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.


Anonymous said...

You're so brave to reach out and do this, and really put all your empathizing skills to work. I'm afraid to approach people who "drank the cool-aid" (I feel bad describing it that way, but even after reading this, I have to feel that they were duped), so my hat is off to you. I think whatever their reasons, they chose someone truly dangerous over someone they just didn't like. And that is REALLY hard to get past for me. I'm falling onto "don't ask, don't tell" as a way to keep friendships that I fear I wouldn't be able to otherwise. Thank you for trying to dig deeper and understand them a little better. Eventually I think we'll all have to come to that place in order to keep the precarious peace we have now.

Janet said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for replying. I like to believe that you are right, that eventually we'll all have to come to that place of understanding each other to find peace.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting to read
Familiar conversations
I have understood in the past how people can potentially lean in different directions on things like estate tax…but how can we be so divided human rights issues

Janet said...

Thanks. I have a hard time with it, too. Sometimes I imagine that they think these things are important, too, but that they have more important things on their minds. Like the guy running a red light because his pregnant wife is in labor in the front seat - I imagine that their priorities are simply more focused on what's right in front of them.