Whomever the country chooses as President this November, I fear we have done irreparable damage to our souls this election season. In just a few months, there has been an abhorrent amount of hateful discourse, belittling comments, and a refusal to empathize with anyone of a differing opinion. In no small part to social media and our constantly connected world, we have successfully achieved peak polarization.
While the chasm has always been wide when arguing about heated topics, it is becoming impassable. No longer can we take even one step toward understanding a different opinion without being labeled a traitor by our peers. Unless you are 100% for or against something, you are the enemy.
I see people exclaiming how they "can't wait for this election to be over," hoping things will get back to normal, but I am less optimistic. The divisive and unsympathetic attitudes expressed these last few months do not appear temporary. And whichever candidate enters the White House come January, I foresee the same arguments and anger continuing for years.
Forget whose name is on the ballot; what will we do to maintain our own integrity? Our own humility? Have we given up on reasonable discourse and diplomatic solutions? Are we intent on shouting down the opposing party until they submit? As Dale Carnegie said,
“A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
Where do we go from here? Perhaps our adrenaline is pumping too hard leading up to the election to do any good, but if we hope for a return to civility, we must practice empathy.
We can no longer approach others as an obstacle to defeat, but rather, as a person to understand.
If we can start from that place, realizing that every person has their reason for believing something, then we can begin an open dialogue that seeks to empathize first, and convince later.
Most importantly, we must concede that seeking to understand does not equal condoning or agreeing with another's actions. I am not Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist or Muslim, yet I have sat with Priests, Deacons, and Imams of those persuasions. Those conversations were both enlightening and beneficial to me personally, and I hope it was for them as well.
But those conversations have no chance of happening when you approach others with the intent to convince or prove wrong. It is possible to give an open floor to differing ideas and opinions, all the while standing firm on your own convictions.
We must be willing to hear another's story and not seek offense. Even when something is genuinely offensive, you can choose grace over retaliation.
Finally, if we hope to have civil and productive conversations, we must make the effort to have those encounters in person. Social media lacks nuance, inflection, and has an element of anonymity that encourages heated comments over lengthy explanations.
While we see our name written next to every post and tweet, we are a degree removed from what we say. We are increasingly argumentative and curt on the internet; all the while never presuming to act that way in person.
If we truly care about our ideas and communicating them effectively, let us commit to sharing them in person, and only with an open mind to receive as much as we contribute.