Personal Lives

Negotiator in a Mixed Political Marriage Worries About Country’s Red-Blue Polarization


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Harvard law lecturer Sheila Heen recalls her son’s consternation when he realized his parents had a mixed political marriage.

Ben was only 5 in 2004 when President George W. Bush was challenged by John Kerry. On the day of the election, Heen planned to take her son with her to the polls. The boy refused to go. He was distraught because he had just learned that his mother’s vote would not match that of his father, Heen writes in a New York Times column on modern love.

“You have to agree with Daddy,” Ben pleaded with Heen. Addressing his father, he said, “Tell her.”

Heen and her husband, John, both teach negotiation and conflict resolution. While they differ on politics, they have learned the importance of respect. “As tempting as it is,” she writes, “we can’t demonize those on the other side as idiots who are out of touch, because they’re liable to reach out across the dinner table to touch you (and rather sharply).” She also hopes her children are being nurtured and encouraged to engage in “compassionate, critical thinking.”

“I worry about the increasing separation in our country,” Heen writes, “where we commiserate with the like-minded about the ‘other’ and each have our own ‘news’ networks spinning out selective versions of the latest. I want my children to see that both sides are deeply committed.”

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