Charlotte Spears ’24 (DCI Fellow)
Long before I knew the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives or what referendum meant, I helped my mother canvas for a state politician in Georgia. The politician was a young woman looking to represent a district in Atlanta. I could not tell you a single one of her policies, but something she said to me before we walked around her neighborhood and asked for votes has stuck with me. She said, “The only politician you will ever completely agree with is yourself.”
Many years later, I make a point to recite this quote to friends, classmates, and participants in the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative. I find it particularly helpful for a few reasons. The first reason was likely her intended message: it’s important to acknowledge that when voting, we can’t expect a politician to check every single box we demand of them. We may agree on eighty percent of pressing issues, but not all. This is an uncomfortable truth, but it aided her campaign by showing voters they did not need to completely agree with her in order to have a compelling reason to vote for her. (She did end up winning).
But the second reason is ultimately what has led this quote to stick with me. If the only politician you will ever completely agree with is yourself, then you are also probably the only person that you will ever totally agree with. There is no one on Earth that will ever side with you 100 percent of the time. So, when you step into a debate in a classroom or over drinks, be careful when grouping your peers into supporters and dissenters or into friends and foes. Because likely, you can agree with all of them on one thing and disagree with all of them on something else.
This mindset has changed how I participate in group conversations. Instead of ganging up on one person who thinks differently than the rest of the group, I try to find out what he and I have in common that will put us on the same side. From personal experience, it’s easy for someone else to do the same after it has been modeled. Eventually, conversations are no longer blue versus red, or male versus female, but a fluid mix of opinions and agreements. A healthy dose of humility in personal beliefs makes us realize that they aren’t necessarily widely held.
I have also seen this play out in the D Team deliberations that I facilitate. Some people can agree on their opinions regarding abortion but disagree on what type of speech should be regulated. Or, some people agree that abortion is morally bad, but disagree on whether or not the government should regulate it. There is very little hostility, if any at all, in these D Teams. And I believe it is due to the fact that people are free to agree and disagree with everyone. The more often these types of conversations are held, the more we realize the uniqueness of our own opinions, the less we group our opponents into a single box, and the less we commit ourselves to always and fully agreeing with a politician or an entire political party.