In my writing, I’m quite open about exactly what I think. I endeavor to state my views respectfully and with a modicum of substantiation (I’m not the only person who thinks so, see?), but I don’t shy away from sharing them even when I know I’ll be in the minority.
Why is it then that I’m uncomfortable expressing my opinions in person, even when I’ve been directly asked what I think?
When I interviewed for my position in New York, one of my interviewers asked what I’d done the night before. It was a casual question — Kyle and I were still new to the area — and yet I knew my answer wouldn’t go over well. We’d been at a volunteer meeting for Rudy Giuliani’s soon-to-be-abandoned Senate campaign.
"Eh, political stuff," I replied. Then I joked, "I’d elaborate, but I really want this job."
Now the situation is reversed; while I was a right-wing extremist back east, I’m a bleeding heart liberal here in the suburban wild west. So when I mentioned my previous Air Force service to an acquaintance, she inferred my opinion on our current foreign policy based on my veteran status: "Being in the military, you’d agree… right?"
I commenced my talkative tap dancing routine (I have a mostly silent version, too — lots of "ums", implying neither agreement nor disagreement) and equivocated my way onto another topic, but I could tell that we were on different pages, if not reading different books entirely.
Why couldn’t I have just said, "We’re actually more liberal than the average family around here?" It would have been accurate, disarming, and non-confrontational.
Leading up to the presidential election, I often found myself in a similar position. Colorado as a state may have voted blue, but we live in a primarily red area. McCain/Palin yard signs abounded, and many local drivers still haven’t scraped off their "Nobama!" bumper stickers. Meanwhile I didn’t fully agree with either candidate’s proposed ideas, but I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I hadn’t yet made up my mind.
Part of my concern about discussing politics openly involves my children, of course. I don’t want to ace them out of any friendships simply because Mommy’s a commie pinko (which I’m not). But even if I were, does that mean that my kid’s no longer a desirable friend? To some parents, that’s exactly what it means.
But another part of my concern is for myself — how my family and I are viewed. I don’t want to ace myself out of any friendships either. I can look beyond politics and religion and find commonalities that form the basis of a friendship. Perhaps I just don’t have faith that others can do the same.
What I’ve realized though is that my assumption that I’ll be judged is just as unfair as that assumed judgment would be. I don’t have to lay all my cards on the table right away, but there’s no reason why I should misrepresent myself, even unintentionally. Perceived differences are most likely to be inconsequential for both my family and me.
In fact, if I’m honest and lucky, I might just find a kindred spirit.