see them as the enemy. Let me tell you that my thoughts are often not met with open arms or minds.
I realize that having another person disagree with you can sometimes feel like a personal attack. It can seem that they are trying to invalidate your perspective or question your character. But why does it have to be that way? Why is it so difficult to engage in a conversation with another without resorting to personal attacks or name-calling? I recently had someone tell me that because I don't mind that the First Lady is trying to curb childhood obesity by encouraging more access to healthful food options, I'm setting the stage for liberals to take away our Bibles. What? And by no means are these extreme reactions exclusive to one side.
I really don't know what to do. The easiest thing would be to keep my opinions to myself, vote, and write an occasional letter to a senator. However, I have to believe there are more people out there who want us to respect each other and try to work together. I have to believe there are those who are willing to extend a proverbial olive branch, table the most divisive issues, and work to find any tiny speck of common ground on which to build something positive. I want to believe that if more people started insisting on respect over disgust, we could make some progress in that direction. Obviously what we're doing now isn't working.