By JAMES E. RICKMAN
Los Alamos County Council
Politicking has its ups and downs. But one thing I always look forward to during a campaign is talking to people.
I enjoy talking to people even if they don’t necessarily like me or agree with me. Listening to what people have to say gives me an appreciation for other people’s priorities, points of views, biases, fears, aspirations, and overall mood. I find that by talking to people, I can usually find some common ground, even if we hold wildly different opinions about a lot of different things.
I famously remember a conversation with a person who had an obvious dislike for me. I found him, too, to be an unpleasant character. Right about the point where we were going to uncomfortably agree to disagree about everything, the topic of dogs somehow wormed its way into our conversation. Turns out he was as much of a dog person as I am, and suddenly we began chatting and chuckling as if we were old friends. When we ended our conversation, we found it unnecessary to back away from one another.
Conversations lead to common ground. Common ground helps us transcend stereotypes and personal biases. Transcending bias helps dissolve fear, which in turn helps foster understanding and empathy.
Politicking in the age of COVID has been tricky. Social isolation and the lack of meaningful interaction that results from having ideas filtered through impersonal technologies like Zoom or texts has limited our ability to commune and emote with others outside of our immediate circle.
Specifically for me, it has greatly hindered my ability to go out and talk to people door-to-door, which is especially tragic considering where we are in history.
In these tumultuous political times, so few people are talking. Consequently, so many people are stereotyping or vilifying people who social media, news media, and opinion leaders are telling us we ought to loathe—simply because they are “not like us”. These prejudices are working to tear us apart because bias preaches that America is a two-dimensional republic made up of Us-es and Thems. “Those who aren’t like us are against us”, goes the tired old specious argument of division.
But I don’t buy it. I’ve learned that people, regardless of their demographic or background, share a lot in common: Everyone wants to do what’s best for their family, to feel useful, to feel safe and part of a community, to enjoy the camaraderie of friendship, to laugh, to see the fruits of their labor … and to love and feel loved.
Unable to stand it any longer, I recently gloved up and masked up and set out to deliver flyers throughout Los Alamos and White Rock neighborhoods, while several other volunteers—to whom I am extremely grateful—did the same. Despite having limited opportunity to actually talk to people, I still was able to gain some insight into the common ground we all share.
I saw homes where people were obviously devoted to their kids: The tipped over tricycles, sidewalk chalk art, jungle gyms and trampolines, replete with well-worn paths running between them and the nearest door, were all indicators of the importance these people held for their kids.
Some areas had impeccable homes, astoundingly beautiful architectural specimens, that radiated a sense of dignity and order. In some of the older neighborhoods, despite patches of peeling paint and other superficial flaws, the same sense of dignity and order was apparent based on the careful placement of planters, the conscientious raking of pine needles, the hopeful placement of Halloween decorations.
I saw numerous homes for sale and many more vacant houses than I expected to encounter. When approaching homes, I smelled casseroles cooking or backyard barbecues. I heard wind chimes of every scale, key, and register.
No matter where I went, I saw evidence of Community—the yearning to come together in one place and to be part of something safe, beautiful, and comfortable. This is the common ground I encountered even though I was unable to talk directly to many people.
I am committed to preserving the sense of Community we enjoy here, and to finding common ground with everyone who experiences Los Alamos in a slightly different way. Through transparency, discourse, inclusion, and participation, we can all work at finding common ground that will invite us not to back away from one another, but to walk forward together and embrace an exciting future.
Please vote if you haven’t done so already.
Editor’s note: Readers are encouraged to fact check statements made in letters and opinion pieces.