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Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.

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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.

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One Response to “Trying to understand the other side”

  1. November 11th, 2016 at 4:30 am

    martin says:

    From my own anecdotal evidence I can say that people with half a brain who voted for the Donald didn’t vote for Trump. The election was just a show of hands to see who is left to raise to the call. They would refer to Trump as a “clown”.
    If people decide to vote for a clown, I am not sure how the big sister and her “educated, employed, professional, urban, and left leaning” moralists are changing this decision with some lecture-infotainment-circus from Jon Stewart, Obama, Bon Jovi depicting the Donald as the joke he is. Jonathan Haidt is carefully touching on something. What if there is a much deeper disconnect?
    Sometimes I think that the world is full of Krauts and Japs, the difference is just that some lost the war while others didn’t. Those Germans in the US who won the war just remind me of who we would be if we didn’t loose it.
    What would it mean if we “made Japan/Germany great again”?

    Have you seen “The Birth of a Nation” (1915)? What if that is America? If it never went away, if it is not divided. This narrative about getting apart may just be some hefty cognitive dissonance pushed on the clear-name signaling platforms. Just as the 2016 version of “The Birth of a Nation”.
    If America is not divided, what then is the other part? The forceful relocated Africans, the modern newcomers from Latin America. From that perspective there is nothing to unify. There is just a sort of cancer that grew on the healthy body. Thinking the solution is to stitch the cancer tighter onto the host makes only sense for “those of us who grew up with the Beatles and that sort of hippie philosophy”.
    Maybe the wall is a metaphor for the scalpel that is required to conduct this operation.
    – Sure we can agree that this is nonsense and the operation will fail. But what’s next after that? Maybe Trump is just the beginning of the end.

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