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."
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.