I have been working hard over the past two weeks to avoid getting caught in the adrenaline rush of Trump-Terror afflicting so many people since Inauguration Day in the US.
Of course it is important to be informed. We must never turn a blind eye to difficult and painful realities.
But, when we look at anything through the lens of fear, anxiety, and distrust, we never see clearly. Caught in the swirling vortex of angst around our perceived opponent, we will soon stop listening. And eventually we will start viewing the other as our “enemy”; we will demonize, vilify, and diminish the one we perceive to be a threat. This is not a recipe for healthy life-giving discourse, or for positive change in the complex bewildering world we must to navigate together.
We need to find a way that does not require us to dismiss those with whom we disagree as a “basket of deplorables.”
Perhaps before anger and fear we might start with sadness.
The condition of the human conversation in much of the world today, is heartbreaking. It is tragic that we fail to hear one another.
True hearing requires genuine respect. There is no positive way forward that starts with me seeking to prove that you are a lower order of being.
Six months ago, in a lengthy, but insightful article at the New Yorker, George Saunders sought to map a course for a divided populace. He began by identifying the saddest reality in the current political conversation saying,
An ungentleness gets into the air when Trump speaks… This ungentleness ripples out through the crowd and into the area beyond the fence where the protesters have set up shop.
Saunders may identify this “ungentleness” as a quality that “gets into the air when Trump speaks”, but Trump is not the sole source of “ungentleness”. “Ungentleness” is pervasive in our culture. Certainly, those who protest Mr. Trump are frequently guilty of emitting an energy “into the air” that is every bit as ungentle as anything emanating from the Trump camp. And we are never well-served by “ungentleness” from whichever side of the political spectrum it originates.
In his article at the New Yorker Saunders describes telling Trump supporters stories about real people whose lives would be thrown into turmoil if many of Trump’s proposed policies were implemented. Saunders discovered that,
In the face of specificity, my interviewees began trying, really trying, to think of what would be fairest and most humane for this real person we had imaginatively conjured up. It wasn’t that we suddenly agreed, but the tone changed. We popped briefly out of zinger mode and began to have some faith in one another, a shared confidence that if we talked long enough, respectfully enough, a solution could be found that might satisfy our respective best notions of who we were.
And it turned out Saunders writes that,
The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time, flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something precious.
This is the only hope for a way forward, the only glimmer of light on the horizon. We need to see those with whom we disagree, those we may fear, not as the enemy, not as contemptibles, but as real people. Too many attacks against Trump and his supporters, flatten both into cardboard caricatures. It is not surprising that, when political discourse devolves to hurling invective across the fence at people we have never taken the time to know, that the energy of “ungentleness” is the only winner.
We need to do better. We need to listen more carefully. We need to exercise greater respect and more heartfelt compassion towards everyone in this difficult conversation. If our hearts can open and soften, even to Mr. Trump, perhaps there is hope the human community may find light in this complex world we inhabit.