Saturday, February 4, 2017

Politics in the U.S.A. (part II) - making mistakes

As I said in last week's post, I'm a liberal Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton in the last U.S. Presidential election. I decided to talk to someone I know, who is as Republican as you can get, and try to see things from their side.

It was so easy to be afraid to talk to them. What if I find out that I could be just like them? What if I find out that once I understand why they care about the things that they care about, and that they want the same things I want, that I'll start to agree with them? What if they somehow do say something that makes me into (*gasp*) one of THEM????

Then I remember all of the talks I've had with people. I've talked to some good and kind people who have different points of view from mine. I remember this time:, when it was about seeing someone else's fear and not agreeing with them:

And this time, when it was about sitting back and letting someone else's joy run over me:

Talking to those people didn't change who I am or what I believe. So why should this be any different?


I decided to talk to my friend, Sam*, and we chatted over the course of several weeks.  I chose him because I knew he liked to talk and that he supported team Red. I was hoping to take my team-colors off, and learn who he was, and why he believed what he believed.

Here are my notes from our conversations.


I asked him how he felt about the next four years.

He said, 'You know, I think it will be all-right. I'm looking forward to jobs coming back, and businesses, and such. "

He asked me, "What do you think is going to happen?"

I talked about some of the things I'd seen and felt and heard. About how the rights of women, people of color, of religious groups, of those of different sexual orientation all seemed to be under attack. That I was afraid of the hurt and the anger being shown right now, and of rights being taken away.

I asked him, "What about the hate crimes, the injustice, and the horrible behavior going on? The way folks are being treated?"

He told me that, he believes the hate crimes and increase in horrible behavior are simply media constructs. That it's always been there, and it's just being portrayed as happening more often. He said if I believe otherwise, I am just believing what the media is feeding me.

He said, "I think he's making 'the forgotten man' happy. He's going to Carrier and others and making plans to bring jobs back to the Midwest, and that's making certain people happy."

Then he went on to criticize the Democratic Party. He talked about how it was broken, and I should stop listening to the media and start focusing on fixing the Democratic party for the next election.

I said, "Okay, so you are saying that we should focus on ourselves?"

He said, "People choose the party that works best for them based on the options available. " He compared it to a restaurant menu, comparing how folks can't have everything, they have to pick and choose from what's out there. He talked about creating better choices for people.

He asked, "So, Janet, how are all of your friends doing? Are they okay, now that the inauguration is over?"

I said, "Actually, I know a lot of people who are going to Washington, or NY, or other places and marching."

He said, "Can you explain to me what this March is about? What are they protesting? Because I've watched several interviews and I can't understand what all the fuss is about."

I spoke to him about my point of view. I thought, okay, he wants to understand, I'll show him how I think.

I realized later that - this was a mistake. This discussion was going away from empathy, I wasn't asking him about his feelings. He was asking me about mine, and unlike other times I was getting drawn into it. 

So we continued. He brought forth his case again, that the Democrats need to think about why they lost the election, and what they can do to change the outcome in 2020.

I talked about how folks aren't thinking about what's going to happen in 2020 right now; right now they are simply concerned about making it through the next four years.

He said, "But Hillary is a criminal, she would have been an illegal president."

I said, "But Trump is a misogynist and a creep, and I'm scared of Pence."

He said, "How can you say that?"

I said, "How can you say that?"

And back and forth. Eventually, I did realize that we were not only past empathy, but we were two blocks south and around the corner from empathy central. I said to him, "Look, I can see that we're not really listening to each other. Can we agree that we have a different set of priorities?

He looked at me, and nodded slowly. "Yes. I can agree to that. "

And we shook hands. And ended the conversation.


Yeah, so that didn't go as well as I had hoped. I was falling into habit; I do love a good debate so it felt exciting. Instead of just listening to him, I was wrapped up in the argument. I was just talking AT him.

So I tried again. I had another conversation, and another.  I asked everyone I know questions about why they chose who they did, what they were feeling and why they felt the way they did. I tried to listen to them, and to stop talking at them.

Those conversations are still happening, and I hope to keep them going.


My goal may be selfish; I have empathy because I believe that we will only move forward if we stop taking sides and start listening to each other.

Or maybe, All you need is love.


*as always, names changed to protect identities.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Politics in the U.S.A (part I)

Many years ago I went to a football game in Buffalo, NY, USA, to see my favorite team, the Buffalo Bills.

I was there as a fan of the home team, and my boyfriend-of-the-time and his friends were there as fans of the visiting team, the NY Giants. We all wore our team jerseys, sweaters, and hats. It was very cold, and when the wind blew through the upper deck seats, it made you want to put down your oversize flag and cover your nose with your mittens. I remember many things about that day; the enormous electronic billboard blinking brightly the words, "DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE", how people around us would leap into the air and time seemed to stop, when our side caught a pass and a touchdown was happening right before our eyes. I remember that the guy sitting in front of us would throw his arms wildly as he cheered, nearly knocking into me, my chicken nuggets and cup of dip.

I also remember how the people around us treated my friends, the Giants fans.

The guy in front of us, I noted, had a ton of energy. He would yell and scream, "take that, suck-AH", pointing in my friends faces when the Bills scored points. He made rude gestures at my friends, laughed at them, and called them colorful and descriptive names. As the game went on, the better my team did, the more raucous he became. Then, three hours later, the game was over.

As the people around us stood and we packed up our things, this guy sitting in front of us turned around and looked at my friends. He calmly said, "Hey, good game man. Be safe." He reached out his hand and one of my friends shook it. Then we left.

Just like that, all of the anger, all of the hatred was gone. Everyone laughed and nobody's feelings were hurt, because after all, it was just a game.


What does this have to do with politics?

For several months leading up to the recent Presidential election, me and most (but not all) of my friends and family chose sides. We were either on team 'Red' (Make America Great Again! TRUMP!) or on team 'Blue' (Hillary! Bernie! Not-My-President!). I voted for Hillary.

I'm trying to be out there, doing the 'empathy' thing, trying to see both sides of a situation.  I just find it really, really hard (much harder than I've found any other empathy situation so far) to understand someone who is proud of voting for Trump.  As 'Ms. Empathy', I know I need to do it; but it's definitely been a challenge.

As an example, I was standing on the street the other day, waiting for a bus with my children. I heard two women joking nearby as they waited with their kids. I wasn't trying to 'listen in' but they were talking very loudly, and smiling, looking happy. "You know what I saw the other day," one said to the other. "I saw a sale on Amazon, for toilet paper with Hillary Clinton's face on it. I wanted to buy it but by the time I put in my order, it was sold out." The other one laughed, slapped the first one on the back, and then made a poop joke that was more appropriate for grade school.

I got the joke. It was supposed to be funny. I understand that not everyone has the same ideas about how to raise kids and what's appropriate to say in front of them (or not). What I had trouble comprehending was how public they were about it. Why was it okay for them to make such mean comments? I don't understand why it's suddenly socially acceptable to say mean things about other people in public. When did that become 'okay' and 'normal'?

Later, I thought that perhaps it's because they feel it's just like a game, and they are the fans. If it's a game, then it's okay to behave this way. They chose their team and I chose my team, and we're down to the final seconds. It's easy to pretend that we can say what we want, because once the game is over, of course, nothing that we said before will matter. We can just shake hands and move on.


For the next post, I decided to stop being in the audience and to actually talk to someone on the other side. To hear and listen to what they have to say, and to try to understand. That's my job, after all.


(to be continued)

Link to Part II

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Seeing both sides of a mistake

I messed up with my friend Joanne. A big, big mistake. Usually I think pretty highly of myself, but when I did this thing it felt so bad it ached in my heart. I wanted to take it back, to apologize, to try to make things right again. But what could I possibly say to her? I didn't know what I should do. I didn't know what I could say to make things right again.

When I make a mistake and it impacts someone else, my instincts tell me to push away. I'd do anything to avoid the conflict.


Luckily, the day after my disaster with Joanne, I got a haircut.

The stylist was working away, cutting and talking and cutting and talking and perhaps you can imagine what happened next. I looked away for one second and when I looked back, a large chunk of my hair was gone. It was on the floor, instead of on my head.

She put down the scissors and comb and stood behind me for a few minutes, holding my hair this way, turning my head back and forth. She said, "Um, give me a second here." I knew something was exceptionally wrong. She said, "Well, I cut this side a little bit farther than I meant to. I'm going to call Lucy and see what she can do with this. She has lots of experience. I'll be right back. "

I looked at my reflection and couldn't think for a few seconds. This girl, I asked this girl to cut my hair.  I ran over and over again in my mind what I had said to her at the start. Was I clear enough? I told her, "Long layers, face frame. Cut it up to here. " I remember holding my hand up to my shoulders, showing her. I turned my head to the side to look again. Yep, it's pretty short now, it's up to my ears on one side.

She came back and spoke, all in a rush. "Hah, yeah okay so I can't get Lucy but she's on break, she must be close by and she has to be back soon and I expect her back any minute and she's the expert and she'll be able to fix it and I'm so sorry. " She came over and turned my head to the side again. "She'll know what to do, she'll fix it you don't look like you have a mullet. I'll make sure you don't have to pay for this. Don't worry, she'll be right back, I'm positive." Then she walked away and left me alone.

I immediately thought of this:

At that moment, it didn't matter all of the nice things that she said to me, or that we laughed at each other's jokes. All that mattered was there I was, with something I really, really didn't want staring back at me in the mirror.

Lucy, the other hairdresser did eventually come back and after some careful re-cutting, I no longer looked like a time-warp from 1986. It wasn't the haircut I asked for but it wasn't bad, either.

As I walked out, I was reminded of what had happened with Joanne. It occurred to me that this salon girl made a mistake too, but she handled it better than I did. I'm sure that this will be a problem when she faced up to it, maybe she'll have to lose pay or even worse. She was better than me, because she owned up to it right away. She admitted her mistake and tried to get it fixed. She immediately told me that I wouldn't be paying for any of the fees for the haircut. Those things were both nice. They didn't stop the consequences, but they made me feel better, somehow.


The next day I sent Joanne a message, I asked if I could talk to her. She agreed, and I called her up. 

I told her, "I've done what I can to fix this. I messed up, and as a result I broke trust in you. I'm so sorry for what I put you thorough." I thought of the stylist, and how it felt to be on the other side of a mistake. I said, "You trusted me, and I let you down. I'm sure that I don't know all of the effects this had on you, but I know how it feels to be let down by someone. "

Maybe one day she'll forgive me, maybe not. She seemed to take it well, so I have hope.