[No…not my blog entry…but the essay I’m discussing in this blog entry.]
I’ve been trying to write a “How To Survive The Election Year” type entry for awhile. You know – basic social media tips to keep relationships in tact with people who vote differently from you. I’m a very loud and proud Lefty McLiberal but I am one of the only ones in my family on all sides in all directions. This has helped me learn a thing or two about expressing my thoughts and opinions in the least offensive ways as possible. My main rule of thumb: Support the ideas and people you want to support instead of bashing the ideas and people on the other side.
My intention is to do my part to try to bridge this crazy gap between the “sides” of politics that has grown with the rise of social media. I feel like as that gap widens, our country becomes meaner in general. I’ve written drafts of a “Rules To Live By” type of entry. Easily simplified tips to help keep from severing friendships unintentionally. I’ve also done standard format essays about the power of empathy during election season. I’ve revisited both ideas over and over again and nothing ever seemed right about what I was writing. And today I know why. Because I was writing about the trees instead of the forest. And B. J. May right here? Wrote about the forest in such a beautiful way my words are no longer needed. All my drafts can be deleted.
Except I’m writing this entry anyway because this is me we’re talking about! I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING! And I really want to highlight my favorite parts of May’s essay and tell you why I love them so much. You’ll find this incredibly ironic once we get to the part where he talks about how we shouldn’t make it about us. I AM DOING EXACTLY WHAT HE TOLD ME NOT TO DO.
Here we go.
I have mentioned before that there is a simple test to find out whether you are living in a bubble of like-minded people. Think of all of the political figures in the news right now, from our current president to those running for his seat. If you can’t think of one thing you AGREE with and one thing you DISAGREE with then you probably suffer from a media bias and live in a bubble of like-minded people. I have liberal friends who NEVER EVER EVER say ANYTHING bad about our President. And y’all? I love our President. But I disagree with him still on several stances or policies he’s pushed or fought against. I was not a fan of George Bush but I thank him for his efforts in changing how we look at our homeless population: HOMES FIRST. Not sobriety or jobs. HOMES. He started that.
But – what I didn’t do? Was offer any solutions to the problem if you do find you are biased. B.J. May approaches that issue BEAUTIFULLY with this challenge via Twitter.
- I will find highly active accounts run by people who are wildly dissimilar from me, or who have had wildly dissimilar life experiences. These people must be talking frequently about the issues I hope to understand.
- I will follow one of these people every day for thirty days, and I will keep following each of them for no less than thirty days, regardless of how much I dislike what they say.
- I will not engage with the owners of any of these accounts. I will not debate them, I will not argue, I will not interact in any way apart from just reading.
- I will engage in self-study when I encounter terms or concepts that are foreign to me.
I did this when the Ferguson protests erupted. I started a “Ferguson” twitter list because I was so overwhelmed by conflicting feelings around the entire issue and I wanted to stay apprised and here thoughts from the front lines. I still keep that list open on Tweetdeck but have changed the name to “Black Lives Matter Updates” because I learned so much and so much shook me to my core, I wanted to keep those voices active in my feed.
But I also follow some conservative voices. And religious ones. Now, I can’t follow people who use too much hate or inflammatory language, I just can’t. But I find voices that make me feel uncomfortable. I follow the Pope. And Sister Helen Prejean. And Meghan Mccain. And Tucker Carlson. I follow several people from vet groups like Paul Reikhoff from the IVAA. I keep my twitter feed peppered with voices from sides I don’t always agree with, and I don’t mean for this to be a “KIM IS GREAT!” pat on the back, but I’m just giving you examples of how I’ve done what he suggested without realizing it. AND IT HAS TRULY HELPED ME.
As I ravenously consumed these diverse viewpoints, a few trends began to emerge. First among them was the fact that these people were often spending a disproportionate amount of time and energy trying to convince others (usually people like me) that their experiences had actually happened. Stories of racism were met quickly with skepticism and doubt. Accounts of sexist treatment were shouted down as overreactions or exaggerations. Reports of transphobia and discrimination were minimized or rationalized. In response, I made a small but significant behavioral change in the form of an addendum to the experiment’s rules:
“I will believe victims.”
This was true for me too. My first thoughts when following the Black Lives Movement activists tended be more empathetic with the accused perpetrators. Nothing major like police brutality, but if they shared bad experiences on a plane, or in the line at the grocery store, I often defended the racists behavior in my head. That guy didn’t do that thing because he was black, he was probably just having a bad day. This is just an isolated issue of one person being an asshole and it has nothing to do with race.
I’ll be honest, I still sometimes fall to that trend. But I love what this authors says next.
I am not the US criminal justice system. I have no obligation to demand proof in order to be sympathetic. My kindness doesn’t need to depend on the removal of all reasonable doubt. If someone says that they were hurt, discriminated against, harassed, assaulted, wronged in any way, I will simply believe them.
BOOM. Why am I so aggressive in making sure we believe women who express instances of harassment or assault yet if a Black American expresses an instance of racism I pepper it with doubt. I AM NOT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. To be kind I can simply believe them. I get really pissed off when I’m upset about something and Donnie tries to convince me there’s nothing to be upset about. DO NOT UNDERMINE WHAT I AM FEELING. I AM FEELING IT, DAMMIT. THE FEELINGS ARE REAL. I need to apply that even in areas where I have absolutely NO experience whatsoever.
I was recently turned onto the idea of “intersectionality” [def: the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.] when I read about how some Black Lives Matter activists were getting more and more frustrated that vocal feminists were not helping in their fight. I also learned a lot about what the author writes about here:
There was a startling amount of disagreement within the groups I had previously assumed to be homogeneous. Feminists clashed over the inclusion of transgender women. Black activists argued with each other about the usefulness of the protests in Ferguson. Muslims were sharply divided on how to deal with Islamophobia in the face of highly publicized terrorist attacks. It’s embarrassing to say this now, but at the time, these conflicting viewpoints surprised me. I had fallen into an extremely lazy mindset that tends to view the world as largely binary. In my mind, there was my opinion, and there was the singular, other, wrong opinion.
Terrifyingly, this mindset often leads us to sometimes behave as if a person’s value is itself binary. If a person meets enough of our own criteria, they have value. If they fall short, they have none. As the danger of this type of thinking began to set in, I made another addendum:
“I will recognize the value of people with whom I disagree.”
I have never been able to really put into words why I feel it’s so important not to live in a bubble of all people like me – but he did it so beautifully. I usually phrase it simply as “I can still learn from people who vote differently from me” but I love the idea to stop thinking about a person’s value in your life as binary. People are much more complex. You may never EVER agree with that woman who has the Pro Life sticker on her car in a political spectrum, but she could very easily teach you about how to deal with your anxious child. Or how to become more green as a family. I learn things from my religious and conservative family members every day. They add value, even if we don’t agree on various political/social/economic issues.
Similar examples popped up over the next few days, situations where someone (typically someone a lot like me) would crash into a conversation uninvited, proudly announce their status as an ally, and demand to be treated as a hero. Sometimes these same people would become indignant or angry when that recognition failed to materialize, even going as far as to threaten to revoke their support. The response from the various marginalized communities was firm and clear. They had no time for allies with strings attached. This informed my third rule amendment:
“I will not expect praise for being kind. Kindness is the bare minimum.”
OH MY GOD. I’ve seen this happen several times with LGBTQ issues and with the Black Lives Matter community. And just like the author of this article, I even caught myself kinda wanting the same thing. Praise for being kind. Thankfully I have always been more of a listener on Twitter than anything else so I never became that person, but that instinct was there in me too.
The exercise had taught me how to approach a contrary opinion with patience and respect, with curiosity and an intent to learn, with kindness and humanity.
YES. I’ve learned this a lot too. For me a lot of it came with just always feeling like the political minority. It was survival more than anything.
I’m torn on whether or not I should have even written this article, because it could easily be seen as just another example of a white man making it all about himself.
To the members of the amazingly diverse groups that I’m still learning to understand, you aren’t my audience today. You already knew all of this stuff. You’ve been shouting it for years, begging people like me to hear you. To you, I have only one thing to say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I didn’t listen earlier, sorry that I didn’t pay attention, and sorry for the many clumsy missteps I will certainly make in the future.
The people I hope to reach today are those that are still sitting comfortably in their filter bubbles. If the person described in the opening paragraph of this article seems oddly familiar to you, then I encourage you to break out of your echo chamber. Read over Marco Rogers’ tweets at the link above. Find your own ways to consume more diverse opinions and viewpoints. Listen to them, not me. I’m not the expert. I’m just learning to listen.
I have written various combinations of those words time and time again. But I think it’s import for non-marginalized majority like the author and myself to speak out because we are just that: The Majority. The only thing that keeps me out of the SOLID majority is that I’m not a Christian. But I’m still a white cis female in a heterosexual relationship with a white cis male. I’m definitely part of the ruling majority in terms of how society treats me. The change has to start with the people in MY bubble. If we don’t listen to the voice of the Transgender Female as she discusses the humiliation surrounding public bathroom laws, or the voice Black American Male who rants about getting pulled over for no reason, or the voice of Atheist Mom who hates that her child has to pray before a basketball game. These are voices we NEED TO HEAR because they do not have the same representation as our own voice. We don’t have to vote the same as these voices do, we don’t even have to agree with them, but if we want to bridge the divide in our country – the social binary of US vs THEM – we need to truly hear their stories. We need to offer them empathy and kindness.