Trying to understand the other side
(I originally posted this on my Facebook wall, but I thought it made sense to post it here as well)
Are you going to spend the next four years in fear, complaining, and/or running away? No? Then let’s get started.
I am disheartened by the amount of negative and hateful posts streaming through my Facebook feed right now. Isn’t this exactly why people didn’t want to vote for Trump? Because he spewed hatred and bigotry?
I assume most people reading this are like me, educated, employed, professional, urban, and left leaning. Many of you probably find it unfathomable why anyone would vote for Trump with his impossible promises and uncountable flip-flops. Yet nearly half the American voters voted for him.
Instead of stereotyping those people and labeling them with hurtful tag, let’s understand them.
One of my favorite lecturers at Stanford once said “everyone makes sense to themselves in their own way.” Everyone who voted for Trump, in their own way, believed that they were making the right choice.
Much have been said on how Trump was focusing his efforts on “feelings” rather than “facts.” Many of us have been conditioned to believe that facts are more important than feelings (at least when it comes to making important decisions) but we forget that there is something greater: beliefs.
Beliefs are constructed out of not only facts (which do come in many many shades) and feelings, but also context in which people exist / have existed.
I have been fortunate to be on the winning side of the last twenty years, attending two prestigious universities and gaining both knowledge and skill which are in demand in the twenty first century. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the losing side, but with everything I read, I can start to imagine communities of people whose local industries were gutted by automation, offshoring, and/or obsolescence. What would it feel like being in those communities? What would I believe? What would you believe?
It’s human nature to not blame oneself. We structure our belief in a way that gives us psychological relief, and we vote with those beliefs.
This election for me has been a great reminder that the other half exists and that I need to understand them better, because those people aren’t the people around me. It also has been a great reminder that what many of us have seen as progress in the last twenty years isn’t seen as progress by others.
What we need now is understanding and empathy, not in the sense of “know thy enemy” but in the sense of “we are all in this together.” Many countries are more polarized than ever before, and if we keep going down this path without empathy, the pitchforks are going to come out.
If you haven’t done so yet, I highly suggest reading articles from media on the other side, not to ridicule but to get a sense of how people’s beliefs could be structured. The internet and social media has made it more difficult to come across opinions from the other side. I actually have few conservative friends on Facebook and I prowl through their profiles every so often.
Lastly, for a much more cohesive, comprehensive, and authoritative voice on why this division is happening, I highly suggest Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s discussion on TED.