EMPATHY

Change is happening. 2017 has begun and as we collectively doff the albatross of a remarkably tough and turbulent year, we carry over anxiety and celebration. In America, and so the world, eight years of realised and unrealised change is changing. The number of people rejoicing will be matched — perhaps eclipsed — by those panicking.

For a few days after November 8, 2016, I spoke to no one. I only listened. I consumed all the NPR and CBC, the Bill Maher, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Dave Chappelle that I could to help me understand. The funny people helped for a flash of escape, a dismayed and alienated laugh. But I had listened to them before and knew their lean to the left so well.

I stepped outside for the first time a few days after the election to meet someone at Boardner’s. She’s a Republican. She’s a mother. From Missouri. Was in the military. Voted for the winner. It’s fitting that someone whose politics are generally not aligned with my own is the one to have introduced me to my favourite bar in Hollywood. In light of what just happened, it’s ironically apropos that she is my friend. She told me about working the night after the ceiling had decisively remained glass, how her fellow restaurant staff were serving up a hellish fury whenever they spoke. She recounted with frustration, not directed at her co-workers, but at having to keep her mouth shut around them. She expressed to me her happiness with the results, and not with gleeful and innocent elation, but with the same measured sense as her description of how Obamacare gives her grief. No, she did not change my politics, but my humour changed. I felt a touch lighter. I realised (or, remembered to realise) that there are over 62 million people happier today than they were on November 7. It was the most naive and slight of epiphanies, but considering the gravity of that week, it was a profound one. And one that had been easily forgotten during this partisan bloodsport. I was able to make more holistic sense of things from a simple conversation with my friend— not debate, conversation. …As much as endless hours of leftist gloom from experts and funny people on my Apple TV.

For many years I have wanted to make more Republican and Conservative friends because I want to learn from the challenge they pose me. I can’t say I’ve done the most dilligent job of seeking them out. If there’s no time like the present, then now is more present than ever.

I begin 2017 by writing on a platform new to me: Medium. As part of this first piece, I offer the preface to a play of mine. The story and tone of the play are more sinister than what I am writing here; I do not intend to begin 2017 or Medium fraught with anxiety. Rather, I offer the preface as a suggestion to change. To remind us what could happen, what has happened, and what we do now. Empathy begins now.

***

The political spectrum of Left versus Right is not linear but circular. The poles meet. Both the extreme Left and extreme Right have produced similar dictators and agony. The two sensibilities are separated by the thinnest membrane — any one person is capable of committing acts that are “liberal” and “conservative”. This membrane is the irony, the hypocrisy. One nation that espouses liberty to live however we want — freedom — would invade another nation because they live their lives differently. People who censor themselves for the sake of political correctness and fairness in public would joke about skin colour among friends in private. Yet they are not racist. My society considers itself progressive in every manner, from how we conduct our lives to how we communicate through technology, yet we can be unaware of how dangerous our idea of progress can be. If we force our progressiveness upon those who do not want it, they will fight back. I have always been bothered by people forcing their thought upon me. I have been guilty of doing the same. Liberal irony. I believe myself to be as progressively minded as one can get; fellow liberal people ought to be aware of the agony we can inflict. We have been warned.

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