Close Connections: Loving and democracy

By Nancy Norman

NancyNormannewmugwebLoving and democracy. Maybe the two hardest things in life to practice. “Practicing” is the key word here, not just believing. Certainly, two that don’t get any easier with age. And yet we keep extending our hearts to love, and fighting for democracy.

What’s so difficult about practicing loving and democracy?

If you’re like me and grew up believing that love comes naturally, it’s been quite an adjustment. I believed loving was like Ozzie and Harriet—funny and kind, and it just happened when two people fell in love. Democracy also makes bold claims such as equal rights and justice for all–as if that’s a given. I don’t think so. Both loving and democracy take work!

To love someone and to give those around us the right to their own beliefs as democracy demands can both make us feel unsafe. In loving, we know the risks and reality of being hurt. We commit, then we face possible desertion through death or happenstance. To practice democracy, we have to tolerate our feelings of fear and anger (even hatred) when those we vehemently disagree with express their views. We feel threatened and have to live with it.

The values behind loving and democracy are sometimes very difficult to live up to. “Love is patient, love is kind.” Loving is also impatient and mean. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” Hmmm….Does that mean if we’re loving, we don’t hold grudges? Another tall order.

Being loving doesn’t always beget a loving response. And just because we don’t condemn another for his or her views doesn’t mean someone won’t condemn us for ours. It’s not fair, but living with the unfairness is part of the challenge.

In both loving and democracy, each vote counts. Majority rules, but who’s the majority in a twosome? Both people. Deep democracy holds that “absolute truth cannot be known with certainty, and therefore allows for diversity, tolerance, openness to change and room for error” ( To give up the idea of “one right answer” and the illusion of “winning” allows us to respect each others’ rights to our opinions. The smallest circumstance counts: where to eat, what movie to see, how to hang a picture.

When we practice loving and democracy, we recognize that conformity doesn’t trump diversity. When we don’t like what’s expressed, our Constitution and good communication between partners says we can say our piece. Maybe part of what keeps us believing in love and democracy is that more than one idea can lead to better solutions. In relationships, even if one person’s solution isn’t literally better, showing respect for each other’s suggestions is better for the relationship in the long run. Trust increases when we feel respected and listened to.

Despite the challenges of practicing loving and democracy, we are steadfast in both. Both are imperfect states of being, no matter how hard we try. Both are great dreams with high ideals. Without loving, life is barren. Without democracy, we lose our liberty. Loving and democracy are both worth fighting for.

Nancy Norman is a licensed clinical social worker, musician with the duo The Storys and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at




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