Monday, July 7, 2014

The Zipper

The more doors I knock and the more voters I meet, the more I feel we all have a bias towards division.  In the same way you are much more likely to get television coverage for a senseless shooting than a community clean-up day, our attention is drawn to our differences.

I often wonder if that is primal.  When we were little more than apes in caves, was it an evolutionary trait to identify divisions in order to tap them out or expel an offending party?  Is our instinct now to do the same?  Possibly.  Our constitutional protections for minority positions seem to have made this presumption implicit - To hold a view distinct from the main is a dangerous position in need of protection.

But in the great depth, originality, and creativity that makes up the human mind, it seems silly that we end up stumbling over our disagreements when it comes to community affairs.  Are things this binary?  Have we forfeited that much of our decision-making power that we are satisfied with making it a game of red or blue buttons?

I often describe politics like an unzipped zipper.  The further up you go, the further apart we are.  Want to talk about President Obama, Speaker Boehner, or Senator Cruz?  Buckle your chin-strap.  As we come down to the state level, divisions are still plain, but agreement is closer at hand.  We may want sensible taxes, but we also agree that education is a high priority, our roads should be well-maintained, and social services should be well-equipped to protect vulnerable youth.  How we reach those ends is a matter of dispute, but at least the ends are clear.

And then you get to the hyper-local.  Admittedly, awareness of the hyper-local escapes all but 10-20% of us (and I think even that may be a stretch).  But to the extent we are aware, there is a lot to agree.  We agree on where the stop signs should go, where the sidewalks should stretch, and how our local priorities should be funded.  Division is much harder to find.

At every door, and in every conversation, I try to find my way to that plateau of agreement.  Not out of appeasement, but out of a need to find a place to start.  Disagreement is free fall.  You can't build anything on disagreement.  I see so many friends and family pound their chests about disagreements on social media (rarely in person) only to leave me wondering "To what end?" It's easy to disagree. The only likely outcome is that you have confirmed a difference with someone else and likely many others who will avoid engaging you because to do so would be to invite free fall.  The more disagreements you name, the narrower your plateau, until finally no one cares what you think anymore.  You have forfeited a meaningful voice.

We don't need to all agree with one another, but I think that to earn the right to disagree, we need to find out where we left off.  Where did the zipper split?  I believe that finding that position fosters a much more constructive conversation about how we can make things better.  And if you are not working towards that end, it is unclear why you need to say anything at all.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Please mark your calendar for July 17!  We will be holding a Victory Celebration in Ellicott City!