Last week I went out to dinner with two friends from seemingly opposite sides of the political spectrum. Around the table: a straight, Republican, home-based mother of two, a lesbian, Progressive Democrat, working mother of two – and middle-ol’ me. (And yes, this is beginning to sound like one of those jokes that puts the governor on a crashing plane with a priest and a rabbi -- two of them have parachutes and one jumps out strapped into a Hello Kitty backpack.)
We’ve been planning this dinner since last fall when I said to both of them, “I swear, you will really like each other” and they trusted me enough to reach out and in turn, to be receptive. Dinner was fun. We told stories, swapped confidences and rolled our eyes talking about our spouses. Finally it came up, “what can we do together to make Rhode Island better?”
We didn’t come up with a plan for world peace or even an outline to fix what ails our beloved little state, but we did find that despite our different spots on the political spectrum, we have a lot of common ground:
- We care passionately about quality education – and not just for our own kids, but for those in failing schools.
- We care about the lack of opportunity and the high cost of living.
- We believe all families deserve to be treated equally under the law.
What we also had around the table – and what so often gets lost in political discussions these days – is respect for each other. As President Reagan said, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.”
What makes politics exciting – and leadership challenging – is that we all come to the table with different life experiences, different advantages and different viewpoints. And then we hash it out. By locking yourself – or someone else – into a mold with a party label and a platform to which you must commit (or be accused of not being a “real” insert name of party here) is taking everything out of politics that makes it interesting and fun.
So I jump with a Hello Kitty backpack: I've got no party to fall back on — and no party agenda to follow. But with friends on both sides, a shared desire to move things forward and a commitment to coming back to the table to hash things out, I couldn't be happier to be stuck in the middle.