I am currently working in Texas which placed me here with plenty of exposure to the politics and issues of this state during the recent election. It is fascinating to me to learn about the issues and politics of a host state. "Learn" might be the wrong word; more like "exposed" to the political machinery of advertisements that inundated the airwaves.
One afternoon I was checking in to a hotel in Houston. As I was checking in, another guest standing at the counter, turned to me and asked where I was from. I stated Portland, Oregon. She stared at me in a rather blatant and awkward manner. After a few seconds, I asked her where she was from. Before she responded to my question, she says "a liberal". I immediately wanted to defend myself and started down that road but then paused. I again asked where she was from; turns out right from Houston. I was triggered but calmed myself down and got "curious". "What makes you say that?" "Have you been to Portland?" (turns out she has been there.) I attempted to learn from her why being a Republican was so important to her and in what ways did she see a difference in us. Eventually I divulged that I was a registered Republican (there is a story behind this and in reality, I really don't like having to be registered with any political party). And that I voted based on what best reflected my values. To which I got another, "Liberal!". I expressed to her that at the end of the day, we probably want and value many of the same things and that I decided to make a point of having dialog with others that have differing political views as this was something that is missing in our society. She agreed with me in concept but her body language told me that she was uncomfortable and had probably never met someone who responded to her in such a way that encouraged dialog and understanding. Later, she walked by me and said that I seemed like a nice person anyway.
This got me thinking about my identity. To be approached in such a way that put political affiliation as a core identity didn't resonate with me. My identity includes: mother, partner, professional, communicator, world traveler, independent thinker, peace maker, explorer, creative, health advocate. Political affiliation??? Way way way down the identity list...so how is it that this woman thought that because I call Portland, Oregon "home", she could make such an assumption about my identity, let alone my values and beliefs? I am pretty certain that if she had given me the opportunity, we could have learned that we have many shared values: family, health, financial security; and far few differences. But how will we ever know this if we don't take time to dialog and be curious about each other?
This is Texas and most likely she was also packin'. I didn't look that closely! Of course, I have encountered in Portland, grandma's with concealed carry permits, so again, maybe we aren't all so different after all....
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant