it’s early may, the year before an election, and it’s happening: candidates are announcing their bids for the upcoming presidential election. as i drove to dance class this morning i listened to reports about the newest entries in the race and learned where they are campaigning. “here we go.” i thought to myself, rolled my eyes, and hopped out of the car. returning an hour later, having danced and sweated my dread away, a wholly different news story drew me in. this one included an interview with caroll spinney, the muppeteer who voice/empower big bird and oscar the grouch on sesame street. i’ve been looking forward to the movie about his work (and life) so was caught up immediately. caroll, speaking as big bird, was asked to name a few character traits that have contributed to his long standing success. without missing a beat he said, “i am friendly. i don’t bite or peck.”
“a commitment to that one trait,” i thought, “could change the entire election season completely.”
sometimes i wonder if people can rise to positions of leadership anymore without biting and pecking. i also think a lot about how much of our communication is shallowly undergirded by these two tendencies. especially the communication that happens online, in socially networked spaces, or exclusively via texted words and especially about things we feel strongly about...like political campaigns.
we, in the west, are a culture that thrives on pointing out the flaws of “the other side.” we promote our own best traits and expose our opponents worst ones. we tend toward selective attention and gather data that supports our assumptions then we use what we collect to bite and peck at the positions, ideas, convictions of those who disagree with us.
what if we were to choose a different way? what if we, like big bird, lived in such a way as to promote friendly interchange? what if we stopped biting and pecking and began inviting? inviting need not threaten us or imply a weakened stance. inviting is not necessarily agreeing. it is not, really, supporting. it is simply creating space for.
when we create space for we are essentially saying, “i am grounded in my own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions so i need not be threatened by yours.” we send the message, “we can disagree and still be kind.” “we can be on opposite sides and treat each other with respect and dignity.” perhaps it even says, “my own ideas, convictions, and values are well examined and can stand to be challenged without me needing to take a defensive stand. if we can maintain a friendly interchange perhaps we’ll both emerge being able to say we respected our selves and each other and, by doing so, we have grown.”
with our constant access to news and information and venues to promote and share the same, the months ahead will be rife with opportunities for us to pick sides. we will be prodded and stirred. ridiculous amounts of money will be spent to get our attention and to enlist us in the process of “spreading the word” about this and that candidate and this and that issue. why not choose friendliness as the guide by which we receive and share this data? why not resist the tendency to bite and peck, choosing instead to listen and respond, invite and engage, and respect our neighbors with wild abandon?