Love is in the air. My house is still filled with red and pink hearts, glitter and heart-shaped candies - remnants of Valentine's Day.
Whether it’s picking out just the right Valentine for each classmate or crafting misshapen Valentines for parents sure to bring a lump to your throat, kids really get into the Valentine spirit. It’s a nice wintertime reminder that love and kindness matter.
I wish some of that Valentine's Day spirit could cross over into our nation’s political system. Far too often conversations about important issues are filled with name-calling, shouting, and a general dislike for the other side.
It’s the kind of conversation that is a turnoff for the American people. No wonder Congress has an abysmally low approval rating, and our nation is described as terribly divided. As we head into some serious decisions both nationally and here in North Carolina about budget priorities, the role of government, and the value of public investments, we’re likely to see even more of this, spurred on by a national media with a vested interest in the kind of contentious politics that fire up their viewers.
When watching the spectacle that too often takes the place of what should be a thoughtful public debate, the mom in me kicks in and wants to scold our elected leaders like kids arguing on a playground. Some of the same principles should apply whether you’re in Congress or on the school yard: speak respectfully, listen, treat the other person the way you want to be treated, compromise, and work it out.
It’s OK to disagree. In fact, good decision-making requires listening to different perspectives with an open mind. But winner-take-all politics and the effort to score political points for their own sake has to stop. It’s unproductive, and we as a nation deserve better.
And the reality is that we aren’t as divided as some would say. Recently, I’ve been inspired by a series of “living room conversations” that are being held between the founders of the Tea Party Patriots and MoveOn.org centered around really listening to each other and trying to find common ground. Click here to learn more about their efforts.
These kinds of conversations are important for repairing what has become an increasingly broken system.
So I’ve embarked on an experiment of my own trying to reach out to other parents with different viewpoints to have conversations about some of the most critical and most divisive issues facing us as a country - issues like gun violence, education reform, and the budget.
While there are certainly places where we still disagree, in each of those conversations the overriding theme was the same. We both love our kids deeply and want to keep them safe and give them the best possible future. It’s just how we think we should go about getting there that’s different.
And, in each of those conversations, we were able to lay out some approaches that we both would support. Are they the ideal answers for either of us? No. But they would move us all closer to the kind of world we both want for our kids and that’s not an insignificant thing. And I’ve come away with a better understanding and respect for their positions.
Compromise is hard, but it’s an essential part of governing and critical to restoring faith in our elected leaders to get things done for the good of the country. Let’s hope that our lawmakers start to get the message. Otherwise, I may be taking a page from moms on Pinterest and crafting a Congress-sized, “get-along T-shirt” for next Valentine’s Day!
It has to be hard to argue hatefully when you’re stuck together inside a silly giant T-shirt, right?
Beth Messersmith is NC Campaign Director for MomsRising.org and a Durham mother of two.