Empathy and Self Reflection— Van Jones Knows What We Have To Do Next

The above is a great interview with Van Jones, who I recently mentioned as part of the inspiration for my last Medium post.

I don’t think Van Jones is perfect in his articulation, but he is one of the few “cable news” talking heads that is taking on the challenge of re-establishing civil discourse. It is needed and refreshing to see somebody like him aware of the problem and willing to recognize the roots of it.

The two highlights for me because they exhibit empathy and self-reflection. And before liberals get all angry, I will explain a bit more about how Van Jones could have gone further, but also how this applies to conservatives.

The left is making it a binary choice: You’re either with the bigots or you’re with the progressives. You’re a racist or an anti-racist. You’re either a sexist or an anti-sexist. And based on that binary, we now have convinced ourselves that half the country is raving-lunatic white supremacists. That’s not true! It’s more of a range.
Because for most people who are not liberals, it’s a range. It’s not a binary choice. You have a minority of people on the right who are excited by racists, and those people I would call bigots. You have a much larger number of Trump supporters who find a lot of that stuff distasteful, but it’s not disqualifying to them. They don’t like those comments. They think they are inartful and bad. But to them, as hateful as those comments are, they’re not disqualifying given their own economic needs and concerns. And liberals refusing to see a difference seem to think half the country is in a position it’s not in. We’re not in touch with reality. Look, it makes me sad that somebody says, “I don’t hate you. I just don’t like you enough to vote differently.” But that’s different than someone saying, “Actually, I do hate you.”
“We thought that this was going to be a referendum on the racist part of the Republicans, and instead it became a referendum on the elitist part of the Democratic Party. A lot of those voters switched.”

Two things are exhibited here: Empathy and self-reflection.

Empathy for the other voters. There is an attempt here to understand that people are complex, that they vote for a myriad of reasons. That we might not understand all those reasons. That they might not understand all those reasons.

As is true with Brexit: Half the country are not bad people. But bad people now think that half the country is with them. That second part, which is a fallacy, should not be confirmed, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Liberals have empathy towards their own side. When Castro died many people praised him. Conservatives were shocked SHOCKED that anyone could praise Castro. He oversaw firing squads. He was essentially a dictator. He was a communist, an ideology responsible for more deaths than Fascism. How could they be sympathetic to Castro?!?!

Liberals could do that because they perceive socialism on a spectrum. Liberals can hold “democratic socialism” up high, which to conservatives is an oxymoron. But just as liberals can disassociate the worst of extreme progressiveness, so too can many GOP voters disassociate the worst of extreme conservatism. That door swings both ways. We have to let it. We have to recognize and have empathy for the voters in the middle.

A vote for Trump was not a vote for bigotry any more than a vote for Clinton was a vote for corruption.

This is not to say some people weren’t motivated by bigotry. Or others because they stood to directly benefit from a corrupt system. But to assume that voters were ONLY motivated by the worst is too uncharitable a view.

If we assume all voters were motivated only by the worst traits of each candidate, then we can only ever remain in a Texas Standoff. Communication is our best tool to resolve our differences without violence. If we refuse to give charitable views, we cannot speak and if we cannot speak, we cannot resolve these differences.

Self Reflection on your own weaknesses.

Van Jones is right that this election ended up being a referendum on the elitism and corruption on the left. While a Trump presidency is hard to swallow, a referendum on elitism and corruption is not a bad thing in and of itself. The left should take this moment to reflect.

What are its extremes? Who are its worst actors? How can the main coalition disavow and disassociate itself from those? More importantly; how can they create a filter so that ideologically repugnant ideas do not seep into the mainstream? These are questions for the left AND the right. As the right is about to be in power, I would argue that last question is more important for them conservatives right now, since the stakes are so high. Van Jones describes these people. The Vets who will protest at the first site of a Muslim registry. The conservatives who will fight against a Kleptocracy because they believe in the free market. These will be important people to win over. And the left can do that with honest introspection about how they can guard against their own extremes.

Caveat: This is part of an ongoing “Free thought” exercise for me on Medium. I want to write more, but don’t have the time. Luckily, I type fast and think even faster. So this is essentially my thinking out loud. Could there be contradictions, errors of wording, judgement and typos. Yes. On typos I give a forecast of 100%. So please, give a charitable reading.