I write a political opinion column for a newspaper. For years, I was labeled in and by the paper as “Just right of center.” A colleague of mine who was liberal got to be labeled “Just left of funny,” That seemed unfortunate. Everyone wants to be called funny! I bet he got asked out to happy hour by readers. Being right of center just gets you a lot of hate mail. I always joke that in the south, I’d be considered liberal; In the Pacific Northwest, I’m sometimes considered a right-wing nut.
Being conservative in a left-leaning land has been interesting, and sometimes lonely, but overall great for my career. I often remark that while I don’t agree with affirmative action, I’ve benefitted from it. I was a young, conservative woman in the right place at the right time in the mid-90s when my career began.
I didn’t plan on becoming a columnist. I was going to college to become a lawyer. But while majoring in political science, I started seeing a lot of poli-sci peers graduating and not finding work -- work I would need to one day afford law school. I thought, “Ohhh. I need a marketable skill.” So I switched schools and majors and fell in love with column writing. While a student at Western Washington University, I was asked by The Bellingham Herald if they could hire me as a community columnist. My work had been showing up in the college’s paper and they thought I’d be useful on their page.
One of the first columns I wrote made a fellow student super angry. Angry enough that as I was walking across campus one day she walked up to me and said, “You’re THAT Elizabeth Hovde, aren’t you?” I answered, “I am.” She then pointed her finger sternly and close to my chest and said, “I recognize you because you’re on my dartboard.” She walked away as I murmured, “Thanks for reading me.”
The confrontation taught me two things: That I often wouldn’t be liked in my chosen career. Heck, I was already on a house’s dartboard. Second, it taught me that whenever someone puts a “that” in front of your name, it’s probably not a good thing. It’s true. Still today, if someone likes my work, they often approach me and say, “You’re Elizabeth Hovde!” If they don’t like what I think and write about, they often give me the first name, “That.”
The experience was good training and a head’s up that this is what I had to be prepared for if I was going to make a living espousing my opinion on political and social issues.
I think a lot of people have been learning a similar lesson this year. With a new president, a change in the political climate and social media alive and well, it seems everyone is suddenly politically interested and actually reading about politics. Donald Trump just might be the answer to newspapers’ problems! With Trump regularly insulting us journalists, people might actually start to see their news as something worth paying for. (Probably not. People like free.)
Most social circles used to be devoid of political conversations. Now you can’t avoid one. Facebook used to be the place that I, a single mom and writer with no real ability to socialize with another adult on a daily basis, went to for socializing. Now it gives me more work: There are dozens of articles posted that a political junkie like me can’t keep from reading. Worse, there are often snippy, superior or uninformed posts that I cannot resist commenting on. As a result, I go to Facebook far less in 2017. I don’t want to be that woman you avoid talking to at functions, after all.
When I do give in to temptation and leave a comment, I feel fortunate to have been trained by column writing and the hate mail it’s generated for me the last 20 years.
Finding common ground has been a career goal, as has representing Christ. Since I sometimes intertwine my faith in a column and say I strive to follow Christ’s guidance, I never want to misrepresent what that looks like or give people who already don’t like my work a reason to throw Christ in the garbage with my column.
That means trying to take the high road, even when someone tells you that you're on their dartboard. It means being friendly to coworkers in a newsroom even when you accidentally walk by when they’re trashing your opinion or character. It means giving people kindness and attention. You never know how much they need and if you’re the only one to give it. It means listening. And I think it means pointing out common ground you share. Look; You’ll find it.
Many times, I’ve answered a piece of hate mail from a reader with a reconciliatory tone and get a second message from them apologizing for insulting me or making me the target of their anger. I often gain a contact who can help me better understand the other side of an issue -- and what buzzwords to avoid so I can get my message across without the other side shutting down. I still get to represent who I am, being mindful of Whose I am.
We christians are Christ’s ambassadors, and common ground leads to higher ground. One by one, we can find it and then walk there with our ideological foes. What a privilege.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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