The running joke in my house is that for most - okay, all - presidential elections, my spouse and I have canceled out each other's vote. We've always had opposing political points of view.
The high-minded perspective suggests that it makes for rich dialogue. But really, it can make life contentious. At this point in a presidential election year, it is wearisome.
While one of us is of the red persuasion and the other blue, we do find common ground. We share an ardent belief in voting and we vote in every primary and general election. We sadly witness the slim showing in the "off" election years when poll workers are not quite as busy. I guess it really is the full democratic experience in that Americans can choose to vote or not vote.
When our two girls were little, we always brought them to the polls. Each of us would take one of them to the booth. They would follow our directive as to what hole to punch, which levers to pull, or what bubbles to color. We wanted to imprint the importance of this act.
Those memories unexpectedly wash over me when I vote. I recall the first time my husband suggested we bring our oldest daughter to the polls when she was just a baby. I scoffed at the idea and he persisted. I'm glad he did. Our daughters have witnessed our pointed political differences at the dinner table, in social settings, and in the car. It is satisfying for them to also see us share in the act of voting.
Walking into the polls with kids in our arms or holding our hands showed we may disagree politically, but we see eye-to-eye on this eloquent right.
Sheila Heen's article "Sleeping With the (Political) Enemy" in the 11/4/12 Sunday New York Times shares the ups and downs of being married to someone who is the yin to her yang of political beliefs. She writes the obvious noting, "when you marry across the divide, you have to give up things that provide the like-minded, self-satisfied comfort."
She and her husband, John Richardson, are both Harvard Law School graduates who work in and teach the art of negotiation. Imagine the chatter at their dinner table. Better yet, imagine a double date with seasoned political consultants and married couple James Carville and Mary Matalin. What a hottenanny!
Ms. Heen deftly comments on what being married to the other side requires. She understands the importance of civility in disagreement. "As tempting as it is, we can't demonize those on the other side as idiots who are out of touch, because they're liable to reach out across the dinner table to touch you (and rather sharply.)" There is always some truth in humor.
Scrolling through the mountains of comments which follow many political articles on this website, what becomes immediately clear is the bitter banquet of ideology on all sides. It's clear there is frustration out there, but it often spills over into name calling and self-righteousness. I picture pulsing, neck popping veins and the pounding of computer keyboards as people do lots of proclaiming and little listening. Conflict trumps conversation.
The fact that bothers me most is that those commenting can use pseudonyms. I believe if folks had to use their real names civility might be the victor. One can only hope.
On Tuesday, our youngest will be doing some local exit polling as part of her high school government class. Next year she will be old enough to vote. Taking this class in a presidential election year is poignant and I savor her questions and thoughts as the process comes alive for her.
I hope her experience tempers the vitriolic noise out there as she and her classmates query voters one-on-one about their choices and the reasons behind them. Most of all, I hope she understands political passion can be harnessed so we hear each other and that the process starts at home.