Dear OB Convert,
I recently moved next to a pair of conservatives. While I wasn’t expecting everyone in OB to be fun-loving hippies, I certainly wasn’t expecting such a great political divide to form so close to home. Should I have that conversation, or should I look the other way?
Dear Politically Divided,
Oh, I so feel your pain! It is very dismaying to learn that even OB is riddled with more conservatives than we’d wish for. Unfortunately, instead of being frightened away by our eccentric little town, conservatives seem to want to sterilize it and make it into La-OB-Jolla.
In my mind, conservative attitudes are against anything challenging, mind-opening, imperfect, and different. Conservatives try to sanitize, compartmentalize, imprison, and outlaw anything they are frightened of. It was the conservatives who put a stop to drinking on the beach. When they did that, they took away a unique part of OB and made it like any other beach in America. It was a sad day.
I don’t think you should look the other way but I don’t think you should confront them either. There are different ways to fight conservative thinking and choosing the way depends on who you are fighting and what you are fighting. Since you didn’t give me a specific example of something your neighbors are doing, it’s never a bad idea to start by asking what would Gandhi, Mandela or the Buddha do?
I believe in putting myself out there, allowing people to not like me, standing up for what I believe in but I’m at my best when I state my beliefs and my boundaries without attacking other’s beliefs or boundaries.
Here is what I did the other day when I was talking to a seemingly great couple at The Harp. Fun, happy, open people who’ve lived here for 6 years. I liked them a lot until they spotted a person walking by who appeared may be houseless, their faces closed up and tightened. They casually expressed their beliefs that the homeless here in OB were just lazy and irresponsible. They told me they believed that helping them just enables them to not take responsibility for themselves. I listened, feeling sad but didn’t argue. Years of being a liberal in a conservative family has made me feel that arguing does little good. I waited for an opportunity to say a version of the following: “All I know is that, given my own emotional and physical problems, if it wasn’t for a series of many lucky circumstances and a family that supports me, I believe I would be out there on some street somewhere – or worse – hoping someone didn’t simply judge me as just lazy and irresponsible. This didn’t change their mind but it kept communication open with them and someday, perhaps I will have an influence on them.
Mind you, my reaction would have been different (more quick and direct) if they had said something I considered racist. I’m not saying this is right, just that I have a clear boundary about racist comments and not about other things I also find offensive.
So, no, I wouldn’t advise any conversation with your neighbors that is directly confrontational or that places you on one side and them on the other on anything as generic as “conservativeness.” This will just create a bigger divide.
Instead, I suggest trying to listen to what they are saying. Making an effort to understand their fears and angers will help win their good-will and will give you powerful information. For example, knowing what scares them personally might give you insight on what you might do to lessen their fear. With the couple I met at the Harp, because I didn’t alienate them, someday I may get them to join me for an event that works with the homeless or tell them stories of real homeless people.
If you find your neighbors doing something you find particularly hurtful, then it’s time to “have the conversation.”
But, I’m just an OB convert and feel free to, as a friend of mine says, “take my advice, I’m not using it!” I invite others to chime in and give their opinions to “Politically Divided”