“Once you label me, you negate me” – Sorren Kierkegaard
“How could they see anything but shadows, if they were never allowed to move their heads.” – Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
When was the last time you had an actual civil conversation with someone from the other side of the political landscape?
To my American friends and family,
I write both as an American and a Canadian—one who was born in California and grew up in Vancouver, but who has deep empathy for, though admittedly an outsider’s perspective of, American politics and culture. My perspective is limited, but it is one perspective, though perhaps different than yours. We live in a democracy and that’s the beautiful thing about it; we can have several perspectives on issues. Some perspectives may be outright wrong and hateful, while others can be misinformed. But in a healthy democracy, we should always be able to express these varied perspectives.
Considering the outcome of Tuesday’s election, it’s natural and understandable for us to be angry, to be disillusioned, to want to fight back. At the same time, it’s also natural and understandable for others to be happy. It’s all a matter of perspective. Is there a right and wrong way to think? Yes, but! (“Yes, but’s” are important because they make us think about other perspectives).
I’m definitely not a moral relativist, and I do believe in objective truths and moral absolutes. But this doesn’t negate my belief that it’s perfectly legitimate for multiple perspectives and opinions to exist. Do we need to agree with all perspectives? Absolutely not! But we do need to acknowledge them. And I think this is where we have failed.
What we need to do, now more than ever, is have actual discourse on the state of things: Why is the United States so divided, and let’s face it, hateful of one another? How did Donald Trump become President-Elect? Why do so many people support him and his ideas, despite what he may represent? What changes in the system, in the media, and in us, need to be made to prevent further damage?
And I’m not talking about entering our echo chambers, listening to our podcasts, and reading think pieces that feed our addiction to righteous indignation. I’m talking about having real, civil conversations with “the other side.” I’m talking about reaching over the political spectrum to the people we have reduced to mere bigots and misogynists. We need to acknowledge them because they are real and they are human—humans we have to live with.
No real intellectual discourse has ever happened during this election. Not from Donald and Hillary, nor from any of their supporters, and least of all, from the peanut gallery on social media, nor any media for that matter. The media (and that includes us) has been responsible for creating narratives of binaries, focused on name-calling, labelling and over-simplifying the candidates, the issues and the parties. And though this feels good and reinforces our beliefs and our identities, giving us some semblance of control over what we can’t understand, when we label, we too quickly negate. We negate the humanity of that which we label—of the candidates, their followers and their beliefs. When we see them as mere memes, soundbites, or as “boogeymen” and anomalies, we neglect to acknowledge the reality of their existence and power. Once we negate, no real discourse happens, and thus, no learning happens.
If we never have this discourse, we will continue to only see the other Party in over-simplified terms. An anti-Trump citizen will always believe that all Trump supporters are merely misogynists and racists. An anti-Hillary citizen will always believe that all Hillary supporters love corrupt politics and liars. But this is far from the truth.
When we reduce and negate the other, we fail to understand their perspective, which is a failure that leads to further neglect, division and hatred. No matter how delusional, bigoted, ridiculous or harmful we believe their beliefs to be, we live in a democracy and must never silence the other. When we silence the other with our name-calling, labeling and returned hatred, we make them feel unheard, unacknowledged, undignified and we create and perpetuate even more hate.
We may not agree with their ideas, heck, we might even hate their ideas, but their ideas are real and can be powerful. Silencing these ideas, does not get rid of them. Silencing them merely represses them, forcing them to stew in their anger, and fall into their own echo chambers… until an opportunity arises and the biggest name-caller ends up winning.
59,695,095 people voted for Donald trump during this election. I refuse to believe that all of these people are simply racist, misogynist bigots. And even if some hold those beliefs, they are all still human beings and I refuse to reduce them to those beliefs.
Because we have to live with them in this democratic society, where their ideas can have power, I need to know why they have these beliefs. Instead of name-calling, labelling, and trying to silence people, I need to know why people voted how they voted. Now, more than ever, we need to humbly enter discourse with “the other” and try and see from their perspective. Maybe then, they will also do the same. Understanding others is the first step to making change. Understanding the other is how we learn, move forward and write a better story for each other. We can’t allow the media to tell our story anymore; we need to tell it.
This might all sound naive, but it’s my perspective. You might disagree with it, but that’s the beauty of discourse.
P.S. Watch this video… Kid President (maybe his last video as “Kid” President) sharing tips on how to disagree (which is essential with discourse):