Sunday, May 07, 2023

The civility of silence

"Don't talk about Trump/guns/abortion/covid/climate change," friends and family variously cautioned me as I prepared for a three-week road trip in the US last month.

No worries. I rarely talk about those things even with people I know well. I love a great conversation about big issues when the time and the scene is right, but I'm also just fine with talking about what kind of bird that is over there, or what the price of gas was in the last town each of us passed through. 

The 22-day trip through five states was such a welcome reminder for me that Americans are still good people, their country is freaking gorgeous, and the US is exceptional for road-tripping. I was glad for the chance to have mundane little conversations with random fellow campers and service people along my route about our lives at that moment, with no straying into anyone's beliefs on this or that polarizing issue. 

The world has had to talk so much about big, heavy issues for the last three years. I had no idea what any of my friends' views on vaccination were prior to the pandemic, but I sure do now. Once that issue started dividing everyone, all the other simmering divisive points between us boiled over.

I guess it's been a kind of war, all of us taking sides and forming camps of like-minded people where opinions have hardened. And now it's like a habit, and we struggle to fathom how we could ever have anything in common with these people who are so Not Like Us. 

And then you go on a road trip, and meet many nice people. You talk about the things you have in common - the stress of a snowy mountain pass; whether the showers in the public washroom are fixed; how to blow air through a chunk of metal tubing to liven up a lagging campfire. 

All conversations are conducted knowing that you may or may not be across the divide on so many issues. Maybe they vote Republican. Maybe you're a socialist. Maybe they have a gun in their trailer. Maybe you're "woke."  Maybe they support book bans and criminalizing abortion. Maybe you can be ranty on climate change, and downright depressing on the likely fate of the Great Salt Lake.

But in this moment, we're all choosing not to talk about any of that, here at Tumalo State Park or wherever that night's road has ended. 

We do need to find ways to have difficult conversations on big issues, because that's a real thing in these polarized times. But I am grateful for the road-trip reminder that we have a lot more in common as human beings than we do dividing us. 

Get a job, raise the kids, stay well, enjoy your spare time - whatever our differences, most of us want a version of that. There's a lot to talk about right there. And once we all remember how we all ultimately want the same thing, it might be a little easier to talk about the hard stuff. 

I had a moment at the aquarium in Boise where a bunch of us were all gathered around trying to lure swimming manta rays up to give them a little pet. (It is an exquisite experience if you have yet to try it.) 

Looking around at the all-ages faces and cultural influences on display around the ray pool, it struck me that we would probably get into an ugly, protracted argument on any number of the big issues. But at that moment, we were just a bunch of dazzled strangers smiling goofily at each other at the feeling of a manta ray choosing to swim to our hands.

We are different, but we are so much the same. Thank you, Roadtrip 2023. I needed that.


Curious about the trip itself? Find me on Facebook - I documented my trip there and my postings are all public.