Leaving Our Echo Chambers – The Need for Real Discourse

“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):



5 thoughts on “Leaving Our Echo Chambers – The Need for Real Discourse

  1. Overall I agree. It’s clear that where I live, the friends I have, the work I do has placed me in a very small bubble. I know zero trump supporters. I need to read the New York Times and as much as it pains me, also watch Fox News and try to understand. Like you said, understanding the other is the first step but I refuse to accept certain opinions. I refuse to accept hate.

    I have students In college who were advised to stay in this weekend bc of the fact they are not white.

    I have students who are concerned about members of their families being deported.

    I have students who were reduced to tears when trying to explain how what the president-elect stands for scares then to the core as Latina women.

    I have a good friend born and raised in California who was told to go back to her country in the parking lot of UC Berkeley where her husband currently teaches at the law school.

    I have friends who are considering marrying asap bc they are so scared of what this means for their beautiful and loving same sex partnership.

    I have so many more examples of how this is directly affecting me, people I love, and many i don’t know personally and their sense of self and safety.

    I refuse to hear and witness this hate and say “ok I respect your opinion”, “tell me more about why you think I’m inferior bc of my sex and my non-white skin”

    But I do think that along w standing up and refusing to accept the hate we need to pause and fight to stop it in systemic ways. I’m not going to change someone’s hateful views-it may be too late for that- but what if better funding for schools in white rural areas were to help since it was uneducated whites who were more likely to vote trump? More government support in the rust belt since it was mainly white blue collar voters for trump? Unfortunately I am not nearly smart enough to know the causes and possible solutions to end all this hate at such levels, but I will continue to fight harder and use my voice, I will continue to support all of those who are scared for their lives, and I will work harder to question and engage.

    1. Thanks for your response! And I agree with you completely. The ideas you suggest are great, and those examples you shared of people you know is heartbreaking. And I empathize (as much as my limited perspective allows me to), with the suffering that so many people have endured and will endure due to discrimination, misogyny, and hatred in the past and in the future. I can’t fully understand these pains because of my limited experience. I would only fully understand it, if I experienced it myself. And I (hopefully) will never be able to understand it (because I never want to experience this hatred toward me), but I feel very sad for the victims of this targeted hate.

      I was afraid my post might suggest that I’m saying that reaching over to the other side, and acknowledging their perspective simply means “respecting” and agreeing with hate. This is what I was grappling with, in the wording of the post. Please know that I don’t mean that we need to respect hatred…but we do live in a democracy and must listen to everyone. Everyone can vote, even the most ignorant and evil person can.

      Personally, I don’t think it would be that easy nor probable to engage (in a civil discourse) with someone that’s about to vandalize your car and write racial slurs on it…or with people in those white supremacist hate rally’s. So my call to discourse is not so much to connect us with these irrational and violent people (at least not yet). It may not be safe.

      Where I believe the real important discourse needs to start happening are with the people who (some perhaps reluctantly and secretly) voted for Trump who may not be the outwardly, extreme bigots or misogynists, but the people who may be disillusioned with politicians, with the choices they have, and with the system at large…a system that perhaps made them feel invalid or silenced. These people exist and need to be acknowledged. They aren’t merely irrational bigots and misogynists. I refuse to believe that all 6000000 Trump voters are.

      These are the people I want to really encourage discourse with as these are the people that perhaps real change can happen within. These are the people I want to respectfully engage with. For example, I want to know why they are able to look past the misogynistic ideas he has shared, and why they still felt they needed to vote for him (what is it that they really care about that he seemed to have the answer for?). Despite how we might disagree with them, I think It’s important that we validate their concerns and feelings, and try to understand where they are coming from… and by listening to them, hopefully they will also listen to us and try and see through the perspectives of millions of other people. Maybe, this is how their minds will evolve and who/what they support will change. This is how we will all evolve.

      Discourse, as hopeful and idealistic as it is, is necessary for peace. Trying to understand the other’s perspective is important, though I do admit, I don’t think we can ever really fully understand each other’s perspective. That said, we still have to try. Not just with this current election and its aftermath, but in life, in general.

      Again, thanks so much for sharing! It meant a lot.

      P.S. You remind me of a really intelligent friend I have in New York 🙂

      1. Thanks for that clarification. Clearly the fact that I can’t fathom what on earth a trump supporter could feel or think that overshadows the hateful rhetoric and actions he stands for shows that I need to educate myself more on the non-hate perspectives. On the other hand, I just read an opinion piece that reminded me that if I hadn’t left Vancouver and studied what I did, worked where I did, befriended who I have, and live where I do, I don’t think I’d be as passionate about all of this due to my very limited perspective (see my fb wall). My concerns are that those who voted trump clearly do not have any experiences engaging w the other, and their actions seem to suggest that they don’t want to engage in the future either. So where to go from here? Like we’ve discussed, discourse and listening can’t be one sided. I just feel so helpless about what to do. 😦

    1. Thanks for the response… Pimpandtell. But it’s more than just about him now… It’s about the fact that so many people voted for him, despite the hate and discrimination he has spoken. I can’t accept that 60 million people share those hateful attitudes and I don’t think they do. There are a plethora of reasons for why people voted for him, and one of those reasons is the fact that so many people have felt unheard and silenced over the past few years, and that’s partly because of how we’ve shut people up when they try to say anything other than what we believe. This is the tendency of the left in this current culture we live in… And this lack of discourse is a lack of education. And when people get into the voting booths they are allowed to say what they think. And perhaps for them, though they didn’t fully agree or understand the person they were voting for, he represented change, he represented a chance for these silenced people to be heard… he represented a swing to the other side, which is what many people want, despite the fact that they have to vote for an unqualified man with hate rhetoric. Have you seen this? Left/Liberal commentary from Jonathan Pie explaining why Trump won and blaming himself and the Left. It’s very important to consider:

      Unless I’m misunderstanding you, I respectfully disagree with you… I refuse to simply just watch one of his speeches and then claim to “understand”…it takes more than that…oversimplifying and labeling Trump, Trump voters, issues and politicians (or anyone for that matter) is what got us into this mess. But thanks for adding to the conversation.

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