I’ve spent the last few days in reflection, contemplation and conversation. My reaction to the results of the election was not anger or sadness predominantly, but a form of numbness. Watching the election coverage on Saturday, I felt a surreal sense of déjà vu.

I am worried.

But perhaps not about the same things as some.

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is how partisan we have become. It’s difficult to see how things could be any other way at the moment. (For those who don’t know, partisanism is “the term is used for [those] who strongly support their party’s policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents”, and if you observe U.S. politics, it’s typically not ideal for a healthy democracy.)

After the release of Dirty Politics, the revelations about mass surveillance revealed by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald … for those of us who were predisposed to believe these things, it was already hard for us to trust the current government, and it just got harder. This is especially galling given that John Key’s position on mass surveillance is simply that: “Trust me, don’t worry what the letter of the law means”.

For those who do trust the Prime Minister, or don’t trust people like Greenwald, Snowden and Hagar, or simply didn’t believe there was any substance to the allegations … Well, I suppose it came down to much simpler questions for them.

But here’s the problem. For many of us on the left (or even the centre), who believe Key is not to be trusted, it’s very difficult to see how others could ignore what we see as pretty substantive evidence of wrongdoing. And it is conversely very easy to write off those who gave National their renewed and strengthened third term as selfish, ignorant or much worse, based on some of the stuff I’ve seen flying around social media.

I urge you all — please do not limit your relationships with people based on their voting preferences, and please do not attack them for their position. (Though if you feel they are resorting to damaging rhetoric, of course I believe you should be clear that you do not see things that way.)

When we all retreat into our ideological corners, it becomes very difficult to discuss issues, and near impossible for us to agree upon anything. And one of the big things I am discovering post-election is that people cast their votes for a number of different reasons. No, not all of them make sense to me. But they are what they are and you won’t change anyone’s mind if the conversation is accusatory or altogether absent.

This election campaign was one of the weirdest ones New Zealand has perhaps ever had. And I can’t really hold it against people if they retreated from the chaos into something that presented itself as stability. And for many people, I think it did come down to that.

For others, it was the same problem as the 2011 election — what they perceived as “negative campaigning” from the ideological left. (That it mostly came from third parties was clearly beside the point for those people.) And I guess I can’t hold it against those people either. There certainly was a lot of “change the government” talk, and some of it came courtesy of persons who simply were not trusted by a broad swath of New Zealanders. (And this one doesn’t fall along ideological lines. Many progressive “lefties” didn’t like Kim Dotcom either. I think that is well evident now, looking at the election results.)

The problem is, although Labour did try to run a clean positive campaign (even going so far as using the word in their motto, as though we might not realise otherwise) it didn’t really look that way to many people given the kind of external stuff that was going on, especially given that Key kept saying it was a left-wing smear, and since all the parties on the left bought into the allegations, I suppose for some that was all the confirmation they needed that he was correct.

For those who do trust Key (and I might not be one of them, but I must acknowledge their point of view), they saw the left campaign as not just accusations against him, but accusations that there was something wrong with New Zealand. And the National campaign said the opposite — New Zealand’s great, we’re headed in the right direction, don’t you worry, National’s got your back. Also, we’re stable as fuck. Don’t you like stability? Yeah you do.

Perhaps the left parties could have looked a lot more stable if they had co-operated with each other more. I was pleased to hear such sentiments from David Cunliffe post-election. I hope Labour have learnt from this election, because they didn’t seem to learn an awful lot from their 2011 defeat. (Obviously I don’t have all the solutions to Labour’s problems. I wish I did.)

But here’s my point. Those of us on the political left might well spend some time in contemplation at our loss. But more than that, contemplation at National’s win.

I urge you — talk to people who voted for National. Keep your cool. Find out why. They have their reasons, and I promise you, they aren’t all selfish or stupid. It’s infantilizing and arrogant to assume that.

Believe it or not, many people who voted National in this election care just as much as you do about New Zealand. They just have different ideas about what’s the best thing for the country. And I know it’s difficult, given that many of us who are socially progressive feel like we see something National voters don’t (or won’t) about the state of inequality, poverty, environmental damage, media manipulation, mass surveillance and the economy, but I wonder if we need to swallow that attitude occasionally and try to hear people out a bit more (though I hope you realise I direct these comments at those of us who have the luxury and privilege to be a little more removed from the hardships many are suffering).

Maybe if you can have the right conversations, you’ll find out something that surprises you. Maybe not, but if we can try to have respectful conversations now, my hope is we can build something more constructive for all of us. Even if that is entirely limited to mutual respect and nothing else, that would be a pretty massive achievement in my mind. After all, no argument ever got resolved without mutual goodwill.

Now, more than ever, we need to find the middle ground.

And yes, that means the political parties on the left need to negotiate their own middle-ground and be more co-operative with each other, but I also think we as citizens need to try to find middle ground with our fellow citizens. We need to try to find the room to understand each other. We need to try to find a way to live with each other.

I know that none of this addresses what many of you perceive as violence towards the poor, or beneficiaries, or the school system or a multitude of other issues, and I’d like to assure you that I do share your concerns.

I just am not sure that we actually help those things by attacking or outright rejecting that which we do not like or understand fully. If we do that, aren’t we the same as those who refuse to read Dirty Politics because it’s a “left-wing smear”, or those people who didn’t think there was any substance in “The Moment of Truth” solely because it was associated with someone they didn’t like?

I am not suggesting that we take the high road. I am suggesting we take the middle path, and perhaps along the way, we might find some wisdom.

None of us are perfect. But one thing is certain — we are all human, and many of us care deeply about the future of this country, no matter who we voted for or what simple or complex reason we had for doing so.