A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a link to a press release from her company that explained the company’s position on how the current administration is handling immigrant families at our nation’s borders. The release said that the company “does not support measures that discriminate against any group or limit our ability to hire the best talent for our business.”
A mutual friend of ours then responded with a comment essentially calling out the statement as typical liberal overreaction to a basically nonexistent issue. Well, I went off on him, and it wasn’t pretty. The “current administration,” which is the nicest way I can think of to say, “those cruel, spineless, worthless ass wipes in the White House,” has made a complete mess of how we deal with immigrant families coming across our southern border, legally or illegally. (At this point, ICE makes no such distinction.) The issue has become a hot-button topic for me, and I reacted swiftly to his post and, I admit now, meanly.
Just a few days later I was presented, apparently by cosmic fate, two items that have given me a new perspective on how Facebook and other social media have helped to make compromise nearly impossible and how I, in turn, could make my role in protesting obscene policies more effective, rational, and humane.
Cosmic Item #1
The first item was a TED video from a remarkable young man, Dylan Marron, a digital creator who examines social issues in new and illuminating ways. The video, “How I Turn Negative Online Comments Into Positive Offline Conversations,” came to me at just the right time, when I was internally fretting over the string of comments with my friend, let’s call him Garry. My mind was arguing that I was right, but my gut wasn’t so sure.
Dylan talked about the number of hate comments he receives almost daily, and how he decided to engage with as many of his haters as he could — by phone. Most of the people he contacted agreed to speak with him, though some didn’t. Of those he spoke with, most seemed to him quite different than their comments might suggest. For example, at the end of a conversation with one of the commenters, Dylan asked, “Did the conversation we just had make you feel differently about how you write online?”
The commenter responded, “Yeah! You know, when I said this to you, when I said you were a ‘talentless hack,’ I had never conversed with you in my life, really. I didn’t really know anything really about you. And I think that a lot of times, that’s what the comment sections really are, it’s really a way to get your anger at the world out on random profiles of strangers, pretty much.”
Dylan came away from this project, as did I and, I suspect, many others, with a clearer understanding of empathy in these fraught times. He said, “Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. Empathizing with someone who, for example, believes that being gay is a sin doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to drop everything, pack my bags and grab my one-way ticket to hell, right? It just means that I’m acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently from me.”
Those words, “empathy is not endorsement,” panged my gut, and I realized that I don’t have to feel so angry at Trump Supporters-slash-Hilliary Haters, that I can recognize their humanity while also disagreeing completely with their views. It’s as if I now have a cognitive tool I can use when faced with similar situations: Empathy is not endorsement. Yes, I like it.
Cosmic Item #2
The second item that affected me rather deeply was an opinion piece in the Washington Post, called “Maxine Waters shows why the Sarah Huckabee Sanders-Red Hen story is extremely important,” by Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for WP’s The Fix. In the piece he talked about the now infamous Red Hen brouhaha, the one in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely ejected from a DC-area restaurant. He called the responses by many on the left “valid and understandable,” but also “simplistic.”
He posits that “the Sanders-Red Hen situation has unearthed (or perhaps vivified) a growing sentiment in our society. It is seen in liberals and opponents of President Trump who are done with playing nice. It is apparent as the Democratic Party gradually sheds Michelle Obama’s declaration that ‘When they go low, we go high’ and trading it for ‘We fight fire with fire.’ It is borne of frustration and a lack of results after abiding by the norms of political discourse while Trump and his allies run roughshod over all the old rules.”
The Left is in new territory, here, and we’re not sure what to do. We’re going through a watershed moment in American history, and we’re finding many issues that need to be discussed, debated, and worked through. How we on the Left deal with friends on the Right, not only on social media but also, and more important, in person, will come to define not only our relationships with others but also how we will function in our rapidly-changing society. It’s a tough time, and I have no idea how things will turn out, but my gut says that, for me, Michelle Obama’s path is the right one.
And so, to Garry, I apologize for my tone, for reacting so forcefully, and for not being open to an actual conversation. And to everyone else whose political views vary so much from my own, I will do my best to take the high road with my commentary and to listen as closely as I can to opposing viewpoints.
But so help me, if that Cheetoh-headed nutjob does just one more evil, uncaring, knuckleheaded thing, I swear to God I’ll…
Deep breath. Hhhhhhmmmmm.
I. Will. Remain. Calm.