Love the other party as your own

October 22, 2013 -- Living City

Love the other party as your own

“The answer isn’t to run away, but to stay:” Despite the difficulties, a retiree gets involved in politics — and becomes a bridge between the different parties.

By Gail Giaccobe

I remember my utter surprise when I asked my good friend some years ago what she thought I should do upon my retirement from teaching. “Go into politics” she said. I just stared at her in total amazement.

Me, in politics? Are you kidding? If she had said to become a ballerina or a sculptor, it would have made more sense to me. But politics? It was the furthest thing from my mind.

I have been retired from public high school teaching since 2001, and what have I been doing since? Working in the world of politics! How on earth did this happen? It happened when I heard Focolare’s founder, Chiara Lubich, say that politics is the “love of all loves,” a way to serve others concretely. Certainly this was what I wanted to do with my time after retiring!

So I began to work as a volunteer for different candidates I thought should be elected to public office. I felt these people would make a difference and the right difference in society. Some of them won and some didn’t. But I refused to give up; if one lost, I would seek others whom I felt were good and I would work for them.

This all sounds very easy, but it really isn’t. Not all of my relatives and friends agreed with the candidates I have felt were worth working for. Nor do we all belong to the same political party.

One particular friend belongs to the Democratic Party; I belong to the Republican Party. We have always tried to respect one another’s point of view, but it isn’t always easy to “disagree graciously.” Chiara has told us that we should love the other’s country as our own, the other’s religion as our own and the other’s culture as our own — which almost seems easier than “to love the other’s political party as our own.”

This friend and I both have chosen to work for a united world. We share the same values and desire for unity. Keeping this in mind, we decided to give it a try; to concretely love the other’s party as our own. So I attended two Democratic functions with my friend and she has come with me to Republican meetings.

I would be introduced as her Republican friend, to show that we can participate in each other’s political events in order to get to know their positions without judging anyone. Everyone was always very kind and gracious to me at these functions, and I always felt this was due to the true relationship they saw between my friend and me.

Not long ago both she and I were discussing how there were many things in each party we didn’t agree with, and we were both thinking about leaving our respective parties and voting as independents. But later we decided to stay within our original party so that we could bring about a new spirit of collaboration and mutual understanding within and between the parties. The answer isn’t to run away but to stay, listen and love our neighbors. That’s the only way to bring about change.

More recently, another friend of mine who also lives the spirituality of unity invited me to go with her to a Democratic candidate’s fundraiser.  We have had many lengthy and lively political discussions, but I felt this was an opportunity to deepen our relationship despite our opposing political positions.

So I attended the event with her and tried to love the people I met. At one point, the candidate came up to me, and we began to talk.

I liked her right away. She told me that, if elected, she planned to immediately sit down with the Republicans and work with them, not against them. I told her that I agreed with her, and at a certain point in the conversation she asked if I had planned to run for office. When I said no, she said, “Too bad because you are such a good Democrat.”

I began to laugh, and then she said, “You are a Democrat, aren’t you?” When I shook my head no, she was astounded and said, “Then what are you doing here?” So I explained that my friend didn’t want to come alone, and how we both wanted to build bridges and work together for the common good. It was a beautiful moment of unity as the candidate and I agreed that working together was the most important thing.

Before leaving that evening, I wished her all the best for her election and her future endeavors in politics.
She was very grateful and said, “I hope we meet again soon.” As I left I thought, “I must have lived the ‘loving the other’s party as your own’ to such an extent that she was convinced that I was in fact of her party!”

Encouraged by this evening, my friend who invited me to the event decided to continue to volunteer for her candidate and also to come with me to my political events to give witness to a new political style.