Last Friday – the morning after Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention acceptance speech – I was cruising through Facebook looking for single ladies (please don’t tell my wife). I came across a post from a gal I was connected to but admittedly do not know very well.
Accompanied by a #stupidhashtag, it read: “If you are planning to vote for Trump, please unfriend me. We really don’t have anything in common.”
All I could think when I read it was: WHAT THE HELL HAS GONE WRONG IN AMERICA?
Seriously, for a moment let’s set aside all the evils that prospective President Spaghetti Squash Mane is telling us lie beneath, above, around and within the surface of today’s America.
Certainly, there are some serious issues raised by both parties, ranging from income inequality to terrorism to education to guns upon guns, to climate change that will remove our coasts in 100 years, to the mystery that is the popularity of The Big Bang Theory to Russian presidents riding horses while bare-chested. But let’s simply focus on where we are right now as a culture, framed in the context of this singular, aforementioned post. Translation: If I don’t agree with your point of view, I don’t want anything to do with you.
Indeed, that was her point, but this is not simply one post in social media by one person. I see this nonsense every day on Facebook, Twitter, CNN, Tinder, The Muppet Show, you name it. The perspective is undeniably representative of where we are as a society today, and why things are kind of going sideways. As my friend Gulby might say, people have become “unhinged.”
We are digging in our heels, saying it’s “my way or the highway;” refusing to listen to one another, consider another person’s point of view or thinking about what it’s like to walk in another human being’s shoes, filling our souls with a fear of just considering another person’s belief system or way of life.
It’s absolutely insane, and do you know what this ignorant, fear-induced way of thinking begets?
Try the killing of cops. Maybe a congressional shutdown of the government simply to prove which party is stronger. Perhaps building a damn wall across a nation’s southern border. How about conducting an honor killing of someone’s sister? Refusing to meet with the presidentially nominated Supreme Court nominee. Trying to bypass the Legislative branch of government so you can ram your sweetheart piece of legislation down everyone’s throats and demonstrate you’re boss hog. Or, how about even throwing a pie in someone’s face while they’re conducting a press conference?
All of these actions – which obviously have deeply varying degrees of extremism –come from the same place: An ignorant unwillingness to listen and consider the person sitting across the aisle. The only thing that connects each action is that they all derive from fear, ignorance or both, and ultimately hurts everyone involved. Everyone.
Let me ask this of anyone reading this soapbox drivel. Please, take a three-step test:
Step 1: Go have a substantive conversation with someone who doesn’t pray to your God, vote for your party, come from your home town, wasn’t born as poor or as wealthy as you – just someone who’s different.
Step 2: During that conversation, I’d like you to listen. I didn’t say to just hear someone’s words. Actually listen to the sounds coming out of that person’s mouth that perhaps derive from a different perspective or background than you. And keep in mind, there’s an important difference between hearing and listening.
Step 3: After listening to this person, don’t immediately react. Instead, just shut your pie hole, nod thoughtfully, and consider the value of their statements. Reflect on whether they might be, well, right – even if it doesn’t jive with your normal train of thought.
Just to be clear, my expectation is not that you will listen to someone and have your point of view magically altered – not at all. However, listening allows us to better comprehend and appreciate what others might think or experience. It provides us with greater perspective and understanding, thus allowing us to make informed decisions and formulate more thoughtful opinions in our own lives.
Maybe it’s the sci-fi nerd in me, but in considering these issues, I often go back to the end of Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Anakin Skywalker tells Obi-Wan, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy,” to which Obi-Wan responds “Only the Sith deal in absolutes”, thus identifying Anakin had turned to the dark side. And despite George Lucas’ mess of the final three Star Wars sagas (damn you George!), the line has great resonance in real life today.
Our world is not and cannot be dealt with in absolutes. We do not prosper or grow in a “my way or the highway” culture. We must have thoughtful exchanges of ideas, consider perspectives from across the aisle, and then simply do the best we can with the information we have.