Connection amid political chaos: Impossible, you say?
Last Wednesday I volunteered at a political phone bank in Arizona.
It was the day of the last Presidential debate and 20 days before the election.
My only job was to urge citizens of Tucson to vote early.
My workspace was sparse: ear buds, cell phone, call sheets, and a written script.
John, the 20 something manager-on-duty, offered three minutes of instructions including the mandate not to leave messages.
As a swing state, Arizona voters are flooded with calls like mine. One message I heard confirmed it: “If you’re calling about politics, hang up now.”
About an hour into my shift after I’d had a couple of angry responses to my suggestion that folks vote early, an idea came to mind.
If I put more emphasis on the tools of The Connection Practice I’d have a better chance of empathizing with whomever and whatever I encountered.
I started with self-care by focusing on my own emotions and why I was making these calls.
I’d been feeling powerless, agitated, frustrated and worried. My needs for peace, balance, and progress were high, but no satisfaction was in sight.
I asked for wisdom about the calls I was making. And then I paused.
I waited until a truth came forward in the form of reassurance.
Confirmation that because I care deeply about the outcome of this election, any small contribution I make will move me toward my own power and could even help create the progress I’m desiring.
With my own motives clear, I turned attention to the people on my list.
Might they be feeling fear and confusion?
Could it be some were distressed because their needs for ease and safety seemed far from where we were?
Considering strangers’ needs as well as my own changed the nature of my calls.
Instead of selling people on voting early, I listened, empathized, and if an opening presented itself, I encouraged early participation in the voting process.
Connecting with Voters
Then Dan, 41 years old, a registered independent, answered my call.
“Hi. This is Ellen. . . . I’m calling to ask if we can count on you to vote early this year?”
“No ma’am, you can’t. It’s disgusting what’s going on.”
“Sounds like you’re really disappointed. What’s bothering you most about the election?”
He told me, ending with, “I just can’t bring myself to vote for either one.
“I know that’s not what you want to hear. I’m sorry, ma’am.”
Yet I was oddly energized.
In that short exchange two people with different mindsets had expressed empathy for one another.
Here was a guy telling me exactly what I didn’t want to hear and yet the call felt like a success.
The next person who answered was an 80-year-old woman, Angeleine.
She said for the first time in her adult life she’s refusing to vote for a President.
“One’s a Nazi and the other should be jailed,” she said.
I asked if she felt discouraged.
Her voice softened. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve never felt like this before. It’s just awful. There’s so much fighting. I’m so angry. This isn’t right . . . ”
“I can understand why you don’t want to vote,” I said,
“If you change your mind, would you like to know where the closest early voting is?”
I knew she was hurting; so was I.
Nonetheless I was grateful that that the two of us had, if only for a moment, found common ground.
With both Dan and Angeleine I experienced connection amid chaos.
What else might be possible if more of us knew and practiced these skills?
Could family divides be mended? What about gender equality? Might bullying be reduced?
Today I’m off to volunteer at a local nonprofit.
If you asked me what the likelihood is I’ll need empathy for myself or someone else in such a friendly place, I’d say the chances are right around 100%.
They usually are.
I’ll keep you posted.