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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

Let’s let our emotions get in the way of politics

Many will say that with 2022 finally behind us, we have an opportunity to start anew and forget about the past; to move on and ignore the years of political tension on Notre Dame’s campus that accurately reflect the larger-scale crises in the United States. So, how do we move forward without disregarding all previous conflicts? The answer is discussion. This might seem simple since we’re told to “just talk to one another” or, if all else fails, to ignore and alienate. We often get emotional, defensive about what we stand for because “how could someone not see that I’m clearly right?” We are human, after all, and, whether we like it or not, feelings are a part of our decision-making process; so instead of ignoring them, let’s consider our empathy as a common ground that we can stand on together.

Political views and morals are so closely intertwined that there is no use pretending that a person can be totally apolitical. The inseparability is especially prevalent at Notre Dame, where around 80% of the student population identifies as Catholic, and the university houses the largest pro-life student group in the nation, Right to Life. Most universities in the U.S. might feel overwhelmingly liberal, but because of the nature of Notre Dame’s students, there’s more of a balance between right-leaning and left-leaning perspectives. Thus, there is more diversity regarding political ideologies and, consequently, more in-fighting between people of varying views.

Students at a university like Notre Dame have a special opportunity to interact directly with people of very different views, whom they might not have encountered before. Instead of branding someone as a specific type of person due to a one-worded answer about their political party, take the opportunity to learn why others hold the views that they do. The goal isn’t to make the other person “switch sides,” but rather for you both to interact with people with whom you might vehemently disagree. In the end, you might end up strengthening your own political stance or questioning your views, but you will always become more educated in some form or another.

In the U.S. government, there is an expectation of being utterly loyal to one’s political party, limiting the possibilities of working with the other party because of constant aggression between members; at least, that’s what the headlines show. Hot-button issues like abortion and guns are shown as black-and-white: you’re either for or against, and you identify as either Republican or Democrat based on that decision. But last month, members of Congress exemplified bipartisanship through the advancement of federal workforce benefits, which leads the country closer to a “modern, customer-focused government” that is better for all people. The people who took on this challenge of repairing the government from the base might not get interviews on news channels like those speaking on the more controversial idea of free healthcare. Still, their work is often more meaningful since instead of constantly fighting on the same issues, they’ve found a way to move past and focus on what’s more important: our country’s future.

Regardless, there is no obligation to tolerate someone who has discriminatory or harmful ideologies. Attacks on marginalized groups and people are unacceptable even when hiding behind the curtain of politics and free speech. There is a difference between trading viewpoints and offering reasonable, non-inflammatory explanations and simply using a conversation as an opportunity to elicit an emotional reaction through buzzwords. This doesn’t mean that complex or controversial dialogues should be avoided, but, as with all conversations involving conflicting viewpoints, those involved must take steps to have a productive meeting. Interestingly, this consists of focusing more on your emotional reason for your views rather than spitting back statistics. Humans are naturally empathetic, and we can understand one another better by showing why something is worth getting defensive over, why something is meaningful to us.

As we start our second semester of the school year, let’s continue moving forward as a community. Liz Joyner, the founder and CEO of a nonpartisan public educational forum named Village Square, writes that “facts and figures rarely persuade” and recommends “appealing to [others’] better angels rather than their inner statistician.” Former psychiatrist and the founder of Smart Politics Karin Tamerius also adds that the way to establish a connection with someone with contrasting opinions is “usually around things like values and goals and emotions” since that’s how we “find commonalities” and build a trusting relationship that allows us to hold those difficult conversations.

I encourage you to have a conversation this week with someone of a different notch on the political spectrum. It can be a friend, a family member, an arch-nemesis...Sit down, talk about your day, your interests: find your common ground. Then mention one of your morals and find similarities, ask questions and most importantly, keep your mind and heart open. If you want to learn more or have a diverse environment to do so in, no matter your political party or knowledge of current affairs, I encourage you to join us at a BridgeND meeting. We begin on Jan. 23 and meet every two weeks in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1 South W106. We welcome all, so I hope to see you there. Only when we learn from all perspectives can we become well-rounded and educated citizens. Let’s create a generation that works together, instead of against each other.

Isabel Olesinski is a junior double-majoring in Political Science and English with a minor in Constitutional Studies and a creative writing concentration. Heralding from downtown Chicago, she currently resides in Johnson Family Hall. Isabel serves as the President of BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.