Last week was a maelstrom of emotions. A week ago Wednesday, like many of you, I woke up to a profound experience of confusion, despair, fear, rage, and hopelessness. From that place I told a Trump supporter Fb friend to fuck off, left snippy comments on the pages of friends who voted for third party candidates, and made posts calling out friends and family who voted for Trump. I felt justified, from a place of fear and anger, in my actions. That day I also read a blog post by my long time friend Heidi Nelson Petak—a PHD educated, red state resident, Jesus-loving evangelical— entitled “I am not a Hater” where she broke down her reasons for voting for Trump. My reaction to her post title was visceral, because everything in me in that moment wanted to believe otherwise about Trump voters. But, I know Heidi and I absolutely know the truth of her statement that she is not a “hater,” so I read her post with as open a mind as I could. I read it with the intention to try and understand her deep motivations that led to an action (voting for Trump) I profoundly disagreed with.
And I had reactions to what she wrote, but took a day to really let everything settle before I responded. Instead of picking apart her argument, I tried to stay connected to her deep motivations that I could relate to—those of coming from a place of love, and responded from there, trying to understand how she connected to love through something that I only associated with hate. My response was met with further thoughtful responses, and we entered into a dialogue from a shared belief that people from opposing viewpoints need to work to connect to each other’s humanity. Because, the way we’ve been doing it, clashing and stopping at the level of issues and belief systems has only led to a growing divide in our greater community where we feel free to dehumanize those who believe differently than we do.
And, don’t get me wrong, there is some seriously scary shit going on that we need to fight against—hard. White supremacists in the White House (ala Steve Bannon, Kris Kobach, and Jeff Sessions)? Incredibly horrifying. A proposed Muslim registry? Completely reprehensible. Having to explain to our daughters why our country just elected someone who denigrates and assaults women? Heart breaking. But here’s the complexity I’m attempting to hold right now: if I want to fight against the surging wave of dehumanization that I’ve witnessed during Trump’s campaign and his subsequent election, then I need fight against my own tendencies to dehumanize, on a more subtle level, the entire swath of people who voted him.
A Pew research poll which came out in June showed that the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans felt afraid, angry, and frustrated by members of the opposite party. http://www.people-press.org/…/partisanship-and-political-a…/ Probably a large part of how we got into this mess is that we don’t know how to disagree without turning those on the other side of our beliefs into “The Other”—an Other that on one end of the spectrum we can summarily dismiss as misguided and seriously lacking in better judgment, and at the far end of the spectrum, someone that we’re justified in harming and killing. And we are all doing it—just at different places on the spectrum.
So, I’m channeling my upset into something I feel passionate about: trying to find connections through a common core values, and from there have a more grounded exchange on personal stories and biography that motivate action. I had an amazing and heart centered Skype call yesterday with Heidi—she in Nashville, and myself in Seattle—where we talked about our fears and our loves. We tried on each other’s perspective, and we learned surprising (or not so surprising) data points such as news stories being wildly different in our different regions. For example—in her area there is very little if no reporting on the wave of hate crimes sweeping the nation. Take that in. Can you begin to understand—just on that point alone—why we can have such different motivation and actions? (And if there’s any question in you about why she or others in her area didn’t work harder to listen to news outside of their sphere, ask yourself how actively you pursue news from sources other than the progressive standards of NYT, Vox, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Mother Jones, Vice, etc. etc. I can tell you that I’m making an effort to step outside of my liberal bubble now. As such, I’ve found the Real Clear Politics app to be a great way to get headlines from a wide swath of news sources across the spectrum) In our call I tried on the perspective that the last eight years have been a disappointment and uncomfortable for her community. I can’t say that was easy for me to do, but for the first time I really worked to try and get it, instead of reflexively going to my comfortable place of “They’re just wrong.” And, on her end, Heidi deeply took in the pain and fear felt by people on the receiving end of hate crimes, and was profoundly moved. Our conversation was deeply touching, incredibly enlivening, and gave me hope for the possibilities of creating profound connection despite profound divides.
And, I’m not pushing creating heart connection with people you disagree with as “The Right Way” or the “Ultimate Solution”. I can only see things from my particular viewpoint at this keyboard as a white woman in a progressive city, who doesn’t have to worry about being targeted, who lives comfortably, and who can reasonably expect to wake up to the same lifestyle I go to sleep with each night. So, I get how I have a particularly privileged experience. But I’m trying to work harder to understand and connect to experiences that are not my own—and that’s an approach that I want to see seated at the table of strategies for how to move forward from here. I can appreciate that there are very valid times to yell and scream for what needs to be heard—and that we are witnessing those times; and I can also understand how being constantly yelled and screamed at shuts people down from listening to opposing viewpoints. If you haven’t already read the article about how one Jewish man’s overture of friendship to Derek Black, a noted white supremacist, led to the Derek’s eventual exodus from the white nationalist movement, please do https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/ed5f906a-8f3b-11e6-a6a3-d5….
Friendship works. Connecting to people’s hearts works. For me, staying in rage no longer does. If spanning the gulf between those of us on either side of the wide ideological divide in this country hasn’t been accomplished by yelling at, shaming, and dehumanizing each other, isn’t it time to try something else?
The conversation between Heidi and I will continue, and we’re working to document the experience, more details soon.