I pour the roasted coffee beans into the coffee grinder in the kitchen. My dad is sitting in the next room, immersed in his copy of the Wall Street Journal. My sister is nearby, busy reading BBC News because she thinks another country can provide a better perspective on U.S. politics than the United States. My mom and I usually read The New York Times in the morning.
Every day in the afternoon, my family congregates around our coffee cups at the dining room table as if it’s a watering hole. The warm smell of coffee drifts throughout the room and beckons my family to come downstairs, have a sip and engage in impassioned political discourse.
I’ve read many people on talk shows and opinion columns say we need to care less about politics as a society. I disagree. We need to care about politics but in a different way.
When my family and I have political discussions, our different liberal and conservative perspectives often coalesce into the truth. We all love each other, and with that love naturally comes an honesty and a willingness to listen to each other’s side. So when discussing politics with people outside our family or listening to the viewpoints of a news source that we disagree with, it’s important to deliberately be honest and open-minded, since given the pernicious political polarization in our country, those things don’t come naturally.
We become impassioned about issues before we delve into what those issues truly are. Sometimes, my family discussions get heated, and that’s when I’m reminded of how much I care and how little I know. There’s a joke among immigrants that foreigners know more about American politics than Americans themselves. When the sun rises in India, you’ll see both the tailor and the businesswoman, the fisherman and the doctor sitting on the porch with the morning paper, only they’re drinking tea not coffee. Compare that to our country, where many drink coffee, get their daily dose of news from Facebook and then take to Twitter to give their opinions.
And that’s the problem with American politics. Many Americans care more about the news they get from Facebook than the news they could get from reputed newspapers. I have struggled with this, too. I read something newsworthy on Instagram and feel an adrenaline rush to act rather than to think. I happen to have some reputed news sources on hand in case I need to learn more about an issue, but for some Americans, no news source is reputed other than their microcosm of false information. It feels good to read publications that I agree with, but I don’t read to feel good. I read to learn about the world around me.
But it’s not just reading to read, it’s what we read that matters. It’s paramount for everyone, not just the conservatives, not just the liberals, not just the moderates, to read about all sides of an issue. When all of us make a concerted effort to listen to one another, even if we think we’re right, more people will join in. A liberal reaching out to a conservative in order to hear their perspective inspires everyone to do the same. A formula that I am trying to adopt now is to read one liberal news source, one conservative news source and one foreign news source so I can compare perspectives and let the different publications fact-check each other. I want to make a 180-degree shift from trying to change other’s perspectives to being open to changing my own.
I am also getting used to saying, “I don’t know.” I’m not an expert on politics. I’m a UC Berkeley student who’s mainly concerned with trying to get her economics degree. I strive to be well-informed, and I love engaging in political discussions, but I’m not the end-all, be-all expert on health care, immigration or the political situation in Myanmar. Every time I say those three words, “I don’t know,” I am opening up an opportunity to learn rather than live in my own microcosm of my self-proclaimed truths and alternative facts.
I have a passion for social issues and political activism. Seeing the current racial injustice in our country, I want to make an impact now more than ever. However, I’ve learned that long-lasting change takes more than just passion. It takes knowledge and tact. For me, now is a time to make change and meaning. Now is a time to read, listen, think and then vocalize the call for justice.
I also have had to learn to accept that I cannot change everyone’s mind, and not everyone is going to give ear to my viewpoints. That’s OK. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be open-minded anymore. My focus isn’t on others’ viewpoints anyway; it’s on solidifying and checking my own beliefs so that I can be unequivocally confident in them. If my viewpoints change along the way, great! I’d much rather be confident in my beliefs rather than insecure about my half-truths.
So, as the coffee continues to brew, I will continue to discuss, debate and, most importantly, listen. Do I care too much about politics? Maybe. I genuinely care about the world around me and want to work to change it. I’ll start by opening my mind.