People Before Politics
I was reading the nicest book.
It was written by a mother who is raising a young son with autism. As you might imagine, her life is challenging—but it is also joyful. And the insights she is gaining by looking at the world through her son’s eyes are enlightening and really beautiful.
I found myself liking this lady. I was learning from her, from the experiences she’s having—experiences I will never have. I was underlining statements I thought I might like to quote in my own writing. I was enjoying the book so much that, chapter-by-chapter, I was giving my family a run-down of the funny, and often profound, things the author’s little boy says. We were all getting a kick out of it.
And then, with the turn of a page, the author lost me.
The beautiful bubble she had formed around her son’s story burst when I got to a passage where she made a harsh, politically biased statement. With the thoughts expressed in that one impassioned paragraph, she essentially let me know that she thinks the way I view the world—or at least one important aspect of it—is wrong, and that every time I step into a voting booth, I am contributing to our nation’s woes.
I slammed the book down onto my kitchen table in disgust. I wouldn’t have bought it had I known it would be political. I just wanted to read a good story!
I considered throwing the book away, but I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. I kept thinking about that paragraph and about the author. I found myself wondering if it had occurred to her that at this point in her story, she might lose readers—that there would be people who would put the book down and not pick it back up again: people who would never hear the rest of her story because she chose to include information that made them feel alienated.
I wondered if she came to regret including it.
I think she may have.
I know from experience.
A year or so ago, I posted something on social media which was about patriotism—only about patriotism. But other people read more into it than I had intended. One Facebook friend made a comment which pulled my post into the realm of the political; I wanted to acknowledge her comment, so—without considering the outcome—I clicked “like.” The firestorm that followed caught me completely by surprise. Other friends were offended. I backpedaled as hard and as quickly as I could, but the damage had been done. Since then, a friend (a real-life friend—not just a friend on Facebook) has seemed to be avoiding me at all cost.
Do I regret writing that post? You bet I do.
There’s much more to me than the way I see things politically. I have lots of other interests, but now there are people who may never get to know the rest. We could probably find plenty of common ground to enjoy together, but since I offended them, that won’t happen. And that makes me sad.
I did some soul-searching after I put that book down, which led me to ask myself if I’d have been okay with the inclusion of politics if the author’s views had agreed with my own.
I hope not. But I honestly can’t say for sure.
Wanting to be open-minded (and not feel like a quitter!), I picked the book up again, determined to finish reading it. It took me a while to settle in, to view the author neutrally, to forget our differences, and to forget the reaction I had to her words. As I read, I realized that, like me, there is much more to her than the way she sees things politically, too. I found that she and I share a lot of common ground: that of faith, devotion to family, and the joy found in community service.
I’m glad I pressed on and continued reading, because as the author spun her tale, I found myself feeling hopeful and encouraged about the world in general, and the final chapter made me feel hopeful and encouraged about my own life.
It occurs to me that the best stories contain ups and downs and a few obstacles to overcome, but a good ending is always worth the effort.