DEAR READERS: I’ve briefly stepped away from my column to work on a new writing project. This week, I’m rerunning topical Q&A's from 10 years ago. Today’s topic is: Politics and Tolerance. I’m struck by how, even though there is a very different president in the White House from when these questions were originally published, the issue of how to tolerate an opposing point of view is evergreen.
DEAR AMY: I find I need to make some changes. I try to be open-minded and to see people as humans first and not judge them by color, creed or educational background. My specific areas of difficulty surround people who are blatantly of a different political stripe than I am, and those who are significantly and more openly religious than I am. I find that once I know people have sympathies with a political administration I don’t favor, then I’m apt to dislike them and am unable to appreciate other qualities they might have that I would find worthy. The same goes for people who sprinkle their conversations with religion or speak of religion in a way that makes it seem that all their thoughts and decisions come from their deity. I feel very blocked in these areas and want to know which doors I need to open in my own mind to work this problem through. I’m asking you to please open my mind.
DEAR CLOSED MINDED: I can’t open your mind — but you probably can. I love your question partly because — unlike many who write to me — you seem to want to change. (Most people want for someone else to change.)
You could try to do something I’ve been doing lately, and that is to consume roughly an equal amount of media leaning toward both sides of the political equation. It also helps to realize that no political side has a lock on obnoxiousness, hysteria or foolishness.
The essential truth is that everybody is different, people have a right to paint themselves in any political or religious stripe they choose, and your inability or refusal to see the person beneath the beliefs tips you toward the bigot side of the scale.
The most gracious and socially adept people I know always find a way "in" as a way to get to know someone. They dip beneath the surface, ask questions and listen to the answers. If you do this you’ll learn that even zealots have hometowns and favorite movies. Commonalities will trump differences. (May 2009)
DEAR AMY: I have been enjoying a group of friends for the past 10 years. During the past year, I have had a real problem over their pontificating about their political point of view. I am the only person in the group with a different political view. The past four times I’ve seen them, I’ve come home feeling very upset about their bashing of the new president. I did not act like that when the previous administration was in office. We have had some angry, awkward moments and it makes me want to stay home and avoid the whole thing. I have tried to tell them that I feel bullied, but they always say we all should be able to express our opinions and I shouldn’t take it personally. What would you suggest that I do?
DEAR LINDA: I recently heard Glenn Beck refer to the president as a socialist and call filmmaker Michael Moore a ”fatty-fatty fatso.” Is this the sort of civilized intellectual discourse our foremothers and fathers had in mind when building this great nation? Probably not. But while you may have been sheltered from this sort of passion during the Bush years, I remember many heated, shocking and extremely disrespectful bashing sessions coming from the left — both through the media and privately.
Yelling is the unfortunate reaction of people trying to mitigate their powerlessness. We live in fascinating times, and you might benefit from understanding — or at least acknowledging — the passion of the other side. Don’t let your friends bait or bully you, and don’t feel you must defend practices or policies they find indefensible, especially if they are disrespectful.
If you don’t want to participate, you can do your best to change the subject, but if you can’t and still want to spend time in their presence, listen passively or (my trick) offer to wash the dishes. (November 2009)
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