One is the sum of the fractions of us
'Cus we're broken and we're bent
But together this puzzle makes so much sense
Growing up in Utah, I always identified as Republican. I didn’t know much about Democrats except that all their philosophies were wrong. The right was right, the left was wrong. Simple. Maybe, more importantly, I thought voting for the Republican candidate was right. No matter what. I clung to that mentality until the months leading up to the 2016 election.
Trump, obviously, wasn’t the first Republican presidential candidate to get things wrong, but maybe I wasn’t really paying attention until Trump came along. After his inauguration, I saw a division slowly start to form between my family members, and I felt I had to pick a side. I no longer felt the choice was between political parties but between being with Trump or against him.
I started having heated discussions with my family members that ranged from the validity of Trump’s impeachment to the legitimacy of masks and Covid19. At one point, I had a three-hour conversation with a relative about the “current dangers” in our society.
She asked about my thoughts on the protests and counter-protests that occurred shortly following George Floyd’s death. She started the conversation with something like, “I’m curious what you think,” and immediately the warning alarms went off in my brain.
Is anyone who says I’m curious what you think actually curious or just getting ready to pounce?
Our conversation got heated, our voices becoming more high-pitched, our tones dismissive and defensive. We never yelled at each other or went so far as to call each other names, but we parted that night (well after midnight) with a sense of “Fine. I guess that’s what you believe. Fine.”
I found myself staring at the ceiling until 3am, not just that night but many nights after, replaying our conversation over and over in my head, thinking about what I could have said to counter her points or support my own position.
Overall, I came away from that discussion with a bitter taste in my mouth and a tight knot in my stomach that took weeks to unravel.
Part of me is ashamed of that.
Even if I was right and my relative was wrong, what benefits came from our discussion? What could I have done to make our talk more civil, more productive, more intellectual?
From that conversation and others like it, I learned I didn’t want to buy into the with-Trump-or-against-him mentality. I also learned that somewhere along the line my views had turned more liberal not because of Trump, specifically, but because his presidency, more than any other, had forced me to ask myself what I really believed.
More than anything, I believe the best way for our country to heal is to come together as a nation, and this specific belief has led me to The Civility Initiative. My hope is that this initiative will be a place for people to discuss their beliefs with, well, civility by reviewing and examining political issues with the understanding that before issues are political, they’re personal.
Somehow, we have to look past the politics to the people.
On a more personal note, I have to look past the politics and come to terms with the fact that I have been uncivil in the past (as I’m sure my relative can attest.) But I want to change that. I hope to change that, and because, at its core, The Civility Initiative is a group of people from diverse backgrounds with varying political ideologies working together, I think this initiative can help spur positive changes in our country.
I take inspiration from singer-songwriter Mindy Gledhill, who compared individuals to “broken” and “bent” pieces that can come together to form a “puzzle [that] makes so much sense." My hope is that the content provided by The Civility Initiative can unite rather than tear apart. Open minds rather than close them. Harbor peace rather than hostility. I’m ready for us to be more than our political parties, more than Trump supporters or Trump haters. I’m ready for “one [to become] the sum of the fractions of us.”