Living Beneath the Surface
It’s campaign season, which means it’s time for me to get out of my comfort zone once again and engage with voters. Even the thought of canvassing for candidates leads my nerves to frazzle and my brain to start spinning excuses for me to stay in my lane. On a good day I feel anxious about interacting with strangers, even when I’m not talking politics with them. I tell myself I can’t take the easy way out. If I want to see change in this world, I need to do my part to try and make it happen.
When I door knocked for DFL candidates prior to the 2018 election, I tried to use it as an opportunity to test my beliefs and assumptions about people. I often buy into the stereotypes of voters portrayed in the media: Trump supporters are evangelicals and one issue voters and worse and Democrats are socially liberal voters who want everyone to succeed and feel valued. At least that’s my broad interpretation of the two political party supporters. Of course, what’s true is something else entirely. We’re all a conglomeration of contradictions and various lived experiences that lead us to form differing opinions that we often don’t stray too far from throughout the course of our lives.
When door knocking, I learned that my assumptions about people were wrong nearly every single time. Those people I assumed would be strident Republicans because of the kind of car they drove, the kind of house or neighborhood they lived in, or the way the presented themselves were often times fervent Democrats. People that I would have thought to be Democrats also surprised me and made me question my assumptions. I learned quickly that my version of reality is skewed, that people aren’t always who they appear to be and that when we stay on the surface and don’t challenge our beliefs and assumptions, then we don’t grow and we can’t connect with others in any meaningful way.
As I reach out to voters across the country this winter, I often blanche when the person I’m contacting responds that they are supporting Trump in 2020. I want to run away and hide and not engage with the person because I fear we are going to have a heated and uncomfortable exchange. Often times the exchange does start out heated, but when I start to ask about the issues that are important to them, I begin to see some vulnerability and can begin to relate to them on a personal level as many of their concerns are the same as mine, we just disagree on who can best alleviate our concerns and how it can be done. If I share my own concerns about the state of our country and its future, we often begin to see each other as human beings, not as "Trumpsters" and "snowflakes." We move beyond the labels, the assumptions and connect on a deeper level. I’ve had many conversations that begin in a very uncomfortable place of disagreement, but by the end after we’ve shared concerns, we often come to a place of mutual respect. We may not come to an agreement, but the world becomes a little brighter and less polarized because we’ve cast aside our vision of each other as enemies and connected on a basic human level. I believe we are all essentially looking for safety and security for our loved ones and we want to be heard and feel respected. If I enter these conversations with that mindset, I can often turn a confrontational interaction into a meaningful exchange.
I try to keep these learnings in mind in my personal life as well. The relationships I have that are most meaningful to me are those in which I’m able to meet the other person below the surface. If we are able to go beyond relational sharing of the surface details of our lives and share our vulnerabilities, our desires and our fears, then we connect on a much deeper level. Going deep allows even the people we don’t necessarily have a lot in common with to become much closer to us. These are the kinds of relationships I seek out in my life. I don’t want to live on the surface of life. I want to go deep and connect with people where their heart is open, if they are willing to go there with me. This is the ‘gravy’ of life and I believe we often forget that or may not even be aware of it. So often we are encouraged by our culture to live life on the surface. Be busy, don’t take the time to get to know people, move on to the next thing, but if we skim along the surface of life, it’s like skimming through a book, we miss the details, the depth and the emotional connection that makes it a valuable and worthwhile experience.
My goal is to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to live life beneath the surface. I want to go deeper in my life because that’s where all of the beauty and joy reside. I find so much joy in learning and growing as a human being. I’ve come to realize that my greatest learnings are achieved through great discomfort. If I put myself in positions and situations where I’m outside of my comfort zone, the chance for growth increases exponentially. I believe that’s what we’re all here for, to continually evolve as human beings. I want more of the ‘gravy’ in life and that means living in the places of discomfort and vulnerability well below the surface of life.