In an age when we’re incessantly sharing our opinions and beliefs via social media, we’re simultaneously silencing and filtering out the ones that don’t align with our own instead of engaging in a (perhaps uncomfortable) conversation about our differences. Growth only occurs when we venture outside of our comfort zone, and still we refuse to escape its confines. Upon Trump winning, I immediately witnessed Facebook statuses exclaiming, “If you voted for Trump, do yourself a favor and unfriend me” or “If you voted for a third-party, get the fuck out of my life forever because you’re worse than Trump supporters.”
When did we start kicking people out of our lives for having a different opinion? The dichotomy of saying you’re different from me and therefore we can no longer speak and also we need to accept one another and embrace each other’s differences are wildly contradictory statements, and yet we post them both as though they’re co-existing ideals, and they’re not. In making people feel ashamed to admit that they were even slightly considering Trump as their candidate, we silenced one another and created a monster. Then that monster became President.
How did this happen? It’s easy to see in hindsight: in watching a man rise to power and become a bully, we got so defensive we became one ourselves. One that said, speak only when your opinion matches mine; otherwise, don’t speak to me at all (aka unfriend me now please, you moron).
I’ll take my share of the blame. I have exactly two people in my life (I’m from California and currently reside in New York - both heavily blue states) who voted for Trump: one is a person at work who vehemently opposes discussing politics and one is my aunt’s husband who I’m forbidden to speak about politics with because of our varying views. Why can’t we speak to one another simply because our views are diametrically opposed? What keeps us from being rational human beings about this subject matter and contorts us into vicious defenders?
During a lull in a meeting a few weeks ago, some of us began discussing politics with a person at work who showed favoritism towards Trump. My other co-worker and I were flabbergasted. What’s wrong with Trump? EVERYTHING, of course! We said, listing Trump’s offences from being a rapist to being a bigot to being a complete imbecile. Never once did I say, why are you voting for Trump? What, in your mind, has convinced you that this man can run the country? Why should he be our leader? Why did none of us ask that question? I never said to my two friends who supported independents, why are you supporting them? I simply sent off a fiery text stating that they were taking away a key democratic vote and went about my day. I am part of the problem. Now that we have bigger problems, I am owning my flaws and aiming to become a part of the solution, albeit, hopefully not too late. Maybe those conversations would’ve gone nowhere like the one above. Maybe I would’ve said, let’s walk down this road together, and it would’ve dead ended, but at least then I could’ve said that I tried. I didn’t even try.
Here’s what is happening across our country and across the world right now: we’ve stopped listening to people who are different from us. We’ve drawn a line in the sand and said, please stay on your side because you’re on the wrong side of history and I’m on the right side and we’ll never understand one another. But we must. We must seek to speak to even our greatest opposers. These people are not enemies, they are people who live in this country just like us, and that’s the weirdest part. We’ve separated ourselves even geographically and severed any opportunity to comprehend others’ thoughts and feelings. We’ve decided who’s cool in our book (e.g. I’m fine with gay people even though I’m not gay) and completely written off anybody who we’ve already deemed as bad guys. But you cannot dismantle nor reconstruct a home if you have no idea how it was originally built. We’ve begun blindly bulldozing without even double checking that we’re at the right place.
Narrow-mindedness is the foundation for racism, bigotry, anti-semitism, and anti-gay movements. I blame myself because instead of asking why? I simply said you’re wrong because labeling is easier than having an actual conversation and doing the work. It’s easier to tell someone to Google something or read a blog article than it is to sit down, look someone in the eyes, and admit, I don’t understand this. Please explain it to me. Please allow me to see your side. It will mean much more hearing it from you than reading it on a computer screen. I pushed people unlike me away in this election. I didn’t engage with them. I said, you’re supporting a bully, and in turn, I became one myself, and I’m so sorry.
Civil discourse in this country, where it’s graciously and thankfully allowed, has been completely suppressed as though it’s no longer an option, and for no good reason. This principle of exchanging ideas and discussing our views used to be the foundation and framework our country was built upon and it has completely dissipated. We’re supposed to be The United States of America, and the divide is so apparent and frightening and heartbreaking. We’re yelling over each other and fighting to be deemed correct instead of listening and accepting that we both have a point, a constitutional right to express our opinions, and a need to understand one another, even if we still disagree in the end. Disagreeing is okay. Shutting one another out for varying opinions only breeds intolerance, and we’ve come much too far to head backwards and revisit that dark place where we once picked who was silenced and who had a right to be heard. We must forge forward with this in mind.
This feeling – this gut-wrenching, severed, divisive place where we’ve ripped apart – won’t mend overnight. It’s going to take time for the country to unite once more and for us to begin having these types of conversations, but we must begin now. Whether it takes us four weeks or four years to get there, I can’t say. I’m going to take it one day at a time. I’m going to voice my opinion when necessary. I will speak up for myself and stand with Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Women, the LGBTQ community, and all of those who were born here or find themselves here now. All fellow Americans deserve to be treated with respect and be heard, despite our differences. I will continue to safeguard the idea of embracing and uniting the America that we have been working towards for so long - one where we all feel safe and accepted and comfortable to express our ideals and ourselves. The America where these types of articles are obsolete because we no longer have to tolerate and instead are able to communicate if we’re ever feeling slighted or mistreated in any way, and act accordingly.
I apologize to the people I unintentionally silenced, both in this campaign and elsewhere. I will start tomorrow with an open heart - mostly infected and suffering a great deal of pain - but an open heart nonetheless that will heal and feel whole eventually. I only hope that it’s not too late to fix what’s broken.