close connections: love & democracy take work

Love and democracy are two of the hardest things in life to practice. Certainly, they don’t get any easier with age. And yet we keep fighting for democracy and extending our hearts to love.

By Nancy Norman

What’s so difficult about practicing love and democracy? Practicing is the keyword here, not just believing.

If you’re like me and grew up believing that love comes naturally, it’s been quite an adjustment. I thought loving someone 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 those are givens. I don’t think so. Both loving others and democracy take work.

To love someone—and to give those around us the democratic right to their own beliefs—can make us feel unsafe. In love, we know the risks and reality of being hurt. To practice democracy, we have to hold back our own feelings of fear and anger (even hatred) when those we vehemently disagree with express their views. Even when we feel threatened, we have to find a way to live with it.

The values behind love and democracy are sometimes very difficult to live up to. “Love is patient, love is kind…Love keeps no record of wrongs.” Hmmm. Does that mean if we’re to be loving, we don’t hold grudges? Another tall order.
Being loving doesn’t always bring about a loving response. Also, 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 unfairness is part of the challenge of democracy.

In both love and democracy, each vote counts. Majority rules, but who’s the majority in a couple? Both people are. To give up the idea of “one right answer” and the illusion of “winning” allows us to respect each other’s rights to their opinions: where to eat, what movie to see, who to vote for and even how to hang a picture.

When we practice love and democracy, we recognize that conformity doesn’t trump diversity. If we differ from the majority of people, our constitution says we can say our piece anyway. Maybe part of what keeps us believing in love and democracy is that more than one idea can lead to better solutions. In relationships, as in democracy, listening to and showing respect for each other’s suggestions increases trust. Trust is an asset for the future.

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

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