There’s no question that America is in rough shape right now. I don’t mean in terms of the economy, or even our standing in the world, but in terms of how we treat each other. Politically, culturally, institutionally—there’s a lot of shit going on. And a lot of it stems from what appears to be a deep-seeded contempt for each other. America has always been a nation diverse in more ways than anyone can count–in thought, in ethnicity, in race. And diversity of any kind is bound to produce conflict. Humans are not great at dealing with “the other”.
But that being said, we used to be much better at dealing with our diversity and our disagreements. We used to be able to speak about difficult subjects without the conversation inevitably degenerating into a shouting match. We were, after all, founded in the era of the Enlightenment. People were no more perfect than then they are now, but at least they tried. At least they acknowledged they might be wrong and were open to hearing what others had to say in the hopes that they might get closer to the truth. Anyway, I’m kinda deviating from the main point I want to make. Here’s what seems to happen in typical conversations between people of opposing political views:
Liberal: “It’s important we take care of the poor and ensure their is a proper safety net in place so that our most disadvantaged citizens don’t suffer.”
Conservative: “All Democrats are communists!”
Conservative: “We need to be careful about who we let into our country and ensure that violent criminals who would harm our citizens are not allowed in.”
Liberal: “All Republicans are racists!”
Obviously I’m oversimplifying a bit, but you get the idea. What happens in any conversation between liberals and conservatives today is that rather than listening to the other side and responding with an articulate thought, we instead shout whatever 2D characterization we have of their viewpoint. If you want to help out the poor, well, you’re a communist. If you want to have a merit based immigration system, well, you’re a racist.
The point being that we’ve stopped listening to what other people have to say. We’ve made up our mind about exactly what it is someone believes before we’ve even listened to them. And trust me, I’ve experienced this first hand. Last year I uploaded a rather clickbait-y video to my YouTube channel titled “Why Donald Trump is Dangerous”. Now, the actual point in my video was that Donald Trump is a pragmatist and therefor unpredictable to a degree, because he will not blindly adhere to an ideology. The reason I titled the video that way was simply to attract people who hate Donald Trump and calm them down a bit. Some people got it. But the hardcore Trumpsters were pissed. I received a torrent of nasty comments and lost around 500 subscribers over the incident. (Though some viewers took the time to comment and say that they resubscribed after actually watching the video.)
Now, I’m ultimately responsible for that–for titling the video as such. I’m no Milo, but sometimes it’s fun to be a bit inflammatory. Regardless, the point still holds that before people even listened to what I had to say, they looked and the title and decided that they hated me, that I was an anti-Trump leftist with no sense. And I receive similar comments from people on the left when I point out the obvious—that Donald Trump is smarter than most people are willing to admit.
In any case, I’m getting off track again. The bottom line is we have all so firmly entrenched ourselves into whatever camp we align with—Democrats, Republicans, Pro-Trump, Anti-Trump, Liberals, Conservatives, Socialists, Communists, Capitalists, whatever—that we’ve stopped listening completely to what ever it is other people have to say. Instead we’ve bought in to the oversimplified characterizations that are fed to us by the media.
And so, I think the solution is fairly straight forward and simple. Listen. Seriously. Actually take a second to pay attention to what the other side is saying. Maybe you still will disagree. But maybe you’ll also develop a greater understanding of their position and realize that their underlying motivations aren’t that different from your own. Better yet, try and repeat their position back to them. Make sure you actually do understand what they’re saying, and why they are saying it. You learn nothing when you are talking, but you can learn a whole lot when you are listening.