Obviously, this has been a rough week on American soil. People invested themselves heavily in the outcome of our election, and many found themselves bitterly disappointed: emphasis on bitterly. Still others found themselves elated and took to social media with their gloating. I’ve been through disappointing elections and have also been elated with outcomes of presidential races, but I’ve never seen so many people truly and deeply struggling with an outcome the way they have this time.
Adding to the emotional trauma, an underlying mistrust of people who believe differently than ourselves has polarized politics for years, but this time, it seems to be polarizing the people themselves. Attacks are personal and hurtful. One family member disowned one of my friends and her children for voting “wrong.” Some blast those who voted a certain way as being communists, while others label their now-former friends racists and misogynists. Some of the most hateful language has come from those accusing others of being hateful. What? I’ve never, in fact, used this language directed at anyone, yet it’s aimed at me if I did not vote a certain way.
We’re making sweeping assumptions about people and reacting without listening.
A millennial whom I love came to me on election night and asked me to explain my position. He genuinely wanted to understand why my generation–an assumption that all in my generation agreed–drew the conclusions we landed on for this election, and THEN HE LISTENED.
He didn’t call me names and attack my position. He listened for understanding, and he felt my frustration because he WANTED TO UNDERSTAND.
How many truly devastating problems in our world would resolve if we all followed this young man’s lead? Why can’t we ask each other, “What do you mean?” or “Why do you feel that way?” and then listen?
My son-in-law had a brilliant idea for closing in the gaps between cultures:
What if churches within a community with diverse backgrounds routinely sat down with one another to share food and fellowship and purposely integrated?
What if, instead of separating into tables by affiliation, we purposely sat with people we didn’t already know and practiced the art of conversation?
What if we celebrated the gifts that made us distinct? How much better might we understand one another?
Better yet, what if our nation’s hungry were now fed because we’re suddenly aware of the real children down the street who need support from their local community? Government proves an unworthy opponent to hunger, injustice, and turmoil, but people themselves wield effective tools to combat these atrocities.
I’m blessed with a culturally and politically diverse family. We sit at the dinner table, knowing we disagree on quite a lot, and we listen to one another, thinking of what the other person means and how he feels, not about what to say next to win the debate.
In fact, we don’t see it as a debate at all. I rarely feel that my children are trying to change who I am or how I think. More often, they just want me to understand how they think and what they feel. When I understand that basic principle of communication, I can sit across the table from and genuinely care for nearly anyone, regardless of their cultural, religious, economic, or ethnic backgrounds, but it is MY job to control that part of me that loves a good debate. It is MY job to listen for understanding. It is MY job to shut MY mouth and hear out those who hold opposing positions.
If we’re to heal and bind the wounds of our nation, we must sit and listen to one another. We must control our natural, knee-jerk impulses, and we must care for one another.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.
Photography by Kai Eason, Richmond, VA