Recently, I’ve been discussing presidential politics, as all of us have. Even if you try to avoid the conversations and the different opinions, they are everywhere on the news, in the paper, among your colleagues and friends. Such conversations are important, and often even helpful, to educate people on issues.  Hands down educated voters are best.

Lately, I’ve really been listening to what is being said about various candidates.  Listening to how the message, words are conveyed. Clearly, our country is more polarized than I’ve ever seen in my decades of voting. Unfortunately, most of these conversations have become rude, insulting, and/or dismissive. We are screaming at each other, criticizing or dismissing entire segments of society, and not hearing one another’s views.

I was in a meeting and someone said out loud, with no hesitation, that the Christian Coalition is a huge problem and working against us. A visibly angry young mother from Texas explained that she belonged to the Christian Coalition and doesn’t believe the Coalition supports poisoning school children with toxic chemicals. “People like you are the problem, not people like me.”

In another meeting, someone accused the workers of being the barrier to moving an issue forward, saying therefore, we needed to organize around the workers instead including them in our fight.

I’ve heard people use the words stupid, ignorant or other nasty descriptions of a candidate or a person who supports a different candidate. This is not limited to a single political party and it’s turning off people on all sides.

It’s time to stop the fever pitched screams and begin talking and listening to each other. When we listen and we share, it is amazing what can happen. Let me share a story.

CHEJ was invited to help an organization stop an incinerator in New York. The group we were working with expressed disappointment about how apathetic people in their community are. One member of the core leadership told me, “In this community people are self-focused, lazy and not too bright. I can not understand why they want to allow all this pollution.” I suggested that everyone may not care about health and inquired if she had asked people what they care about? She answered, “No, because this is the most important and frightening thing that’s happen now.”

Yikes, another scream, and narrow focus to the problems of winning real, deep seeded justice. What if you stopped yelling and trying to prove your point, and listened instead?

We were in a bar and I decided that instead of explaining the importance of listening and having a conversation to connect with people, I’d demonstrate the importance.  I got up and moved to sit next to a worker who was having a beer. He was watching the football game on TV and when I caught his attention, I asked what he thought about the plan for the new incinerator.

He replied, “I don’t care.” Showing him the flyer the group published, I followed up with, “What about cancer and other diseases that this flyer says may increase because of pollution?”

“Lady I don’t care . . . I’m watching the game” he replied a bit annoyed.

Waiting for a commercial break, I ask, “What do you care about? What bothers you?” He thought for a moment and said, “potholes.” He explained, he’s an independent trucker and the potholes cause all sorts of damage to his truck which he must pay out-of-his own pocket to repair. Secondly, he added, that traffic signal from hell on the corner. “There is no left turn light and so it takes forever, sometimes two cycles, for me to turn that corner.”

When the next commercial came around I suggested that what he cares about and what the group cares about are the same – – disruption of a beautiful rural community. There will be over 200 trucks driving down that same road making more potholes and a longer line of vehicles that need to turn left at that corner. You may not care about the pollution but there will be plenty of other disruption to the community if this incinerator is built. He agreed and we had a much longer conversation about community power and corporate greed.

My message to the group, then and to us all now, is to stop screaming about how right you are and how wrong others are. Instead, try listening and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see that you aren’t that far apart, and together you can create a better tomorrow.