“So how do you like hanging out with all the liberals?”.

That’s a question a conservative leaning entrepreneur friend of mine asked me a couple years ago after I had told him that I was becoming more involved with the small business/entrepreneur community in Cedar Rapids.

At the time I laughed off the question. For one I assumed he was exaggerating, and for two, I didn’t think it would matter even if he wasn’t exaggerating. I mean why would it? I have lots of friends/family members who identify as liberal/left/progressive/democrat/whatever. It’s not like I lived in some kind of anti-liberal bubble or something. Some of the coolest people I know disagree with me on a wide range of topics.

As time went on, I discovered that he wasn’t exaggerating about the small business community being made up of mostly left-leaning folk. I still paid very little mind to this fact at the time because I didn’t really care, and I didn’t think anybody else cared either. I have opinions about things and I sometimes share them, and I’m often disagreed with but I’ve never let it affect who I choose to be friends with or who I do business with.

But after about a year I started to have suspicions that perhaps my political leanings might actually be affecting my business. I shrugged off those suspicions and told myself I was just being paranoid, or making excuses for my own inability to grow a business. I told myself that the people of the Corridor weren’t that petty, intolerant or close-minded. So I ignored those suspicions as best I could for about a year.

But after several conversations with multiple people, I’ve finally confirmed that the people of the Corridor aren’t as tolerant and open minded as I had presumed.

I still think the vast majority of people around here couldn’t care less where I or anybody else stand on various political issues. But I have confirmed that more than one person has chosen not to do business with me because of the things I have said on my personal Facebook account.

My personal Facebook account. Not any of my business pages. My personal Facebook account.

That. Really Sucks.

It doesn’t just suck because my business is suffering, it mostly sucks that that’s the kind of culture we have around here. Here in the heartland, where people are supposed to be “midwest nice”.

Again, before you start sending me hate mail, I want to make it perfectly clear that I believe MOST of the people in this community are perfectly tolerant of my beliefs and haven’t let them affect their decisions to be involved with me in any way. But there are enough intolerant people around that it’s actually significantly affected my business. And seeing as how my beliefs aren’t exactly strange, and are shared by a lot of other people, I can only assume that there have been others in the area affected in much the same way. Which is concerning.

This post isn’t meant to be a liberal bash-fest, it just so happens that I lean more right than left so the ones discriminating against me happen to be liberals. I’m sure there are conservatives out there acting the same way towards folks they disagree with.

But I do find this particular brand of intolerance especially ironic given the fact that the people on the left end of the political spectrum are the ones constantly shouting about tolerance and diversity. The left has been on an intense witch-hunt for bigots for years now, calling anybody and everybody they disagree with sexist, racist, homophobic etc. But I’ve found in my personal experience that the left can be just as intolerant, if not more so, than those leaning right. 

It’s become quite clear to me that a lot of people simply don’t know what the word tolerance actually means, but sadly this hasn’t stopped them from using it incorrectly, a lot. The popular attitude in our culture these days seems to be “I tolerate everybody, as long as they don’t disagree with me” and that simply is not tolerance. You can’t tolerate people you agree with. It’s not possible. It’s a contradiction. You can only tolerate someone if there’s something about them you don’t like or disagree with. 

For instance, if a friend chews their food loudly, but you choose to eat with them anyways, you’re tolerating that person. There’s something about them you don’t like, but you’re not letting that affect how you interact with them.

If your friend likes ColdPlay but you choose to hangout with them anyways, that’s real tolerance.

Surrounding yourself with people you agree with and choosing to only do business with them isn’t tolerance, it’s called an echo chamber.

Some of the coolest people I know in the Cedar Rapids business community are fairly left leaning politically. I’ve had a blast getting to know people like Steve Shriver, Eric Engelmann, Jennie Morton, Jessalyn Holdcraft, Rina Jensen and many more. All these people are dirty, filthy liberals, and I love them! I’ve collaborated with several of them on various projects and have had an absolute blast! I would be missing out on a lot had I chosen not to associate with them because of their political leanings, and I’m very grateful that they likewise have not chosen to disassociate with me due to my political leanings. If you ever have an opportunity to do business with or even just hang out with any of these people, do it! You won’t regret it.

I feel like this is a good time to throw in another disclaimer, before people flood my inbox with all of their anecdotal rebuttals and hate mail. Most of the people around here are wonderful, tolerant people like the names I just listed above. This blog post is not me complaining about how awful Cedar Rapids is. On the contrary, this city has a lot of great people in it and has a lot going for it (despite what Creepy Mustache Guy says). But like anything in this world, there is certainly room for improvement. 

What’s especially frustrating for me is that I’ve always attempted to keep politics out of my business. If you follow my business facebook pages, you won’t see anything even remotely political. It’s all strictly business. But people are stalking my personal Facebook page, and choosing not to engage with my business[s] based on what they find there and that’s super frustrating.

This puts me in a really crappy situation, because now I have to make a choice: do I continue being myself and watch my business suffer, or should I be super fake so people will do business with me?

That’s not a choice that anybody should have to make. 

If you’re reading this you probably agree with me. You probably don’t care whether or not somebody is a liberal/conservative/moderate/libertarian/whatever. You probably don’t make business relationship decisions based on a person’s political leanings.

But if you’re reading this, and you’re one of the people who choose to discriminate against people who believe differently from you, I really hope you’ll reconsider your choices. You’ve no idea what kind of opportunities you might be missing out on because you’re choosing to live in your echo chamber. Who knows where your own business might be today had you chosen to do business with someone you disagreed with. 

There are a lot of really cool, really smart people in this town all over the political spectrum, you’d be a fool to discriminate half of them.