Both Sides Need To Start Treating Each Other Like Human Beings
If we deny each other’s humanity, we’re all doomed.
The other day on Fox News the President’s son, Eric Trump, remarked that those who oppose his father are “not even people.”
That statement feels really scary because when people in power talk that way, it’s not a long journey to state-sanctioned violence. After all, if Trump’s opponents aren’t even people, then it’s OK to at best disregard their opinions, needs and desires and, at worst, to beat, jail and murder them. Certainly, any student of Nazi propaganda can see how dehumanizing Jews justified unthinkable actions. If Jews are rats, they deserve to be exterminated, no?
But the right doesn’t have a monopoly on dehumanization. Kathy Griffin was recently photographed holding up an effigy of a decapitated Trump. Hillary Clinton referred to some Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Late night talk show hosts regularly take pot shots at Trump’s family and his inner circle and I’ll admit to yukking it up right along with them. I’ve laughed at protest signs that say things like “Orange is the New Blecch” and “Not My Cheeto.” And while smart ass humor certainly provides levity in a time of fear and uncertainty at where our country is headed, none of that is really helping.
When our national conversation sinks to a contest of who can make the other side look worse, I have to pause. Where does it end?
Dehumanizing the other side hurts us all. The ‘us vs. them’ mentality that has dominated our politics of late has gotten us into this mess, allowing us to disregard whole swaths of people while the political pendulum swings to such an extreme that it’s landed well past where most Americans are even comfortable. It’s caused the country to become so divided that people are ending friendships and family relationships over it. Bipartisanship and compromise have fallen by the wayside at all levels of government. Your side is on top for a while, then it’s their turn. And, really, who wins? We have been divided…and conquered.
To truly make America great again, we need to bring civilized discourse and with it, compromise and progress back to this country. We need to change the way we think about the other side. The hurt is real and it’s still fresh, which might mean you’re not ready to set off on a road trip and listening tour of The Other America just yet. But you can start by doing what you can to remember the humanity of those on the other side.
Next time you read a news story about someone you find despicable, try saying to yourself, “This is a person, someone’s beloved mother, daughter, brother, spouse or friend.” Imagine wishing them peace and happiness in their life. I know it sounds radical, but just try it. An immense burden will rise from your chest and shoulders. You’ll feel it in your body.
Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we have to hate. If I thought hating was productive, believe me, I’d promote it. But hate has yet to prove its value.
And don’t sweat it. Humanizing the other side doesn’t require you to drop whatever belief system you feel holds the best solution for improving the lives of all Americans. In fact, an opponent who feels humanized may actually listen to what you are saying.
So if you really believe in improving things, start with this small mental exercise. Because finding the humanity in others takes the discussion to where it needs to go: policy.
And if you can bear to reach out, focus on discussions of policy and finding common ground there, rather than attacking values, education or intelligence. Remember that if you are doing it to them, they are doing it to you. And how’s that been working out for ya’?
To take this country back from those who benefit from our divisions will be our most patriotic act yet. Most people are good. I repeat, most people are good. So turn off Fox News. Turn off MSNBC. And take a baby step toward remembering that before we’re Republicans, Democrats and everything to the right, left and in between, we’re human beings. In this unprecedented age of civic engagement, as leaders and activists on all sides, we owe it to our fellow Americans to focus on what we stand for rather than who we can’t stand.