The Mayday Experiment: Conversations and Caucuses

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The idea behind the Mayday Experiment has always been about gentle conversation, to both educate about and inspire sustainable living, but also to listen to people’s anxieties, fears or outright denial about climate change, and document this moment in time. I have always been aware that these conversations can only be productive if they are calm, neighborly and friendly. There is simply too much anxiety and too much propaganda around the subject for any other approach to make sense.

However, I am a fiery, passionate arguer who loves a good debate, as anyone who has trolled my Facebook page could tell you. Good debate is difficult and takes work, and isn’t always the first thing out of our mouths: It takes thoughtfulness and calmness. But because text is so difficult to interpret, even the most rationally thought-out words, things that I feel I am saying clearly and calmly, can be misinterpreted as angry or shrill. We all have things blow up, especially on the powder-keg of the Internet, where our fingers often move faster than our brains.

Talking to people through the Mayday Experiment was meant to slow this process down…to meet people where they are, to invite them into my home for a cup of tea, to have a neighborly, friendly conversation where smiles and inflection can fill in for the ranty caricatures we build of our opponents in our minds. To change the conversation, one person at a time. This may be impossible and pie-in-the-sky, but the goal is still fixed in my mind.
Which is why I am looking forward to participating in the caucus tonight. After a month of arguing with people of all political stripes online, I’m ready to meet my neighbors face to face and hash out the issues, with the benefit of faces attached to names…though since I have not caucused before, it’s possible the cartoony imagined version of this event in my mind supersedes reality.  Nevertheless, I’m ready — and excited. As someone who has always been an independent, I registered Democrat to participate, and will be lining up at Manual High School early this evening with my friends and neighbors.

I generally strive to be a careful debater. Though I’m not perfect and my buttons do get pushed, I try to keep things factual and impersonal, not resorting to personal attack and backing up my statements with links when needed. However, with the presidential elections looming, lately I have largely failed at staying calm, and have been called “abrasive” and “harsh,” and even accused of “dramatic hostility” by friends who support the opposing candidate. But whatever: Women are constantly accused of being “too emotional” in our arguing (and when do you hear this tone-policing directed at men, really?); I am immune at this point to whatever anyone wants to say to me. As another friend advised, “to thine own self be true.” Which is the first rule of being a woman on the interwebs these days, since no matter what you say someone will surely find it wrong.

Part of the problem in our political discourse, I believe, is our oversensitivity about things that we perceive as “negative.” Saying anything about a candidate is seen as an “attack,” no matter how factual the statement is. Americans are a people who embrace “the power of positive thinking” as an answer to problems; it is perhaps why we have such difficulty embracing the enormity of climate change. I always marvel when I hear people say, “I don’t like to watch the news, it’s too much negativity!” as though the “negativity” of bad things happening in the world disappears when we turn our backs, or as though it is someone else’s responsibility to pay attention to such things.

But still: If I don’t feel I can prove it, I won’t say it; I take an academician's approach to debating even trivial matters. It’s the nerd in me; I can’t help it. Of course, I also can’t help when I get too crazy passionate, too invested…I am told I can be like a dog with a bone when I feel I’m right.

Change happens through conversation; it’s important. Whether it's Black Lives Matter protesters rightly interrupting a speech or friends bantering on Facebook, it is no accident that the tenets of free speech were deemed the first order of importance in the amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The hard conversations we need to have — about gender, about race, about climate - are painful, because growth is painful. But we need to have these conversations to grow ourselves.

The Mayday Experiment is growing me, each day: presenting challenges I never could have expected and showing me just how hard this project of "changing our lives" is from a personal perspective. But as painful as the growth has been, I am thankful for it and striving towards more every day. Sometimes I marvel at what I didn’t know just a year ago that I know how to do now; in another year, who knows what I will know?

This is why we need to fix our broken dialogue, our way of speaking past one another and claiming that something being our “opinion” is somehow equal to it being Fact, minus quotation marks, with a capital “F.” Our culture of spin, photoshop, conspiracy theories and reality television has come home to roost in this campaign season in particular, and friends from around the world are marveling at the crazy U.S. election, not without some fear.

However, if this political season has taught me anything, it’s that I have some work to do on “gentle persuasion” in order to fulfill my goals with the Mayday Experiment. I will no doubt run up against people on the road who have strong opinions that I also consider wrong, so it behooves me to practice a patient and calm demeanor — so that when the time comes, I can engage in a conversation without it becoming a fight. But that can wait…until after the caucus.

Don’t forget to vote!  

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging out her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on Show and Tell. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here or here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.

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