On Fear and Empathy

(Tomorrow I’m going to talk about something mundane like my love of Orphan Black, I PROMISE.)

I have moments this election cycle when I feel attacked, either directly or as part of a larger group, AND IT IS FROM MY SIDE. It started when I – god forbid – was simply considering voting for Clinton in the primaries. And now there’s a huge collection of people voting for Clinton who think that if we are not A) Fear Mongering and making people terrified of Trump or B) Bashing people supporting Trump then we are DOING IT ALL WRONG.

If we promote our politics using fear, where do we go if the other side wins in November? I’ll tell you where, because I’ve seen it for 8 years. We spend every day looking at the news and finding ways to frame every current event so that it validates the fear we felt. “See? We had a right to be scared. Look what’s happening now.” I’ve seen conservatives doing it for 8 years, and even though they’ve dominated every side of the government in the recent years they still claim that the world is terrible and it’s all Obama’s fault and we should have all listened to them and their fear and not voted for him.

I worry if Clinton loses, that’s the future of Progressives. And Progressives are my ideological brothers and sisters and I don’t want that to happen to us. But where else can we go if we lose, when this is the ground we wage the battle on?

So. Let’s talk about something different for a moment. Let’s talk about something we’ve agreed on before. FEELINGS ARE REAL.

We hear a lot of anecdotes that try to support the validity of feelings to the general public in an way that promotes empathy. A lot of times it comes in conversations about mental health. Our mental health community and those of us who openly discuss our struggles like to remind people that your feelings deserve attention. Ignoring them because someone tells you, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” is both unhealthy and unfair. If you are feeling something, it is valid. And someone dismissing it does nothing to make you feel better.

We like to remind people around us that things like Depression and Anxiety cause us to react to situations differently from people without similar struggles. On paper my day might be lovely and beautiful but depression makes it gray and dark. Or anxiety can make me feel upset and tense or even closed up in a social situation when other people are thriving off the energy of their friends and/or family.

So – we try to promote empathy by reminding people that different situations cause different feelings in different people and we should not dismiss those feelings just because they are different or seem irrational or unwarranted.

On a less serious note we hear similar discussions in almost joking manners when women write about being in relationships with men. The “go to” trope or stereotype is that the woman gets upset, the man doesn’t understand and simply points out they shouldn’t be upset. A woman tells it and other women says, “YES! OH MY GOD! WHY DO THEY DO THAT? THAT DOESN’T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER!” And everyone laughs…men and women alike. Women relate and men are like, “What? That doesn’t help?” It’s a joke at book clubs and on 1-hour Comedy Central stand-up specials. We see it on sitcoms and we hear it at big family events. This is an attitude we’ve all discussed and laughed at. MARRIAGE PRO TIP FROM WIVES: FEELINGS ARE REAL. Telling us we shouldn’t feel them JUST MAKES IT WORSE.

HA!

These are two areas we’re all familiar with where we can get the general population to look at the importance of valuing the feelings of another person and realizing they are based in their own truth and we need to approach them with empathy. In both of those situations (Serious mental health & light-hearted marriage discourse) we can get most people to agree on the fact that feelings deserve attention and that if we really want to help someone with their feelings, we can’t dismiss them or shame them away, we need to get beneath those feelings and find the cause and address that.

I mean, unless we don’t feel like having healthy discourse or relationships. If we care nothing about healthy relationships with the people feeling the feelings – then dismissing them and making them feel shame is JUST FINE.

NOW! Back to politics.

And the feelings of FEAR.

There are a lot of people voting for Clinton who are fearful of a Trump Presidency. (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of the prospect either. I’m not sure “fear” is the right word, but it’s definitely a negative feeling.) There are ALSO a lot of people voting for Trump, fearful of a Clinton presidency.

And neither side wants to actually ADDRESS the fears of the other side. Instead, they just want to SHAME everyone into voting how they want them to vote and they do it by saying, “YOU SHOULD BE TERRIFIED AND THEREFORE SHOULD BE VOTING THE WAY I AM VOTING.”

Y’all. Take it from the Liberal in Alabama. BOTH SIDES ARE USING THIS TECHNIQUE.

Meaning both sides want you to see the validity of their fears but NOT the fears of the other side.

So we’re just yelling insults about the candidate we’re terrified of, we’re talking doomsday scenarios, we’re calling out potential futures that are catastrophic to everything from our personal happiness to our freedoms.

BOTH SIDES. BOTH.

And when I try to point out to MY side (because ideologically I agree with them) the other side is just as terrified of a Clinton Presidency as we are of a Trump one and maybe we will sway more with respectful discourse than with statements that saying, “I’m sorry. If you’re voting Trump unfriend me now.” Do you know what the response is? THAT FEAR IS UNFOUNDED. They blame Fox News or Clickbait media and fear mongering amongst the pundits and conservative politicians.

And you know what? I know what they mean. I understand the cause and effect of Fear Mongering from pundits and Fear of constituents. My problem is this: THAT DOES NOT SUBDUE THE FEELINGS OF FEAR. If someone told you that your fear of Trump was caused by Liberal media, would that make you go, “Oh! You’re right! I’m no longer scared!”

So why do we dismiss the fear of the conservatives? It’s because we are giving OUR fear validity and we are DISMISSING theirs. Which is so sad because it’s such an easy moment for empathy. “Oh! You’re feeling what I’m feeling? Let’s talk about that.” We should be able to relate to each other’s fear and discuss it but instead we’re just all shouting about fear into the abyss and shaming people and dismissing people and if GOD FORBID someone tries to come in and say, “Let’s pause a moment…” then it’s the END OF THE WORLD.

And I’m used to getting that from conservatives, I’ll be honest. I’ve been surrounded by terrified conservatives for 8 years. But this election cycle I’m getting this treatment from people on MY side because I’m not supporting the Chicken Little method of conversion. Do I want people to vote for Clinton? YES. I like to share out links like this. Do I hope people don’t vote Trump? Yes. I share out links like this. Do I worry about third party voters? Yes. I mean, I am feeling the same fear people on my side are feeling. I’m not blasé about it. I take this all very seriously and very seriously have issues with Trump.

But I’m not going to promote my agenda by diminishing the fears the other side feels. I’m not going to throw away my empathy because I feel like the fear of another person is less legitimate than my own. I don’t feel their fear, but I understand it because I feel it too. Just from a different direction.

I’d say 80% of current Trump supporters are unswayable. (I’m just guessing on that number. It’s not important how accurate it is. Just know it’s A LOT.) But I might sway a few of them and I can sway the people in the middle if I take a moment to address their concerns FIRST. If we say, “YOUR FEAR IS SILLY BUT MINE IS VALID! VOTE FOR CLINTON!” then we’re going to get absolutely not swing votes. And we’re going to create fertile ground for a miserable 4-8 years if we lose.

We’re all scared. Take a moment to think about that for a minute and what brought us here. That worries me more than any Presidential election. That we live in a culture where fear and anger thrive and empathy and kindness get shouted into the abyss.

I’m not sure I can worry about who wins the election battle if that’s our society, because we’ve already lost the war of basic human decency.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s