How Can We Be With Each Other?

There's bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
No matter where you live
There'll always be a few things, maybe several things
That you're going to find really difficult to forgive

-The Mountain Goats, Up the Wolves

I have, in the past few weeks, spent most mornings listening to a combination of podcasts that includes all three of the Crooked Media politics casts. In particular, the newest of these, With Friends Like These, is in heavy rotation. The host, Ana Maria Cox, manages, in a way few interviewers do, to hold the line between inviting opposing viewpoints and letting those views get out of hand. Although sometimes I do get mad about the things I hear, I trust her to put a stop to extreme bigotry or untrue statements, which seems like a low bar but it's one others can't seem to meet. As an example of how to hold conversations with people whose opinions are very different from yours, I find it kind of beautiful: not only are the opposing views hosted, but Ana makes a point of bringing on people she knows, drawing out the idea that these are her friends, people she has to be with in the world.

I've spent the better part of the last two years frustrated with my mother. I have danced around the topic here and on other platforms, because the details are beyond the scope of public space, but suffice to say I gave up trying to keep regular contact with her almost a year ago now, and she's shown no signs of wanting to change that. It's what it is, I suppose, but my inability to forgive the situation hangs over my head as what feels like my most egregious point of hypocrisy. My siblings, meanwhile, have been going through their own intricate dances with our parents, but their physical proximity makes the question a different one than it is for me, many hours and an international border away. But when I visit them, or they visit me, or we're planning anything together, or when there's big news, the conversation must always turn to how we'll deal with the Mom Question. How will we navigate the hurts and grievances without causing any further damage? How can we be with one another? 

Since November, the question of how to be with each other has become more pertinent on a much larger scale than complicated family relationships. Knowing our neighbors, our friends, and our family may have taken actions with the express purpose, whether they were aware of it or not, of doing us and people like us harm makes every interaction feel a little more risky. People aren't more bad or good than before, but we've been forced to learn a little more about their goodnesses and badnesses. We've all shown our laundry a little more than we had before. And yet, even when the unknown is so significant to our lives and safety, it can be much simpler to care for strangers, who are necessarily abstract, than it is to care for the people close to us when they've hurt us. It's relatively easy to love someone shallowly, to think about any group of people with kindness, to be generous to someone you'll never see again. It's relatively easy to acknowledge that everyone has bad days or bad circumstances that might lead to aberrant behavior than to deal with the hurt that comes from even a defensible pattern of behavior from those we interact with often. How can we be together in this world of hurts?

What Ana Marie Cox manages to do as a podcast host is to hold space for opposition without creating a forum where people can do harm unchecked, and that's a difficult thing whether we're dealing with intimate friends and family or total strangers in a heated political moment. She manages to balance her moment of "now, hold on, that's not ok," with giving people a chance to explain themselves, even if it means going back and rewording or taking a time out to untie each other's rhetorical knots, and that's a true skill that I respect tremendously. It's an important skill for a good interviewer, but it's also an important skill for people hoping to live in the world together. It's an example of how we can be, at least some of the time, and it's an important one.

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