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FV 17 | Power Of Conversation

 

Spiritual psychology coach Alexie Foster grew up in a very conservative Christian home. Thus, her environment predisposed her to be pro-life or Republican. In this episode, Alexie chats with Meaghan Lamm about how her upbringing shaped her early political views and when she started to see a shift in her beliefs. She also discusses the importance and power of conversation, sharing some tips on having more productive conversations with your friends and family to learn from one another and share ideas in the process.

In This Episode:

  • How Alexie’s upbringing shaped her early political views
  • When she started to see a shift in her beliefs
  • How to have more productive conversations with your friends and family

Listen to the podcast here:

The Power Of Conversation With Alexie Foster

We’re trying something a little different. I started being more candid with friends who have only known me for a few years that I used to be conservative and say very problematic things. Their surprise got me thinking, how many other people did I know who had experienced the same shift?

I’m chatting with Alexie Foster, a psychologist and coach who made a similar shift from conservative to liberal about her experience and the power of having tough conversations. Ready? Let’s get started.

I’m so excited to talk to you! I’ve really been looking forward to chatting about this topic and sharing different perspectives on how people have changed their views. Just to get started, first tell us who you are and what you do on the internet.

I’m Alexie Foster and on the internet, I am a spiritual psychology coach. It means that I’m coaching women who are recovering from toxic and abusive relationships and situations. I utilize psychology and my background is in mental health. I am a licensed therapist also in the “real world”. I’m combining psychology and spirituality because there’s a spiritual component to being human.

I’m a very spiritual woo-woo person. Talk to me a little bit about your background as a Conservative or Republican if you are ever identified as a Republican.

I grew up in a very conservative Christian home. I was thinking about this and I was like, “How did all this happen?” The message was very clear that if you were a Christian, you were pro-life and you needed to vote for the candidate who is pro-life, and the only candidates that are pro-life are Republican, therefore you must be Republican. That was definitely the teaching that I picked up on.

 

I remember being in high school. It was the first year that I could vote. George W. Bush was being re-elected. I was eighteen. He actually came to my hometown, and I was there at that rally, and it was cool—it was electric. Everybody’s excited and all the energy is in the air and everything like that.

During that time, there were publications that were saying like, “The Evangelical Christian vote is what pushed him to win the re-election.” I was like, “Yeah! We did it!” It’s because that’s who I was then!

From there, I went to a conservative Christian university and literally that fall, I remember we were encouraged to register to vote. The president of the university stood on the stage in the chapel. He told everybody to pull this out and fill it out, and check this box and check that box, and literally told us to checkbox the Republican box—at least that’s what I remember—I don’t remember if he actually said checkmark the Republican box or if it was just very much inferred that that was the one to check. So I was like, “wow!”

That’s crazy because you hear about the Evangelical wing of the Republican party, and it seems like it’s sort of come about in the last few years. Listening to this is like it has been that way for a hot minute because he’s re-election was what, 2004?

Yeah! It’s like one of those things where we haven’t had social media that long though. Maybe that’s the thing.

I definitely think that people have the ability to be more informed. There are downsides to social media and politics of course, because people read and share headlines without fact-checking things, which is a problem.

That’s wild to me. I grew up also in a conservative Christian home, but we were Lutherans. Lutherans are like Catholic-Lite, and there are several different kinds of Lutherans. We were the more liberal Lutherans—I don’t think that’s what they call it. They probably do not like being called that now.

My mom grew up Lutheran. My dad grew up Catholic, and then when my parents divorced, I would go to Lutheran one Sunday, and then I would go to Catholic mass the next Sunday. Somewhere in middle school, we left the Lutheran church and started going to an Evangelical Church pretty much.

Evangelicals are basically nondenominational. I guess they’re their own denomination now.

They are nondenominational and multi-denominational. I think there are several denominations that would fall under the umbrella of the Evangelical Christian.

I would say that I’m not very well versed on different types of Christianity these days.

I went to this college and then I went to grad school. I studied counseling and then I started working in rural Oklahoma. I was working and my clients were Medicaid clients, very low income, and I started seeing how policy directly affects people for the first time in my life.

My eyes were opening up to that like, “This is the application here.” Definitely, my worldview started changing rapidly. I felt like overnight, I definitely went from adhering to Republican just because I was told to, I really did not do the research on that, to now I’m definitely not Republican at all.

That’s so interesting—I made a similar switch. I didn’t go to a conservative university though. Although I didn’t go to school far from Liberty University, which is now currently in the news for all manner of things.

I went to school in a really small town in rural Virginia. I was seventeen in 2004. I hadn’t quite turned 18, like I couldn’t vote for Bush. I wanted to at the time but I received federal grants to teach Head Start which is like a federal preschool program.

I’m familiar with it. I’ve had clients whose children went to Head Start.

That was my first exposure to people who were not upper middle class which is how I grew up, and who very literally had to do some intense things, and how the system was failing them, in effect. It was a very real-world example of how the system is failing and how policy directly affects human beings. So that’s very fascinating.

You said the switch is an overnight thing. Do you remember any sort of single events like a specific person you interacted with or something like that that started to shift your views?

I do remember Obama came out with Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. They offered Medicaid expansion for states, and the Republican Oklahoma governor declined the Medicaid expansion. Like what the hell? Really?

So that—I was working for an agency that bills Medicaid. That would have extremely impacted my clients—it would have made my client load increase. It would have offered Medicaid to more people, and thus it would have helped my field. It literally dinged my salary and not only that, but it kept therapeutic services from thousands of people in the state who were needing it, who were in that gap between not being able to qualify for Medicaid and not being able to afford anything on the marketplace.

With social media, people have the ability to be more informed. Click To Tweet

That’s when I really went like, “I am so done with this Republican bullshit.” She was up for re-election and there was a Democrat opposing her. I was like, “I’m voting for him. I’m going to tell everybody to vote for him.” I did the social media thing, that campaign thing like, “You guys check this guy out. He’s awesome. Here’s why you should vote for him.”

He lost, of course, because Oklahoma is so red. I was just like, “This is ridiculous.” For sure, that whole event in my life, for my colleagues and I, that was a hot topic for quite a while.

At this point when your views start to shift as you become more exposed, are you like in the early twenties or so?

Yeah, I’m probably in my mid-twenties. I definitely want to say like I don’t think that my views necessarily shifted. I’ve always been very pro-human and supporting human beings in all ways. That’s a huge web there. I think what started happening is I started realizing like, “This framework doesn’t fit my values the way I thought it did.” I think that’s really what happened.

Because I was such a good Christian girl, I did what I was told. I was told to be Republican—in so many words. I was definitely influenced. That’s why I gravitated towards that, and then starting to think for myself, it took me a while—but I started to think for myself and realize like, “There’s a lot of discrepancies here. This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t line up.”

Even today especially, I see a lot more people talking about it in the online space. Just talking about, if you say that you’re pro-life and you believe in preventing abortions, but you don’t believe in protecting the sanctity of human life after a certain age, how can you possibly be pro-life? Life isn’t just when you’re a baby or a kid.

Or a fetus!

Exactly!

That’s one of the most interesting things because now that I’m not embroiled in conservatism, because I wouldn’t say that I ever identified as a Republican. I’ve never been registered as anything but an Independent. But my entire family, save for my sister, are still fairly Conservative. I would say my mom is the most moderate Conservative in our family and everyone else is very pro-Trump and all of his policies and things. They’re the people who are like, “We don’t always like the way he says it, but we agree with what he’s saying.”

Now that I’m on the other side of that, I can look at the Republican party from the outside of it and examine it objectively: They’re very good at marketing. When we think about it, they are great at marketing. Pro-life sounds so good. It’s not at all what they’re for. If they were pro-life, they’d support so many welfare programs and food stamps. They’d make asylum easier to achieve and things like that.

They’re not pro-life but it sounds really good on a bumper sticker. That’s always something that’s been fascinating to me—the more that I’ve been separated from it and asked myself questions like, “Why did I believe that?” They’re just so good at marketing.

They really are and it’s interesting. I have a YouTube channel. When I’ve been signing in to my YouTube or I’m pulling up YouTube, the very top video that is being advertised to me or whatever that word is, is Trump’s videos about Biden—it’s like anti-Biden videos. “Phony Biden” I think is one of the things. I’m like, “Are we in kindergarten where we’re name calling?” This doesn’t make sense to me at all.

That’s another thing too that I realized, especially watching the RNC. Watching that—it’s just fear-mongering. That’s literally all that they’re doing.

It’s like they’re coming to take your guns. I told a friend, “If you just read the transcript of that, you would be very confused that it was like 2020 and not 1930 or something.” It’s crazy to me how they market themselves. They really do appeal to people’s fear.

I think the most interesting thing about a lot of Republicans I would say, the pre-Trump era Republicans were pretty racist, as we can see through Obama. But they were largely like you said you were, those single-issue voters. They vote on that issue that’s most important to them. For most people that issue is abortion. They’re like, “We got to vote for the pro-life candidate even if he sucks in all these other areas. He’s going to keep people from killing babies and that’s the most important thing.”

To be fair—and my circle includes a lot of variety of people. In the Christian circle that I still have connections with, I would say, there are Christians who were—and are—very anti-Trump. I don’t want to have a conversation here and assume that all Christians are supportive of Trump whatsoever.

Right—I know quite a few progressives.

It’s very interesting too to look at how Trump in general, like if you look at him from a psychological standpoint, it’s incredible. It’s not really all that surprising that so many people are falling for it because like you said, they’re very good at the fear-mongering.

The messaging is on point. If these are the kinds of seeds you want to sow of like hate and fear, they are doing a really great job, unfortunately.

It sounds like you still have a mix of a lot of people with different sorts of belief systems that you still interact with on a daily basis.

I think probably partly that comes from, I’m a therapist also and I come to my sessions with clients—I do this for my coaching clients also. I come to these sessions as non-judging and as unbiased as I possibly can because I am a human and I am biased but I work very hard at that.

I think I’m successful in maintaining these relationships because I’m willing to agree to disagree with my friends who have different viewpoints than me. I’m also willing to take a step back and look at the bigger picture like, “Why do they think this way?” I would like to come from a place of trying to understand, but I’m also still not going to agree with you. Does that make sense?

Yeah! I was having a conversation with someone the other day and she was like, “It was nice to have a civil conversation with someone who identifies as a Republican—I know we’re never going to agree with each other, but there was no yelling. I was like, is that what our political discussions I’ve come to? Just like gratefulness for no screaming matches.

It doesn’t have to be screaming matches. I think it’s way easier to get inflamed in those political conversations or debates when you’re on your computer typing versus having those conversations in person.

I dunno man, my brother gets under my skin.

Brothers are a different story!

He’s really good at it. He’s also 22 and he knows everything about everything. But I also keep hoping that he’ll expose himself to viewpoints that are different than his as he gets older, but we’ll see what happens.

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I think having those conversations with family members is probably the hardest person to have those conversations with because you know each other so well, you have so much history, and then you have many assumptions about each other too.

That’s true too, and there’s so much more riding on the conversation. There’s a lot of weight to those conversations because sometimes depending on how they turn out, it’s like, “This is going to make Christmas really uncomfortable.”

If you let it, right? We do assign meaning to it like, “If you don’t agree with me or if you don’t see it from my viewpoint or if you think this, then it means this.” If you believe this, then this is the type of person you are.

I think that’s where we’re getting in trouble right now in the political atmosphere, because both sides are taking that approach. “If you think this or you think this, or this is the way that you’re thinking, therefore you are a monster or whatever.”

It becomes very—not overblown, but passionate—very quickly. There’s a lot of finger-pointing that often happens from having real discourse. I remember back to when I started to change my views—working in Head Start was my first exposure to low-income families, neighborhoods, communities, etc.

I didn’t really start to change my views until I moved to another state and lived with a friend who was already fairly liberal. We would just have a bunch of conversations about this. I talk about this in my first episode. She was so patient with me, and I would not be where I am now if she had just gotten frustrated and like screamed at me.

I would just still be like, “Breastfeeding is gross, please cover up your babies,” and all other manner of things that I now believe, I wouldn’t have gotten to this place if she had devolved into like frustration, yelling, and just being like, “Clearly, you’re unsavable because you’re a total monster.”

It’s like this de-personalization. It’s not helpful. I have a hard time with social media like Facebook specifically, for whatever reason. I don’t even do Twitter. Forget Twitter. I get frustrated on Facebook because I see things that people post. Then I see responses and it’s like, “You’re talking to another human being here.” This is a person—like in the flesh person with real feelings and real thoughts.

I know. I have to stay out of the comments sections a lot. Every time I jump into a comment section, I’m like, “Why did I do that? What was I thinking?”

It’s so tempting, right?!

Most of the time I want to see what the conversation is and I think knowing—again, pre-Trump, I think a lot of the conversations were more valuable than they are now, because now you’re right, it does just evolve into a lot of name-callings and nasty things, and horrible things that people feel empowered to say when they’re talking to a computer screen because then they can forget or they can pretend that there’s not a human being on the other end of that.

I think the conversations were more productive before Trump and the explosion or the iteration of the current Republican party and now they’re just so nasty. I’m like, “Ugh, I really have to stop going in there.”

Look at the example though. The President of the United States is a role model. He is a role model—like whoever occupies that office is a role model for the citizens of the United States. So now, people have permission to call names.

Let’s also talk about this because these things are very concerning to me. I see a lot of minimizing, a lot of dismissing, and a lot of gaslighting. It’s such abusive behavior happening at such an executive level. Honestly—not to sound dramatic, but it’s a little heartbreaking!

I mean it is because gaslighting is such an insidious thing because you don’t really realize that it’s happening, especially people who don’t have a namefor it—it’s just a thing that happens over and over again until you feel like you don’t know which way is up or down.

And you’re right, he’s normalizing a lot of really unhealthy abusive behaviors, not just rhetoric—which is also bad. “Fine people on both sides” is a dangerous thing to say, and it has gotten us to where we are now. He normalizes a lot of abusive behavior by like we have him on tape saying things. Then he’s like, “I never said that.” You did, we watched you say it.

“You must have misunderstood my meaning.” He doesn’t even say that—Trump supporters say that, “You misunderstood his meaning. He’s so good!” I don’t know what it is, but it is incredible. I have literally seen friends of mine comment on things like, “That’s not what he meant.” How do you know what he meant?

How do you know? Were you there? Did you ask him? He’s built this fanatical following. They will do anything—anything. That’s a little scary in and of itself, but he has emboldened so many other people, and made so many things political that don’t need to be, i.e. COVID, which are frankly dangerous overall.

I was reading such an interesting article the other day and I want to get your opinion on it before we wrap up. I was reading a really interesting article about population density and how population density affects your political views more often than not.

If you live in a place that has lower population density so there are fewer people per square mile, it’s more rural, you tend to be more conservative. The more rural you are, the more conservative you are because you don’t typically need a lot of the government services that people in higher population density areas need.

Where I grew up, for instance, our local fire department closest to our house that serviced our area was completely volunteer. We lived off of well water. We had propane heat. We lived close to the volunteer fire department, but they were volunteers nonetheless. It took them a minute to get to you, especially if it was like a big fire or whatever. The police were in town so it took them 20 to 30 minutes to respond if you had an emergency.

You had to be self-sustaining.

I grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. We were definitely the ‘burbs, but we were also kind of in the middle of nowhere. Basically, it was like we didn’t need a lot of those things. It was like we don’t need the government butting into our business. We’re fine on our own. We don’t need that. We can take care of ourselves.

Now when you move into a city, it’s like you encounter the homeless population as you’re moving about the city. You live on city water. You live on city power grids and things like that. It’s like you experience on a regular or daily basis public transportation, and sanitation needs, and all this stuff that you expect the government to pay for which is why you tend to see this split of larger cities—even in conservative areas—are more liberal than rural areas. I just thought that was fascinating. I was curious, did you grow up in a smaller town?

It's easier to get inflamed in political conversations when you're on your computer typing versus having those conversations in person. Click To Tweet

I grew up in a smaller city. I grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, which was like a population of 52,000, but it was a town for the rural area in Southern Minnesota. We had a mall and people would come from the surrounding areas. We were big stuff, man!

I had to drive like 45 minutes to get to a mall!

Exactly. We were the hub. We had a lot of people who would drive, 20, 30, 45 minutes even an hour into town to go to the mall. That’s interesting but I grew up conservative because of my religion. The region that I lived in, Minnesota, is typically a blue state. So then I came down here to Oklahoma, which is typically a red state. I’m like the opposite of wherever I live!

I moved out of Northern Virginia which is fairly liberal because it’s fairly close to DC into like the tiny red dot in Michigan, which is on the west side. This is the DeVos country. This is where the DeVos and Prince families are from. It’s like the tiny dot in the lower peninsula of Michigan where it’s like a concentration of Republicans and I was like, “How did I do this?” So I did the same thing!

Oklahoma is very much like that. I follow the trends here, but I had lived in Tulsa for a long time—Tulsa and Oklahoma City tend to be bluer and then the rest of the state is red. If I’m remembering it correctly and I hadn’t looked at like a current map to really get a good pulse or feel on that currently.

But now, we’re homesteading, so we live out in the country. We’re closer to two smaller towns. We go into town and we converse with people. We have conversations and it absolutely is definitely very much the feel of, “We don’t want the government in our business. We want to live off the grid as much as possible. We want to do our own thing over here, and how nice and how wonderful that we’re able to do that.”

That mindset is fascinating to me though because there’s the assumption that the government isn’t already up in your business! They assigned you a number at birth to keep track of you. They’re already all in your business. It’s just so funny, and this is why the Republican party is so good at marketing. It’s because the government is already telling you how much you should pay in taxes, and whether or not you’re allowed to have a license, and stuff like that.

I love that you have a psychology degree. I think that’s amazing. I wanted to ask you as we wrap up here, what advice would you give to people? Because I know I hear from a lot of my progressive friends and very progressive now—I hear a lot from a lot of my progressive friends like converting people or trying to change people’s minds or get through to people like whatever phrasing you want to use is impossible.

I don’t think that it’s impossible. I think it’s more difficult in the current political climate. What advice would you have for people who want to have conversations with their family and friends or maybe even strangers on the internet about how to have those conversations in a way that is productive?

I have so much to say about this and this is the end? First of all, I would say to breathe—breathe. If you’re in your emotions, don’t have that conversation because you can’t have a productive conversation if one or two people are in their limbic system which is where your emotions are housed. If you are like hair standing up on your neck, blood boiling, don’t have the conversation! Go cool off and come back later.

I would encourage people to have conversations where they are asking more questions, than they’re sharing information. Then, also be very careful about the types of questions you’re asking. Don’t ask leading questions. A leading question would be like, “Yes, but don’t you think it’s awful that police are killing black people?” Of course, it’s awful that police are killing black people.

So use an open-ended question. It’s like, “What do you think about the stories in the news lately of police killing black people? What are your thoughts about that?” You hear the difference. I’m not telling you what I think you should say, I’m actually asking you an open question because I want to hear from you.

It’s about communicating to your loved ones or friends that you care about them and you want to understand the way that they think about it or how they have arrived at the opinions that they’ve arrived at. You don’t want to communicate to them that “I just want you to agree with me.”

That—from either side—,it’s not just progressive to conservative or conservative to progressive or whatever. It’s all around. If I’m communicating to you that, “I want you to give me this answer and then I’ll approve of you,” that’s communicating a conditional type of love. That is not really helpful. That doesn’t really serve anybody. That also can play into an abusive power.

It just serves to widen the divide. We’re only going to be able to converse if we agree, or more to the point, if I agree with you, that doesn’t make me feel seen, respected, no matter what side I’m on.

Everybody—every human being on this planet—wants to be seen, wants to be heard, wants to be respected, and wants to be loved.

I also want to say that listening is key here. Don’t listen just to respond. Listen to understand. That’s the thing that frustrates me about having a conversation with my brother is he listens to respond.

I used to watch Dr. Phil but now I don’t because he said stupid things about Coronavirus. I used to watch him a lot. He used to say all the time that if you’re having a conversation with someone else and they finished speaking, and then there’s no pause from you, to figure out what you’re going to say—you’ve heard what they’ve said, you’ve listened to what they’ve said and now you’re rolling their thoughts over in your own mind to formulate your own response—then you’re not actually listening because while they were talking, you were formulating your thought which means you weren’t actually listening to what they were saying. I’ve always thought that was so important.

That’s like, there’s no pause after they’re done speaking, then you were not paying attention—because you were just thinking of what you’re going to say while they were talking.

I think that we’re so trained just to keep a conversation going or whatever. We feel uncomfortable with the pause, with the silence. It’s totally okay to communicate like, “Let me think about that for a second. Hold on. Let me absorb that. Let me process that.”

I’m getting a lot better at that. My friends and I, we have these kinds of conversations all the time, and when somebody brings up something that makes me a little bit uncomfortable, or I have to think about it, I’m like, “That’s interesting. I’m going to have to think about that more, and do a little bit of research.” I’ve become really comfortable with not knowing the answer right away, which I think is also important in conversations like this, too.

I’ll say too, when you’re having these conversations, you don’t have to change someone’s mind in an hour. You can ask them some questions and you can just leave it there—you can ask them some pointed questions and let them chew on it. Let them get there on their own.

I know I said earlier that I like overnight went from being Republican to Democrat and that’s probably not true. There was a lot stewing underneath the surface. It finally clicked for me. Some things clicked for me and I was like, “Hold on, wait a minute. This doesn’t add up and I don’t agree with this.”

It’s really like a culmination of experiences—at least it was for me—a culmination of experiences. I don’t know if I would have been as receptive to my friend who I have those conversations with, had I not already literally seen these experiences happening in real-time to real human beings whom I loved, because I loved those kids when I was teaching them. I valued their parents greatly.

I don’t think I would have been receptive if I had not already had those experiences. I think one crucial thing is being willing to broaden your scope. That was another thing in that article. It was like the average American lives like 15 miles from their mom.

Oh my gosh, what? Really?! Don’t tell my mom that!

Don’t tell my mom that! I live 700 miles away, she’ll make me move back home! It was like a large section. It was split into regions in the country. The funny thing about it was that Texas and some of the Midwestern States. I don’t know if Oklahoma was in this block or not. It’s like 44 miles, but I think that’s because there are not as many people as there is land in Texas. It’s like, you can live a little further away, but you still live fairly close to your family.

I was like, “This is interesting.” If I’m remembering correctly, it’s something like 20% or less people who live more than like 12 to 15 miles away from their parents. I was like, “Oops.”

That’s you and me, Meaghan! We’re the 20%!

I’ve become another statistic. Thank you so much for coming on. I really enjoyed this conversation. I am excited to see and talk to the rest of the people in this series, but I love hearing people’s different perspectives.

I want to give people out there hope almost—like it is possible to have conversations with people who are different from you. It is possible to change people’s minds or give them a different perspective, and allow them to change their own minds and things like that. I really appreciate you coming on today.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for having me.

Have a good one.

Thanks, you too!

Bye!

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