“Don’t assume that what you voted against is what they voted for.” When I read that tip from Nealin Parker in USA Today this week, I instantly recognized one of the nastiest myths in our politics: the idea that a different choice is a rejection of our values. Or, to put it in more emotional terms, that if they oppose what you support, they must hate what you love. But what if they don’t?
Certainty is the archvillain of curiosity. When you think you know, you won’t think to ask. And assumptions? Those are certainty’s sneaky little minions, keeping your mind narrow and your judgments sharp.
But there’s a hack here. Catch an assumption in the act and you can turn it into a question, reveal its doubts, and search for truth. Does everyone who votes to restrict abortion hate women? Or everyone who votes to restrict guns hate liberty? Is everyone who worries about election security an enemy of democracy? Can anything be that simple and still be true? This makes me think of a man named David Iwinski. Before I got to know and deeply admire him, David joined a Braver Angels debate just after the January 6 riots to argue that voter fraud was a serious problem. Watching him, I caught myself assuming: This guy must hate what the other side is saying about voter suppression. But he didn’t. As my conservative colleague April tells it in her wonderful column for the Deseret News, David listened to these very different concerns from his fellow debaters and “spoke of coming away appreciating how closely connected suppression was to the question of fraud and how both must be ‘addressed simultaneously and systemically.’” David went on to found Braver Angels’ Trustworthy Elections Initiative, which brings conservatives and progressives together to make sure our elections are something everyone can rely on. Bottom line: Don’t believe the assumptions. Ask the questions! We share more values than we think, and we are more than capable of figuring the tough stuff out.