For years my husband has listened to conservative talk radio from time-to-time. There have been many people, myself included, who have wondered why he would do such a thing, given his strong political ideas regarding social justice initiatives. Because I am well aware of his political ideology, I have had great difficulty grasping why he would listen to some of the hateful, in my view, commentary, especially given that the claims made through public calls to the station have often been ignorant opinions, again in my view, and likely insulting to racial minority group members. At any rate, he listened without much comment. Even more, he seldom appeared to feel annoyed or put off, so to speak, by the comments.
Over the years I have also heard him have in-depth conversations with people who were clearly on the other side of the political argument without even a change to his facial expression; he simply let them speak freely without interruption. Although he did sometimes let them know toward the end of the exchange that he disagreed with points of their argument, most often he simply let whoever was on the other end of the exchange speak. He would end the conversation by telling the individual that he enjoyed the interaction and then he would simply go on about his business. In some cases as he walked away he would say something under his breath regarding the nuttiness of the argument, but that small comment was usually the end of it. In other cases, he would simply say, “Now, that’s an interesting fellow.”
One day after one of these exchanges I asked him why in the world he was repeatedly subjecting himself to such crazy talk during his off hours. I went on to express to him that his choice to engage in these types of discussions seemed to me like some sort of self-imposed torture. He then told me that he had to hear all of the political commentary in order for him to know what he was up against and how he could most effectively fight it. According to him, he was acting as a social justice “spy” of sorts. He currently views himself the same way; always doing a little recon while we are out in our community.
According to Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Heart, overcoming the struggles of social war involves “a political decision, popular mobilization, organization, political intervention, and lucid, hopeful, coherent, tolerant leadership” (1997, p.50). Tolerance is a necessary component of fighting against elitism and oppressive realities. This tolerance for differing perspectives does not, however, mean that all points of view are accepted, promoted, or that agreements are forged wherein concessions would ultimately compromise the political strategy of the left. Coherence between what one speaks and what one does cannot be compromised. The commitment to coherence, therefore, exacts a limit on tolerance (Freire, 1997).
In this sense, rather, tolerance simply involves a willingness to respectfully exchange different points of view (Freire, 1997). Freire stated that dialogism is “a requirement of human nature and also a sign of…[a] democratic stand” (1997, p. 92). Freire additionally noted that it is counter-productive to only interact with others who verify one’s truth, especially where creating transformative social movement toward a more humane society is concerned. For Freire, isolation results in the absence of important knowledge that is needed to strategize movement toward a more people-oriented society.
While civility implies tolerance of a certain amount, you might also find it helpful to engage in a little social justice based “spying” yourself. It is important to know what is looming in the distance as well as what is driving that particular vehicle in order to arrange the most effective road blocks to oppressive politics.
The truth is that my husband has a commitment to his political ideas, which include creating a society where all people can equally pursue their own ideas of success. I can tell you, though, that he has had good, civil interactions with all types of people. He has a strong commitment to a dialogic atmosphere. “Dialogism presupposes maturity, a spirit of adventure, confidence in questioning, and seriousness in providing answers” (Freire, 1997, p. 99).
We live in an overwhelmingly conservative part of the country, where we are likely to encounter political disagreement with our community members on a daily basis. However, that disagreement does not mean that we cannot get learn from our political differences, or that we cannot find commonalities along other domains of public life while still maintaining coherence between what we say and what we do.