For the second time in one day, I have an anecdote involving a walk with Greyson that led to an interesting conversation with one of our neighbors. This time the chat wasn’t quite as cheery, or at least it had the potential to go south.
Before dinner, Greyson and I walked past our neighbor Dale’s house on the way to the wooded area we love to explore. Dale is about 80, and he’s a jolly, gregarious fellow. When we first moved in, he put a welcome card in our mailbox with a $25 gift card to Giant. This was about a year before the 2016 election, and he added this offbeat nugget of advice to his affable inscription: “Vote for the politician with the best line of B.S.” Like virtually every other neighbor we’ve met (about a dozen houses and farms’ worth), Dale is a bona fide good guy. And like me, he’s a bit of an odd duck as well.
All I wanted to do on this evening was walk with Greyson and get caught up after our 10+ hours apart. But I also hadn’t talked to Dale in a few months. So I gave him a big wave as we walked past and made the usual “beautiful evening!” pleasantries.
And within 60 seconds, to my chagrin, Dale brought up Brett Kavanaugh.
Let me be clear: I’ve been known to occasionally bring up politics with my family when it doesn’t need to be brought up. But in this case, I did not say *anything* to provoke a red-hot-button topic being floated between neighbors on a peaceful October evening. I was simply making pleasant chit-chat, and Dale dropped a small bomb into the proceedings.
At the risk of patting myself on the back (pretty hard), I would be remiss not to tell you that I did a truly valiant job, for the next 7 minutes, of keeping the conversation on a positive, bipartisan note. Dale’s son Greg joined him on the porch pretty early on, and between the two of them they quickly outlined the broad strokes of their current worldview:
- Democrats are so mean.
- Poor Brett Kavanaugh and his family.
- Poor President Trump. No one used to be this mean to the president.
- Why would anyone support the mean Democrats?
I think having Greyson in the crook of my arm helped me to be a better version of myself as I searched for civil responses to these talking points. (It also helped that I wanted the conversation to end almost as soon as it had started.) And to be fair, Dale and Greg were not attacking me personally — just a huge, impersonal political party, which is always easier to criticize than an individual. But holy sweet heck was their assessment of this American political moment both incomplete and short-sighted.
The one point I did pointedly — but very calmly — make was that the president was guilty of more than his share of meanness and personal attacks. Incidentally, this is something I thought Dale would agree about, since he had mentioned to me 2 years ago that he wished Trump would keep his mouth shut a lot more often. But other than saying that one thing, I did everything in my power to veer the conversation toward sentiments the 3 of us (4 if you include Greyson!) could agree on. Like that politics is much meaner than it used to be. And that politicians should prove their merit as individuals rather than relying on the ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to their name to get the mindless, lockstep votes of their constituents.
That last point is where the conversation, thankfully, wrapped up because of my carefully defusing efforts. (*Pats self on back again*.) We all agreed that partisan labels should be ditched in favor of political candidates campaigning solely as individuals, on the basis of their character and their policy proposals. With warm smiles, we wished each other well and Dale said, “Give my best to the little lady!”
Then I took my 2-year-old son, who had started fidgeting 3 minutes into the boring adult conversation, and hurried into the dusky forest. There, I held his tiny hand as we took a refreshing lap around our favorite spot — a peaceful, paved loop through the ever-darkening woods.
My ever-present escape from the ever-darkening world.
2 thoughts on “On Porches, Politics, & Papa/Son Time”
Loved this anecdote! Great job diffusing a bomb, I agree Greyson with you made a difference. I’ve had similar occurrences! I’ll add that the face to face element is also vastly better than on Facebook or Twitter, so much more likely that we choose our better selves of listening and finding common ground.
So very true, Nate. Communicating with a person in their physical presence does increase the odds of civility. As does holding one’s impressionable 2-year-old son, who is (blissfully!) unaware of politics and the vitriol it breeds. Thanks for reading and engaging with this, my brother.