I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenges we face, how polarizing our issues tends to be, and what we as individuals can do about it. How can we take a stand that is also kind and compassionate?
[Background on these thought posts can be found here.]
Election Reflection of Our Societal Condition
This election cycle is crazy. As a liberal female from California, it’s easy for me to look at the DNC convention and feel proud for all the firsts, all the openness and messages of hope. I’m inspired to see that goodness is well and alive with what Bernie was able to do. I’m proud to see Hillary Clinton be elected as the first female presidential nominee. I’m moved to watch our first black president (and my favorite) hug her after his speech. And I loved Michelle Obama’s speech. I love her.
It’s also easy for me to look over at the RNC convention and join in the liberals’ ridicule of the lackluster line-up, the hateful messages, the plagiarizing scandal, and the lack of party unity. I can laugh when Stephen Colbert ambushes them with his Hunger Games bit, or applaud when Third Eye Blind does a subtle troll performance.
But does that change anything for the better? Does ridiculing the other side (both ways) really do anything other than preach to the choir?
I can also recognize that the DNC was riddled with corruption, that passionate Bernie supporters were left disillusioned. That there was surprising progress for LGBTQ support at the RNC convention, and Trump even praised Michelle Obama’s speech. That when you read the Republican’s commentary on the DNC, it’s almost exactly the same as the DNC’s criticism of the RNC. “Living in a make believe world,” “hateful rhetoric,” “empty promises.” I read that and can’t believe we’re talking about the same thing. But then I realize there are Republicans who have the exact same reaction, from the exact opposite position, and man…
What is truth and reality?
On Embracing the Other Side
This situation is a reflection of the ills of our society and the political system. But how we deal with it will reflect our humanity too. We can brush opposing supporters aside and say they’re uneducated or evil or whatnot. Blast them for what we perceive as their faults.
But you know what? I bet they do not believe they are bad people. I doubt they would say they are racist, or prejudiced, or ignorant. Most people want to believe they are good. And I think we can focus on that.
Have you ever convinced someone to truly change their minds by ridiculing or demeaning them? Have you ever tried to change your boyfriend/husband/wife/girlfriend/parent/child by being mean to and critical of them, and wondered why they never changed and ended up hating you? You were sure you were doing it from the goodness of your heart, to make them better.
But it didn’t work. Even if they changed, they resented you for it.
On the other hand, people have made drastic changes in character and belief because they saw positive example, they were embraced and loved. People who were extremely prejudiced against another group (that they usually never interacted with) but changed their mind when someone from said group showed them great kindness.
I read an article recently about a restaurant patron who refused to sit next to a group of police officers at a restaurant. Instead of being assholes right back, the police officers paid that patron’s bill. I imagine this had a much greater positive effect on changing the patron’s perception of police than any retaliatory response could have.
A lot of people’s first reaction when they are offended or disagree with someone is to attack. To get defensive and offensive. If you’re an asshole to me, of course I’m going to be an asshole to you. But is that really the best solution? Are we not better than that? It takes a great harnessing of inner strength to overcome that instinct and instead offer “noncomplementary behavior”– i.e., to kill them with kindness. And I don’t mean meekness or subservience, but strong displays of the best of humanity.
There’s a bittersweet irony in that. That proactive kindness sounds weak, but actually takes much more strength and courage than violence and hostility.
We’re faced with high tensions these days. From republicans vs. democrats, Black Lives Matter vs. police, terrorists vs. society, and everything in between. On an individual level, what can we possibly do about such big issues? It seems hopeless, but I think there is something we can do. I think we can start with our own compassion.
Seeing Each Other. Really.
Can you really see the other person, even if you hate their views? Can you say to them, hey, I don’t agree with what you said, but I love you as a human being. I will do everything I can to show you a positive example. I will not demean you, I will not make fun of you. We might still not agree at the end. But I embrace you and I hope you embrace me.
The Black Lives Matter movement really fascinates me as a reflection of this idea. I honestly had no idea that there are people who think saying “Black Lives Matter” meant “ONLY Black Lives Matter.” I honestly thought EVERYONE understood it meant “Black Lives Matter TOO.” That if you think, “All Lives Matter!,” then… great! So you agree that black lives matter too, since “black” is part of “all”! The level of irony that the BLM movement is seen by some as a racist movement is… incredible.
I thought it was so obvious that that saying came up because black people were being disproportionately profiled, beaten, and killed. And the perpetrators of these acts of violence were not being punished as they would be if it were a white victim. That is a reality, and there’s so much more inherent racism beyond that that doesn’t reach the news. But there are apparently many people who are so far removed from that reality that they simply cannot imagine it to exist. Their reality is very different.
The fact that there are a lot of [non-black] people who don’t get it should not cause the rest of us to be like, god you guys are so stupid and prejudiced that you can’t even see racism when it’s in front of your eyes. GO TO HELL! Instead we could think, wow, this really tells me how differently we understand the situation. Let’s talk about it more so we can at least be talking about the same problem. I think you’re a decent human being who would want to better understand how we feel, because you wouldn’t want this to happen to you or your kids.
Things are not black and white. Some people confuse the bad acts of a few to paint the character of an entire group, and this error goes both ways. The BLM supporters who blindly hate ALL police, or jeer when a moment of silence is held for fallen cops— are they helping the solution any more than those who don’t get BLM or think ALL blacks are this one caricature?
Our focus should be solution rather than retaliation. But how can we talk about fixing the problem when we can’t even agree on what the problem is?
On What Is Reality
One helpful thing I’ve realized is that people’s perception of reality IS their reality. There’s no use in arguing what’s the “real” reality sometimes. It’s better to try to understand what each person believes is their reality, and go from there. Don’t ridicule someone’s understanding of truth, as long as they seek to know the truth. Being mean-spirited and hateful gets us no where. Sure it’s nice for a laugh, but when the stakes are as high as they are now, it’s not funny anymore.
We need peace, we need love, we need hope. But are we really acting in ways to achieve these things? Do we even agree on what love and hope really mean? Let’s not just love and embrace those who think like us, those who make us feel good. Let’s also embrace those who hate us, who think very differently from us, so we can all truly see each other. Do you think they’re stupid assholes? Fine. But if you’re so smart and kind, then take the higher road and show compassion and empathy. Show an effort to seek to understand and really see each other. When we can see things through other people’s eyes, we will better know how to express our views in ways they can truly comprehend. Yeah, some people are hopeless. But many, many people are good if they’re just shown a little love.
We’ve overcome so much. I’m amazed to think someone who is alive today could have seen a time when segregation was legal, abortion and gay marriage were illegal, where blatant racism and prejudiced behavior were the status quo. In such a short time we’ve progressed so much, imagine what we can do together over the next few decades.
To try to see each other with open eyes, and also through their own eyes. It’s hard, but that’s what’s beautiful about humanity. We can do really hard things.