Listen/Learn/Engage. The following is a continuation of our series of columns written by Shepherd University students, faculty, and staff on the topic of political civility and discourse.

MAGA Guy and Biden Bro: Meet Your New Roommate By Emily Keefer

Emily Catlett is an English Education Major at Shepherd University and writes a Monthly Columnist for The Journal Newspaper in Martinsburg.

What would you do if you had to live with someone who you already knew you’d have nothing in common with? Would it be an accepted challenge to find common ground or at least become civil? Or is this something you would shy away from and grow hateful toward?

I ask readers to imagine this somewhat humorous learning situation that also desperately needs a resolution in this scenario and our world: it is the first day of your next Fall semester of college. Colleges and universities around the United States have been given the go-ahead in opening classrooms back up for the Fall 2020 semester with restrictions. Two college sophomores, Jake and Brad, are thrilled to continue their work and study in the Political Science Department. The two will be rooming together in a suite on campus, and they don’t agree on anything at all. This should be fun.

Jake finishes packing his bags and happily plans to leave his Trump 2020 hat out on his dresser to wear proudly to move-in day tomorrow. The hat’s “Make America Great Again” slogan will show everyone on campus who he stands behind in the upcoming election.

Jake’s assigned roommate, Brad, is in the middle of hanging his “Biden for President” sign on the wall with tape above his desk when Jake walks into the room on move-in day the following day.

Brad tapes his poster as he looks at Jake’s hat and laughs. As a return gesture, Jake tips his hat and scoffs at his new roommate’s choice in wall décor. They both continue to unpack as they think to themselves, “this isn’t what I signed up for”.

Jake and Brad are both hungry and go to get food at the dining hall. These two are not completely uncivil, they simply found out who the other supports in the upcoming November Presidential election. This situation makes them feel as if they can’t talk to one another and have nothing in common, when they were expecting someone that they could become good friends with. At the dining hall, one chooses a burger and the other chooses a sandwich. They both think to themselves in that moment, “See we can’t even agree on food”. These two, like so many others, are focusing on the perceived misinformed opinion of the other person.

Jake and Brad had open minds about each other before seeing their choice in political party nominee affiliation. Why does this change for the two students? Why does this change for many people? What can Jake, Brad, and the rest of us do to fix the judgmental approach to the situation?

Jake and Brad both come out of the food service line and look for a table with their own friends from last semester. It seems as if none of them have arrived yet. Jake and Brad make eye contact, decide on the same table, let out a huff of frustration and sit down to sip their sodas; both chose a can of Pepsi. As roommates and classmates, Jake and Brad decide to use this opportunity to be civil with each other and to learn from the other. Perhaps they talk things out because they both liked Pepsi or perhaps because both are human and are entitled to their beliefs and political viewpoints. In time, they recognize that their differences are an opportunity for growth, even if it is uncomfortable.

As the colliding political views of many Americans become more dividing on a daily basis, sadly, we have grown to expect that the “MAGA guy” and the “Biden Bro” will dislike and disrespect the other. But is there no hope for these ‘opposites’ to be drawn together, to strengthen one another for the common good?

Political leader, Nelson Mandela once said, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”. It is important, when interpreting this quote, to understand that light stems from positivity and hope. When political leaders, students, and citizens tear each other down by trying to diminish the light in another person simply because their opinions are not the same – that is the kind of world that is being created, not one of light.

If we want the world to shine and grow in strength, it is important to remember that we must form educated opinions, be willing to share that knowledge, but also have the desire to listen to others and not diminish or shut down their opinions simply because they differ from our own. We always have something to learn. The former President of South Africa also said, “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others”.

As educated voters and participants in society, we have a responsibility to listen to others, consider what they believe, and find similarities for the change we are all looking for regarding the greater good.

The only way these two college students were going to be healthy friends and roommates, is if Jake and Brad both remained faithful to their own opinions while also listening to and considering the other. It is crucial that we have opinions, find our information on credible and nonbiased sources, and most importantly, it is important to be confident enough in ourselves that we can listen to another opinion without feeling like the other person is attacking us. Maybe if we could all remember the desire that we have deep down to see good in the world, if we remain open-minded, educated, and kind — the light will shine once again.