Last weekend, as I was driving home from my Drew lesson, I listened to an episode of Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam. I’m so glad I did, because the story he shared, gently and neutrally, made the point that I’ve been slowly and painfully trying to articulate for the past few years:
I’ve always been deeply aware that circumstances are rarely black and white. No one’s all good or all evil. No form of government is all bad or all good. No religion is perfect or all bad. You get my drift and may even agree.
But what this episode, “Both Things Can Be True,” clarified for me is that while it is much easier to see people only one way, it is entirely possible to hold two completely conflicting views of someone. The woman in the story comes to see an important person in her life as both someone who saved her life and betrayed her. She could be both grateful and angry. And that allowed her to reach peace.
The ability to do this is called integrative complexity, which is not a new concept, but was new to me. That’s what has let me cope a little better with the complexities in my own life (sparing you the details).
From what I observe, though, not many people are into the complexity thing. It’s easier to over generalize.
I see it so often where someone fucks up and the people around them switch from seeing them as good and label them as evil. It’s happened in my family, both to me and to someone I care deeply about. I see it, too, when people declare all Republicans or Democrats are evil, all Christians or Muslims are extremists, all police officers are corrupt…etc.
No wonder there’s so much divisiveness. Black and white thinking is just easier.
I am so tired of that bullshit.
It’s not easy to let go of ingrained patterns of belief. Don’t I know it! But integrative complexity is, I think, exactly what is needed to create a world where people can work together to solve the real problems of the world…once we accept that solutions, too, are not all black and white.
I spent all day going from the Continental Divide down to near sea level. It’s a long way down, but now I’ve got bonus red blood cells to enjoy.
I’m glad I got to ride from Breckenridge to Denver in the daytime, because there are cool little towns, old mines, and many rocks (hence, Rocky Mountains). I want to visit every funky town and all the parks. Guess I’ll have to go back.
Once I got to the airport it was the usual lines, walks, and waits. I just tried to stay away from people. But, all was well, and eventually I got to Austin. Lesson: next time take a nonstop flight.
Thanks to my giant, inexpensive suitcase, in which one will find Lee’s smaller suitcase and all my yarn, etc., I got everything I purchased or made on my trip home with ease. I’m glad Ken and Cathy talked me into that. But wow, that’s a big suitcase.
The most negative part of my trip was listening to a pilot expound on his beliefs about vaccines and other current news events. If I hadn’t just read a similar set of thoughts from someone else I know, I’d have thought he was making it up. But, no, it’s the narrative accepted by many in this country. I’m listening and learning, rather than name calling and labeling, hard as that may be. Maybe it’s good for me?
I’ll be listening a lot in the coming weeks and months, as all heck has broken loose in Milam County politics. I think listening is the best plan for an outsider like me. But hey, now I can vote here. Hmm.
While I’ve been taking a little break from panicking about the state of our divided country here in the USA, people have not stopped fomenting divisiveness at every opportunity. It’s starting to bug me more and more. I have a radical suggestion.
If we just focused our energy and money on improving the lives of our citizens instead of punishing people we disagree with, we might just make things actually BETTER.
Crazy, right? I got to thinking about it, because a Patriot friend of mine (yes, I have Patriot friends) posted a long article by Dennis Prager saying how scary things are because the Left is taking away all the freedoms of people on the Right. I’m not going to quote him, but it’s worth reading before you read more of my thoughts.
I read the whole thing, because I think it’s important to make an effort to understand where folks are coming from. What struck me most was this:
If I substituted left-leaning examples and fears for the right-leaning examples and fears, I could have written this.
Our divided society is divided, for the most part, because whoever’s content we read is designed to make us fear our neighbors, believe they are untrustworthy an out to get us, and constantly lie to us. Two examples:
The article by Prager says how afraid Patriots are to admit they planned to vote for their candidate, and whispered about it at work. Oddly, here in Milam County, a huge percentage of homes and ranches had (and still have) flags, signs, and hand-made items proclaiming their allegiance to that candidate, while I can remember ONE sign for the other candidate. Hmmm. Seems we both had reason to not mention our leanings (other than the fact that the workplace is one of those places where it’s not great to talk politics). That fear had to come from somewhere.
I watch, read, and listen to news from left-leaning sources, like NPR and the BBC. But, during the elections and inauguration period, I watched a lot of CNN coverage, because it was the one that disgusted my household the least. By just stepping outside my personal prejudices a little bit, I could easily see how the reporting was designed to get us upset. You couldn’t miss the soundbites about how one candidate spread “lies” and “untrue” information and downplayed anything more reasonable he might have said. I can tell when I’m being manipulated.
The question that has been running through my head, in I guess my own personal conspiracy theory, is who’s benefiting from all this sowing of discord and promotion of us versus them thinking? Who wins by taking advantage of the undeniable human impulse to come up with reasons to make the out-group appear terrible (which, apparently, a long time ago, kept people from spreading diseases (from Sway, the book I’m reading and from Behave, which told me how this stuff works in our brains)).
Somebody made a shit-ton of money selling those omnipresent T**** signs.
Somebody’s making a lot of money off guns and ammo sales.
Somebody’s profiting from all those masks us pro-vaccinators are buying.
Whoever owns these highly factional news outlets must be raking it in.
I could go on, but I think you get my drift.
People are spending so much of their valuable money, time, and energy on hating each other these days! The rich one one side are spending $4,000 a plate for fundraisers for politicians outside their state. The rich on the other side are doing exactly the same thing. That amount of money, given locally, could help people struggling from the consequences of the pandemic, help working parents find child care so they can work from home and not go crazy, or house the homeless. I hear the message that my conservative friends don’t want there to be government handouts. Government handouts would not be necessary if people helped each other, like Jesus tells them to.
I’ve heard it said many times that there’s a grain of truth in every rumor or speculation. What if we stepped back and set aside the hyperbole to find the truth in the fears and concerns of all the people in the US? What if we looked from another perspective? What would happen?
When I try to do this, it’s hard. We have been ingrained with our partisan beliefs our whole lives, and they are what bind us to our “team” and make us feel special and a part of the family of believers. I’m no different. But I am willing to give it a try. I know we have much in common, like loving our families, wanting meaningful work, and not wanting to go hungry. We’re all committed to our faith journeys, however different they are (that includes you, atheists).
What would happen if we told those people, corporations, or other faceless entities who are profiting from keeping us at each other’s throats to go shove it? Would we be able to finally figure out what the motives of the profit-makers really are? Would it entail ALL of us struggling and failing? It might.
I hesitate to write this kind of kumbaya content, because I know I’ll hear back, “But those other guys did THIS!” and “Those awful people are doing THAT to me!” and “They’re just EVIL, I tell you!”
Newsflash: there are misguided and dangerous people in every single group you could name. There are also people who are just trying to live their lives and have been influenced by different sources of information. What we NEED are more people on all sides who are willing to step aside and look at the big picture.
As a fitting start to Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about all the learning I’ve been doing during the COVID year. Much of it has been about racism, the history of race, and unconscious bias. It’s really opened my eyes about a lot of areas for growth in my attitudes and actions, as well as confirming things that have made me uncomfortable my whole life. I’m glad I’m going through all this, and feel more grounded in reality every day.
Now, I’m open to learning about this stuff, even knowing perfectly well that as a human, I’m programmed to detect “others” and be on guard for them. The book I’m currently reading (Sway) makes the point that just because there are things hard-wired into us doesn’t mean we can’t change. It also helps that I hang around with people who are also open to learning about this stuff, want equality for everyone, and are willing to work on it.
But, after hearing my sister tell a story about how surprised she was to find out that someone she liked lived in the alternate reality where many in the US hang out, I got to thinking about how many people are fine and dandy just the way they are, and are not open to changing how they think about others. Complacency seems to be pretty darned common.
I’m understanding more and more WHY the big divide in the US exists, from a big picture perspective. When you feel a real attachment to your “tribe,” where all your friends, family, and admired celebrities are, the last thing you want to do is not fit in. It’s a lot easier to tell yourself that these people’s beliefs are correct, good, and appropriate from you than to stick out like a sore thumb, get picked on, or even get ostracized from the group (which has happened to a lot of people I know!). Divisiveness pays!
There’s really nothing enticing about being open to changing your views, if all the rewards come from sticking right where you are. My current idea is that, if we want people to change, even a teeny bit, asking them to compromise probably isn’t the right tactic. There needs to be something in it for those folks. It seems to me that if there were some reward for being willing to learn about other points of view and maybe even changing your mind, people might be more willing to put in the effort and sacrifice some comfort for it.
I’m testing my hypothesis by trying to figure out what kind of reward it would take for ME to be more open to listening to the other side. One if family unity. I do listen to certain family members, because I want to keep them in my family more than I want to feel better than them because I’m on the “right” side. Another is satisfying my curiosity. I have always found it useful to figure out what some group is actually about when I have a strong gut reaction. That has helped me learn a lot about Islam, its various types, and the variety of ways it’s expressed. Now, rather than disliking a whole group of people, I only have an issue with a small portion, just the same as I do with Christians, Jews, and others.
But, those seem like rather internally oriented rewards. I wonder if something more physical or tangible would help? What, like getting paid to learn all about Qanon (or whatever that is). That doesn’t work for me. I just want to know where all these ideas about people eating babies come from. I guess I don’t know elite-enough people.
So, I end up at a loss. I can’t think of any reward that would entice someone who’s perfectly happy as a racist, a sexist, a radical religious extremist, or a fascist to want to learn about what people over on my side refer to as “facts.”
Any ideas? Am I entirely off base? What could make people more open to learning about “the other” in their lives? Has anyone read a book that might guide me? (Like I need another book to read…not.)
I realize I keep coming back to this topic, but I’m really concerned. While there have always been different points of view, different “teams” that we’re on, and strong feelings about them (this morning I was thinking about Tudor England and the religious issue), I never have seen that these divisions have helped societies move forward and improve people’s lives. The deepest times of division have led to death, poverty, and great sadness.
I’ve felt a lack of kinship with people in the US much of my life. Most Presidential and other more local elections tend to be close, meaning there are lots of us on each side. I admit that I was not fond of perhaps most Presidents of the USA. But, I didn’t run away and hide from people who liked those leaders. I still worked with them, went to school with them, socialized with them, etc. I was never so afraid of them that I felt I needed to hide.
Even in the last four years, when people were arming themselves, calling people like me horrible names, and threatening violence against us, I didn’t feel like I had to hide. I did contain my strongest thoughts to smaller circles of friends, but I didn’t want to abandon my other friends and acquaintances. They mattered to me, and still do.
So, I am really disappointed and sad that many people, including people I have enjoyed being around, are running away from the rest of us to go off to their own special social media platform. It’s fine to go be around people like yourself. I think it’s a really human impulse to want to want to be able to relax and not self-censor quite so much, at least some of the time. But, I really hope most of these folks don’t completely abandon places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., where you can be with people like yourself AND get exposed to other ideas and perspectives.
Please, friends, don’t take your toys and go hide just because you’re in the minority. Most of us have been in the minority our whole lives and it’s been okay. Sharing power and influence might even make life easier, who knows if we don’t give it a chance?
Even we hermits of the Hermits’ Rest really don’t want to hide from everyone who isn’t “one of us.” There is so much we have in common. I know I harp on this, but it’s true! We need to work together to deal with the pandemic, to create good jobs in our communities (like our company, which has people of ALL perspectives in it), and to keep each other safe. I just wish our common humanity and citizenship of the same planet mattered to more of us.
Anyway, thank you to everyone who is willing to continue talking to each other, caring for each other, and considering each other’s perspectives. We don’t need a civil war, violence, or separate societies. We can disagree, protest, and work toward our goals without hurting or deserting each other. I sure hope.
I’m going to be sure to let people I know hear that I care about them. What about you?
Riding along through the Texas countryside, I saw lots and lots of political flags, signs, and such. It reminded me of how divided this country is today. I began to reflect on the books I’ve been reading lately, most of which touch on the history of this country, and how there’s always been a lot of cruelty to those who are not in power and a lot of fighting to keep those people “in their places.” I’m referring to pretty much anyone who isn’t a white dude, and preferably a white dude with mostly English background.
Reading about lynchings, realizing that people came to watch them for amusement and sent out postcards of themselves posing with the victims, learning how each new wave of immigrant to the US was treated, and learning how hard men fought to keep women from having the right to own land, sign their own contracts, or vote all have been turning my stomach lately.
Yesterday it came to life on our own property. The friend who likes to do metal detecting around town came over to investigate the fields behind the Ross property. He found two old pennies, some buckles, some keys and two tokens. These were tokens used as currency at a local dance hall, Germania Hall. It was a big deal at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. How cool, right?
But, it abruptly shut down. Why? Because of the huge wave of intolerance towards German immigrants around World War 1. This is also why Lee’s dad didn’t speak German, though his parents did. My friend Steve, who’s from Indiana, had the same thing happen in his family. Everyone just stopped speaking German.
By the way, parts of Germania Hall were used to construct Weid Hardware in the Dutchtown area of Cameron (Dutch secretly being Deutsch). I would love to know where the hall was, but these newspaper articles never gave addresses. Everyone knew where everything was in the early 1900s!
The US has always been this way. There is always someone who is the enemy or the class viewed as less than human. I just didn’t know this when I was younger! I honestly thought there were very few ignorant and intolerant people, and that society was moving at a brisk pace toward modernism and equality for all. Women could vote! Blacks could drink out of any damn water fountain they wanted to, and went to the same schools as me.
I was way too insulated, and remained so through grad school, when I was in this happy haven of love and equality that I thought applied almost everywhere. I sure was naïve. Plus, I thought that racists, misogynists, etc., were just ignorant, and that if they realized how they were treating other human beings much like themselves, they’d have some big epiphany and stop. Really, Suna? Really?
And get this, I actually thought that surely everyone would want others to have access to health care, a living wage, and a stable, safe place to live. Nope. I totally missed the fact that there is another completely legitimate point of view where everyone is in it for themselves, and only you, your family, and people just like you deserve good things. Everyone else isn’t quite human. Oops. I was a doofus. I may think folks of this midset are worthy of respect and kindness by virtue of being fellow humans, but they don’t think that of me and all us hippies.
Well, I will just wait and see what happens. I’m ready, because I know who I am and like myself. I just wish I had paid a little more attention to actual history, not what I read in watered-down books that universally praised the winners and villified the losers in any conflict. The good news is that with the world being just as it always has been and apparently always will be, people have managed to forge loving relationships, live peaceful lives, and grow spiritually. There are just more ways to do it than I thought in my youth.
I’ve written before about how human cultures cannot resist creating in-groups and out-groups, us vs. them, and all that. The Behave book I read recently had a whole chapter about it. It talked about how half the humans are “wired” to react to life in one way and the other half in another, roughly corresponding to conservative and liberal points of view (called different things in different circumstances). In this, we ARE literally born that way, though our life experiences can certainly have an effect.
In my naively over-educated way, I keep hoping that there are at least some parts of life where we can come together and enjoy each other’s company or deal with important issues while leaving our artificial differences aside. But no.
I’m truly disappointed that we’ve now degenerated into partisan camps about whether to take precautions against spreading the COVID19 virus. For goodness sake, it’s not stay at home and quake versus run around in big groups hug constantly. People need to take the precautions they find prudent, which may differ depending on their underlying health or risk aversion trait. And some people need to work to survive, so why can’t they do so and take precautions reasonable for them? None of this has anything to do with what color your state is or who you voted for in the last election. Sigh.
What actually got me going on how ridiculous our drive to make ourselves partisan and despise the other side is something I knew about, but didn’t realize how bad it had gotten. Even our beloved fiber arts have become divided. When the Ravelry fiber arts community site enforced their long-standing rule about not having hate speech in its groups (which applies to all members and topics), a sizable group of people left in a huff, so that they could go express their partisan hatred elsewhere. And as they did, they compiled a list of vendors and stores where they would not shop and teachers from whom they would not take classes.
This all made for fodder for analysis and raised interesting questions, for which I don’t have all the answers. Were their knitting patterns hate speech? Were the patterns produced in response hate speech? Hmm.
But the infighting in one of the internet’s most niche communities is about more than just politics and knitting. It’s a glimpse of how otherwise ignored populations—here, predominantly older women—are using online platforms to organize and make their voices heard. And the Ravelry falling-out highlights questions other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, have tiptoed around: What constitutes hate speech, and how should censorship work online?
Technology Review, March 2020
Okay, they had a right to leave and to be pissed off, just as others had a right to be pissed off at them. However, it was over a year ago. Some of these folks are still trying to bully teachers and others with whom they disagree, and in a turn that seems eerily familiar, they started denying they ever had a list and accusing people of making it up. What? Aren’t they aware of the concept of “screenshots?” Honestly, if I felt censored, I could see why I’d still be upset, but I’d figure going after people who disagree would not be a great way to further my cause.
Why can’t we knit and crochet (and needlepoint, cross stitch and weave, etc.) and share our love of those things with others without dividing ourselves up into warring factions? If someone makes a nice sweater, it’s a nice sweater. If someone’s cross stitch with the F-word on it offends you, don’t make one for yourself. And if you want to make tributes to your favorite president, feel free to do so without engaging in hate speech as well.
I have a relative whose politics aren’t the same as mine. So what. I still think she is an amazingly talented needlepointer. I still like her. If we get together in the future, we’ll probably talk about family matters and crafts, not politics. That’s not so hard.
Honestly, I don’t want to hate or fear others, and it really looks to me like we are being encouraged to do so, so that we don’t focus on actual issues we all have in common, like the need for adequate health care, enough money to feed out families, and a wide variety of educational opportunities for all.
When I find myself feeling a little afraid to go shopping wearing a mask, I need to tell myself that no, most of the people not wearing masks are NOT going to yell at me. I’d also like to be able to go into a craft store and not feel judged for buying rainbow yarn, a Franklin Habit book, or something ridiculous like that.
I’m gonna stubbornly care about everybody, even if I get puzzled by choices some people make or beliefs they hold. Even, gasp, if they hold logically inconsistent beliefs. I want to live in peace with my neighbors and enjoy what we have in common, not get all worked up about differences.
So there. It’s sad, not funny that we can’t cut each other some slack and not call each other horrible names.