…by which I mean the US presidential elections and Trump winning, but also Brexit, Tories, and the looming possibility of a National Front president in France…
I wrote a facebook post. It’s aimed towards progressives, the left-wing, you know, “our people”. It’s about how we talk to the ones we think of as Them, as opposed to Us, and how we are harming our own cause.
“So I’ve been thinking, and I’d be grateful if you heard me out.
The Trump presidency has come as a shock to me, but then I was also shocked when the Tories were reelected, and Brexit shocked me, too, so maybe I was asking for it by not changing my expectations of the world. I don’t think I’m alone in surrounding myself – online and offline – with mostly progressive people and causes, because I want my online experience to be fulfilling and not a cause for anger and anxiety. This is good for my mental health, but it feeds into the illusion that most people are progressive, well-educated, well-informed, and inherently good.
And yes, this is an illusion. I’m not going to go into whether people are inherently good or bad – I don’t have time for philosophy right now (some other time, I promise). But in case you, too, have been labouring under the delusion that most people want equal rights for all races, religions, sexual orientations etc., it’s time we faced the truth: we’re a minority. Most people are misinformed, terrified of progress, and easily manipulated by mass media and whichever politician shouts the loudest.
Which means that it is up to us – the progressive minority – to solve this problem. And we’re not going to manage it the way we have been – by shouting at them, accusing them of racism, sexism, homophobia, unfriending them on facebook and trying to silence them the way they’ve tried to silence us. Those tactics won’t change how those people vote.
So here’s what we have to do, and I know you’re all going to hate this as much as I do, but it’s really the only way we can make any sort of change to how *society* thinks on an *individual* level:
We have to engage.
We have to start a discussion, and that means listening instead of just talking at people. We have to let go of the need to be right, to prove them wrong, we need to let go of this Us vs. Them dichotomy – because that’s what the politicians want – and convince Them that they are Us, because they are. We are all citizens, we will all be affected by whoever is in power.
We need to figure out WHY people voted Trump. For real, this time, not by dismissing it as pure stupidity. We need to find out what people are afraid of, and help them understand our point of view without trying to impose it on them. We need to convince them that they might benefit from understanding our point of view, and for that we need to befriend them.
And for that, we need to stop getting angry at other voters.
I know. This is the bit you hate the most, it’s the bit I hate the most, too. It’s not fair. We have the RIGHT to be angry – I’ve shared so many feminist posts about how telling women to “calm down” about equal rights is the equivalent of telling them to “shut up”, and that’s true – and the same goes for any kind of minority, because we are the underdogs and we’ve had to fight for our rights and we still have to, but HEAR ME OUT OK?
I didn’t say you had to stop getting angry. I said you have to stop getting angry at *voters*. Because if you get angry at a voter, they will get defensive, feel legitimized in their beliefs, and withdraw from the conversation. And they will vote Trump. Or the biggest fearmonger. That’s not what we want.
Don’t get me wrong here: getting angry at politicians is still ok. It’s even recommended, because no matter what their beliefs are, what they want is your vote. So save your anger for protests and rallies, and also for companies. Consume differently and let companies know why, because that’s how progress happens on the scale of big businesses and politics. Our anger has power there.
But individuals are different. Don’t get angry with voters. Don’t vilify them. Remember that they’re human, and humans are complex. Engage them in a discussion. Several discussions. Listen, find out what their fears are, what motivates them, do your research so you can present your own point of view, be intellectually honest and be compassionate, because that shit’s contagious.
Now this is the part where I admit that I don’t even think I’m capable of taking my own advice. You all know I have a history of anxiety and depression, and I know that a lot of you have similar mental health issues, or worse. I’m not saying you should all go out and “convert” a bunch of right-wing strangers no matter the cost.
But see that racist uncle you wish you could unfriend, or that guy in class whose sexist jokes make you uncomfortable – talk to them. Engage, listen, empathize, explain, and if you still don’t agree, tell them it’s fine, that your relationship is more important. Maybe try again next time, maybe not. It might not be necessary. The discussion you just had might be the start of a slow chain reaction whereby that person starts seeing progressive arguments in a different light. You can at least be the start of something, even if you don’t see the end result.
Of course, it won’t always be that easy. There are trolls and flamers and people just looking for a fight in all walks of life (including on our side, by the way, and you should call them out because they’re not helping). You might get insulted, unfriended, banned, blocked, threatened, and yeah, all this can be enraging and terrifying, and in that case you need to take care of yourself and unfriend, block, call authorities etc., whatever you need to do.
You might also end up responding to their provocation and getting angry and defensive yourself, and that’s understandable, even if it’s not ideal. If you think it’s worth it, you can go back later, apologize for getting defensive, explain why, and maybe they’ll understand this time.
But don’t you be the one to start a fight. Start a discussion. Check your anger. Listen. Read between the lines. Let’s open peoples’ minds. Even if you don’t change them, you’ll also be opening yours.
Sorry for the long post. Thanks for hearing me out.”