It started at a Sunoco in rural West Virginia, as all good stories do.
While traveling from Ohio to North Carolina for vacation, we stopped for gas and a bathroom break, both of which are common in a car with a V8 engine and potty-training toddlers. What was uncommon was an interaction with a guy at Sunoco.
We pulled up to the pump and saw him: aged before his time, wearing ragged clothes and drinking something out of a paper bag. We'll call him Dave.
My wife took kid #1 to drain his tank while I filled the car's tank with kid #2. Then I took kid #2 inside for his turn. Walking by Dave, he waved and said how handsome my kid is (he's not wrong). The first surprising moment.
I then brought kid #1 outside, and Dave mentioned how he looks like a troublemaker (also, not wrong). Dave then offers to buy ice cream because kid #1 reminds him of his grandkids. The second surprising moment.
But we're not done.
Dave then offered me the keys to his four-wheeler parked around the corner because my kids would "love to go for a ride." They would have (as would I), but it would have taken an hour to get back in the car, so we had to decline. Nonetheless, we had our third surprising moment in five minutes.
Dave was not on his first drink, but we spent some time chatting about our families and vacation. I would venture to guess Dave and I have different views on most issues that dominate the headlines. And you know what? As we talked about family, vacation, and four-wheelers, it didn't matter.
I had another four hours on the road to think about the interaction with Dave and came to a realization: we let politics play way too significant of a role in daily life.
Too often, we filter out others based on political beliefs, whether or not their beliefs are real or perceived. Stances on headline issues, which often don't impact day-to-day life, are too often why we don't even talk to people.
We use politics as a reason to exclude instead of finding ways to include. We're lazy.
Money and politics go hand-in-hand, and it's no surprise that politicians stoke anger, fear, and division. Political division in America is the worst it's ever been, and I'm not sure many politicians want to change that. It's how they get more money, more votes, and more power. Is there any other reason that Democrats send anti-gun fundraising requests shortly after mass shootings? And Republicans send out fundraising requests to fight the Democrats' fundraising request?
Not to be Pollyannaish, but we can short-circuit this divisive cycle. We have more in common with each other than we know. If Dave and I can get along enough for it to be the highlight of the road trip, then just about any two people can find common ground.
It's time to actively look for ways to connect with people rather than disregarding them because they checked a different box in the last election.