My mom and dad would return from the voting polls, each laughing and claiming they’d canceled each other’s vote. She, an immigrant from Scotland and naturalized citizen, and he a Mid-Westerner with his boot planted deeply in the traditional values. Voting was equally important to each of them.
I was young, and the concept of voting was only beginning to take shape in my mind.
Interestingly, I never heard an argument. Discussions? Yes. Raised voices and name-calling? Never. And for me, this became a formative point of view of how to discuss politics. Adults, so I witnessed, exchanged ideas with skill and fact-based discussions.
Somehow, I find myself out of sync with today’s world.
As kids, many of our lessons on life play out at the kitchen table. And I am no different. My parents, while viewing the world from slightly different angles, openly discussed their differences of opinion. And remarkably, on occasion, one might inch toward the other after such a talk.
The kitchen table proved a great training ground for me as an adult.
Granted, I regularly get labeled as a secret member of the far end of either the liberal or conservative scope in the same week. But the truth is, I’m more of a reflection of what I learned at the kitchen table — listening, considering, and asking myself if I can take away from the other person’s view. And many times, I gain valuable insight.
That is how our democracy works — or at least how it did at our kitchen table.
I know I’ve more salt than pepper in my hair, but I do pang for a more civil environment for political discussion. Top-shelf, emotional generalizations seem more the norm today than the art of debate. The putting up walls reduces both sides’ opportunity to learn more and — just maybe — come away feeling a bit different.
From the kitchen table, I learned to speak with respect, listen and be willing to accept I may not always be right.
Former President Ronald Reagan and then-Speaker of the House Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill shared a similar understanding. With both approaching from different political parties and a list of platform wishes, they understood that finding a way to move forward took precedence over individual ego and needs.
History tells of how Reagan and O’Neill would sit down — one on one — and share each other’s point of view, both understanding neither would walk away until they could agree. Some sessions were longer than others, but both understood neither stood larger than the common good for their constituents across the country. No bully pulpit, no silly posturing and no name-calling. They were getting the people’s work done.
I miss the kitchen table. Know if you want to discuss a difference of opinion, I’ll always extend you respect, listen for qualifiable and well-sourced facts, and never, ever, call you a name.
And if I do, I fully expect my mom to reach down from heaven and slap me.