Gotta say I’m enjoying the dialog sparked by my writing about how we can somehow build up community between the divided country we live in (and that UK citizens and Germans do, too). I’ve enjoyed the input from a variety of people, and especially encourage those of you who think the left versus right problem is confined only to the US to read the comments on my last two posts:
I appreciate that many readers in my extended community think I’m on the right track about being willing to listen to others, look at the big picture, and see how we got where we are. But, I also appreciate those of you who say you just can’t try for a middle ground with people who believe x, y, and z. I probably touched on that issue a little bit, but not enough, so let me clarify a bit.
There’s no denying that there are radical fringe group members who are neither interested in compromising nor holding onto beliefs most people would want to compromise about. People in the middle might find the extremists on one side of the other more palatable, but there are some philosophies where the majority of people feel like we have to draw the line, as Aurora (not her real name) said on Facebook.
Nope, I’m not going to waste my time working for common ground with actual neo-Nazis, nor with radicalized Communists who want to completely dismantle our society. I may hold slightly more sympathy to the left-leaning extremists, but I know better than to argue with one (having given birth to one). I’m going to let them go do their things and concentrate on things I CAN do something about. There always have been and always will be extremes. You can’t have a continuum without ends, though sometimes it seems like the very opposite ends are sort of close to each other!
When I talk about finding common ground and working toward common goals from different perspectives, I’m talking about the vast majority of people, even those very firm in their beliefs about political and sociological issues, but who recognize the common humanity with their fellow citizens.
I hope that clears things up a bit. Sorry I don’t have as much time as usual to make my points!
Yesterday, I dared to propose that it is a good idea to work on not demonizing “the other side” so much. I keep proposing that, and it’s never very popular, but I’ll keep doing it, because from what I’ve read and experienced, everyone thinks their side makes sense. That, coupled with the fact that most actual people are in the middle, not on the radical ends of the spectrum, makes me think we could find common ground AND still keep our personal beliefs.
I wondered what kind of response I’d get (if any), and who I’d hear from. To my surprise, the first people who responded on my Facebook post were two of my conservative friends. Now, as Lee pointed out, conservative friends I still have on Facebook are either relatives or people I enjoy having rational discussions with. And sure enough, they posted rational thoughts that I enjoyed and learned from.
My second surprise was, given that I have a poop-load of liberal friends, some of whom are extra-extra liberal, I initially didn’t hear a peep out of them on Facebook, either in agreement or disagreement. But, whew, I did eventually get the kind of feedback I’d hoped for, from all sides, in private messages, email, and other media. I’d like to share a few wise words, which I’ll keep anonymous but colorful.
Both my husband and this friend agreed that polarization is profitable:
“There’s a lot of money being spent from both extremes to convince the people in the middle who are getting along and helping one another — making things work, that there are more people working against them than working for them.”
A couple of people privately said to me that they hesitate to consider moderating their approach, because it might mean saying you agree with them or giving up your beliefs. This friend was sharing a link to some additional useful content that helped them (sorry it’s behind a paywall), and then shared a perspective that sounded all too familiar to me.
“I think for myself, what scares me, is that if I move to the middle, if I try to find common ground, that I endorse all the things that have been so shocking and repugnant. I don’t have to list them here, after the last four years we know them well. But this program [link above], filled with wise, revolutionary activists, helped me to understand that there is a BIG difference between looking for common ground and listening and accepting what is unacceptable. I’m going to buy it, so i can go over it again, in my own time. Not only are the ideas helpful, it amplifies voices that I don’t hear often enough and that I don’t know well, but want to learn more about. I’m embarrassed to say that only Van Jones was really known to me. Anyway, I recommend this. I’ve always fought against the Hillbilly Elegy mindset and I’m not advocating a glorification of the rural racism, ignorance and misogyny I grew up with in the Adirondacks. I stand very firmly against those things. But when I dehumanize people without understanding their complexity and see them as trash, then to paraphrase Van Jones, my trash becomes Nazi or QAnon treasure. We will never get anywhere with hate and divisiveness. Brene Brown says much the same. We want to shame and hate-because we are very angry about what we see and for VERY good reason. We should be angry. As Brene says, it would be great if shame did work, because we could then shame the ever loving shit out of some folks. But it never, ever works to change behavior, more’s the pity. Folks have to change on their own and feel their own shame. It’s such a challenge to hold people accountable, without dehumanizing and shaming. But, it can be done, I hope.”
Yes, oh yes. This is why I want to keep caring about everyone! Things are complex, and turning them into black and white doesn’t solve complex problems.
Another friend admitted that the other side’s claims scare them, enough so that my blog post also scared them. I totally get that. I have a feeling a LOT of the people who didn’t say anything were in this camp. Most of my friends probably are. I can’t deny that some of the things I learn are scary to me. I just have to note that some of the things I believe scare others. Sad.
One of the wisest people I know concurred with me, which helped me feel like I’m not some kind of fool:
“…unless we respect the right of others to hold a conflicting opinion and can be comfortable discussing them with each other we will never achieve the peace we say we want to have.”
And thoughtful local friend echoed the above:
“…my standard is that if you can’t argue your opponent’s side then you don’t know what you really believe. Not enough people seek the ‘true’ or facts but just believe so much fake, half truth junk. And sad is the fact that too many have lost sight that we can all love each other and be friends, yet still live on different political spectrums. But alas, we have to try to squash and kill anyone and everyone that is not of the same like mind as ‘we’ are.”
Here’s one more, from a blog reader commenting on my desire to be on the team with people willing to look at the big picture (check out his entire comment on my post from yesterday for a helpful, if sorta sad, UK perspective):
“I think the team in question is Centrism, rational, liberal but also skeptical and factual. It’s a devastating gap in politics on both sides of the Atlantic right now.”
Yes. When you are advocating for being in the center, it does NOT mean believing in nothing and it does not mean accepting everything each side maintains as true. Let’s work toward keeping rationality, skepticism, and factuality in mind, even if we come from a conservative viewpoint, and maybe we’ll find goals we can agree on.
I really appreciate everyone who was brave enough to share their thoughts on a controversial issue. I’d love to learn more from you all. If you take the time to read this, I respect your opinion! This is how we build community.