How to make political conversations productive

To: Americans

From: Lauren Brill (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Americans, 

Growing up, I witnessed how angry politics can make people. Before holiday dinners with friends or family, my mom would remind my dad not to talk about politics to prevent unnecessary fighting or drama. As someone who fervently advocates for unity over division, for a long time, I disliked politics and avoided the conversation altogether. 

But recently, my approach to politics has changed. 

America consists of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. While we are all governed through one system, the American experience is different for us all. From policies to fashion, each of us views day-to-day life in America through a unique lens. 

Thanks to The Unsealed, a company I created to help people share their truth, I have had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the world from other people’s perspectives. Many times, I have realized how blind I am to circumstances that are not my own. 

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Sometimes, my ignorance has been as basic as clothing. 

About a year ago, I ghostwrote a story for Lindsay Hollister, an actress who struggled with her weight. At 5-9, she has weighed as much as 390 pounds.  Lindsay explained that fashion designers often don’t make clothes for bigger women, even though 68 percent of women in this country wear a size 14 or larger. Because I have always worn a smaller size, I didn’t previously recognize the magnitude of the problem or the harm it causes many women. 

While we are all governed through one system, the American experience is different for us all.

In 2019, I worked with actor, entrepreneur and former athlete Thomas Q. Jones on an open letter about his experiences as a successful black man in America. In one conversation, he told me if someone robbed him or broke into his house, he wouldn’t be comfortable calling the police. In either of those moments, he thought that calling the police could put him in greater danger. It took me, a white woman, a second to process his mindset. My whole life, I instinctively called 911 if I ever needed help.

My ignorance did not stop there. One time, my career reminded me that we never know the full picture of someone’s life unless they share it with us. 

George passed away just weeks after writing a letter on The Unsealed.

When I was working as a sportscaster in Cleveland, I covered an athlete named George Atkinson III.  He was a running back for the Browns. One night, I ran into him and a few players at a local restaurant. 

I spoke to George for a couple of minutes and I thought to myself, “This guy has it made.” 

He was a good-looking, nice guy, playing in the NFL after starring on the field at the prestigious University of Notre Dame. His life seemed like most 20-something-year-old guys’ dreams. However, when George shared with me his life story for The Unsealed, I learned that his mother had schizophrenia before she passed away. His twin brother committed suicide. And at the time, he was struggling with depression. I was shocked to discover the extent of the challenges he faced. Furthermore, two months after the interview, George sadly passed away (the family did not release the cause of death). 

These stories may not appear overtly political, but they exemplify how our circumstances cause us to see the world differently, affecting how our families or we opine on policies related to healthcare, government services/programs and the justice system. Also, personal experiences can impact how we measure a candidate’s character or value a given issue. 

Our diversity makes clashing opinions inevitable and politics brings that conflict to the forefront, especially today – Election Day. 

Today, if we haven’t already, many of us will exercise our constitutional right and vote.  Whether it be at the grocery store or on social media, I am sure we will all see emotions running high and anger bursting at the seams. 

To this day, I still don’t like the fighting that follows politics, but I no longer believe avoiding the conversation is the answer. Staying mute won’t help us unite or progress. Instead, I encourage you to engage in tough conversations. But when you do, try focusing less on what you have to say and try looking for what you don’t yet see. 

We are all in this together,

Lauren Brill
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