A Message in a Bottle

This is a post that I’ve been struggling with for a while now… I don’t know everyone that reads my blog, but I know a good number of you, and I know that all of you have very different views of the world.  I’m proud of that fact.  It makes me happy when someone who is either a staunch Republican or a diehard Democrat, approaches me and lets me know that they look forward to reading my posts.  It makes me particularly happy when people from both sides of this divide let me know that they really enjoyed the same post.

That being said, I typically do what I can to avoid having too many partisan viewpoints in my writing.  I don’t like sites or “news” that state opinion as fact and imply that anyone who disagrees is automatically the enemy, no matter which viewpoint they promote. 

This brings me to one small point, before I dive into the deep end of this post.  I know I have readers that are Trump supporters.  I appreciate you, and the fact that you read my blog, I hope you continue to do so.  Nonetheless, for the sake of context, I’ll preface the rest of this post by making it clear that I don’t support Donald Trump.  I don’t trust him or his motives and I don’t believe that his actions will directly contribute to the betterment of this country.  I hope he proves me wrong; but so far he certainly hasn’t.

Despite my personal views, I see so many liberal people; friends of mine, other bloggers, reporters, etc. repeatedly state that Trump doesn’t represent the America that they know.  They still show shock that he won, they argue that he lost the popular vote, they point fingers at Russia for interfering… I’ll admit, I was confused on election night, surprised that it was actually happening.  Then again, I live in a bubble, most of us do; and it takes an event such as this to make us realize that there is more to the world than that which we allow ourselves to see every day.

This brings me to my main point… there is something very wrong in this country and other countries around the world.  We all know it.  The fact that there is something wrong has been a narrative in our society for over a decade now.  It’s a sickness that has dug itself into the bones of our society, where it’s thriving and growing.  Donald Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, and various other unprecedented movements and political actions across the world are NOT that disease, they’re just a symptom.

Let’s look at America as an example: First we have to accept the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t elected because of some accident or a fluke.  He won the election because a massive amount of people voted for him.  Did Russia interfere?  Probably.  Looking at the evidence, there’s so much smoke, chances are there’s a fire there somewhere… But that doesn’t change the fact that he developed a massive following with or without outside help.  He did it by speaking to and identifying with an immense group of people who had felt as if they had been ignored and like they didn’t have a voice in their own governing.  He gave them that voice.

Throughout the election, and now, in Trump’s America, I have seen so many blog posts, television shows, news articles, etc. from the perspective of the political left that belittle Trump’s supporters.  They look at those people and lump every single one of them together in one group and assume that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, xenophobic, sexist, hate-filled, uneducated, hypocritical bigot.  Despite the rallying cries of “Love trumps hate” and the all-inclusive image of the political left (extended primarily to minorities and the disenfranchised in large, coastal cities), their posts and news and ideological views are still coated in hate. 

So many times I’ve seen people on Facebook post something promoting that all-inclusive nature, imploring people to stand together, to lend a helping hand, to love one another, etc.  Then I read the comments, and the first person to post a comment that is even slightly dissenting (or sometimes extremely dissenting) is immediately demeaned, belittled, and insulted.  The teeth come out and that person, no matter their point of view or their stance on various issues, is immediately dismissed and they are thrown in the same “basket of deplorables” as the most extreme Trump supporter.

Meanwhile, I see posts, videos, and news from the other side, from people who support Trump.  In fact I spend a lot of time talking to Trump supporters, face to face.  A year ago, those same people were complaining non-stop about political and social stances being forced upon them no matter whether they agreed with them or not.  They complained about a president that they felt was illegitimate and a government that didn’t represent them.  But now that Trump has won, all I hear them saying is that the “special snowflakes” of the left need to suck it up, accept that they lost, and stop complaining.  They criticize a political left that is oblivious to their own, American grass-roots values, claiming that people on the left are out of touch with reality… then they turn around and dismiss and ignore facts that challenge their perception of the world around them.

These two political ideologies are standing on opposite sides of a massive canyon, hurling rocks at each other.  The few people that remain speaking out in the middle are on tightropes and trying to dodge rocks from both sides.  Most of the voices in the middle of this argument seem to have given up and either joined one extreme or the other or simply fallen silent.

The problem in our society isn’t the far right OR the far left, it’s the divide between the two.  Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of that divide, as was Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  The truly scary part is that the divide doesn’t only exist in our politics, it has spread to our news, our social lives, the products marketed toward us, and even the filters through which we see the world around us.  We have inadvertently created these bubbles that we live in, where we are able to shape the world into the image that we wish to see, and to largely shut out everything else.

Think back, when is the last time that you, voluntarily, sought out an article, a video, or a viewpoint that challenged your world view, and did it not for the sole purpose of wanting to tear it down, but because you wanted to understand it, for your own sake?  When is the last time that you approached a differing opinion while acknowledging the possibility, however slim, that your preconceived notions may be dead wrong?

We don’t challenge ourselves anymore.  We shy away from points of view that we don’t like, we block people that don’t agree with us, we surround ourselves with news and noise that agrees with and informs our worldview.  I’m not sure why we are doing this, why we’re unwittingly allowing this divide to grow… Maybe seeing the world the way we want to see it is just pleasant enough that we’ve become the land of the lotus eaters.  Maybe it’s the rapid advancement of technology and the decline of face to face conversations, because it’s a lot easier to be angry at a screen than it is a person who’s looking you in the eye.  Or maybe it’s cultural backlash from the speed with which our society became globalized and we’re struggling with the concept of a world that is somehow too small and too large at the same time.

Whatever the cause is, I leave that to wiser minds than mine to discover.  I can see the divide growing though, in fact I believe that most of us can see it, we just choose to ignore it or to blame it on “Them”.  The day to day people that I hear from on social media, or television, or even the people that I talk to on a regular basis, don’t tend to take any part of the blame for the divide.    I wouldn’t expect them to either, that’s a large burden to take on.  Still, at some point, we’ll have to do the unexpected, as individuals and as a society, we’ll have to stop blaming each other, take some responsibility, and strive to understand one another. 

(A brief Sir Terry Pratchett interlude):

"It was because he wanted there to be conspirators. It was much better to imagine men in some smoky room somewhere, made mad and cynical by privilege and power, plotting over the brandy. You had to cling to this sort of image, because if you didn't then you might have to face the fact that bad things happened because ordinary people, the kind who brushed the dog and told their children bedtime stories, were capable of then going out and doing horrible things to other ordinary people. It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, then what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things." ~ Terry Pratchett

Back in November, I went to Austin, TX to go to a wedding of a couple friends of mine.  One night, at a bar, a friend and I were approached by a complete stranger.  The guy who stopped us had dark-ish skin, implying some sort of non-European background.  My friend and I on the other hand are a couple of big, white guys.  This stranger asked us if we saw him as “different” than ourselves, and if we viewed him as “lesser than”.  He seemed vulnerable, almost scared; as if he were shocked that he asked the question, which he’d been working up the courage to ask someone for a while.  We both of course let him know that we didn’t view him as any different than we would view anyone else.  Still, our answer isn’t important.  What is important is that he was worried enough that he felt the need to ask.

No matter what you believe, no matter which side you support, and no matter which lens you choose to view the world through; we live in a country that was founded on the simple idea that “all men are created equal”.  That idea is fundamental to our country, and to our identity.  The fact that anyone in this country is being made to feel as though that phrase doesn’t include them, nearly 241 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, is shameful.  And that shame belongs to every one of us. 

For a country built upon the ideal of equality, we have a pretty poor track record.  If we ever want to truly live up to that standard set for us 241 years ago, then the first step would be to stop pointing fingers and to share the blame for this mess equally. 

On that note, I’m begging anyone who reads this to do one thing.  Challenge yourself, break the bubble you’re living in, and embrace the diversity that surrounds you.  Take the time to really talk to someone who disagrees with you.  Don’t dismiss them, don’t insult them, don’t demean them.  Instead, show respect, take an interest, and listen to what they have to say.  Maybe you’ll learn something, and maybe just maybe, we can start to heal this divide…

In closing, I’ll go back to a method that I’ve used in a few posts now, and remind myself and my readers of a lesson that we all should have learned as children, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.  Just because someone is a jackass and doesn’t show you or your viewpoint the respect you deserve, doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear to be a jackass to them.  We can’t move forward as a society unless we can learn to not hate each other.  I know it’s not an easy task, but it’s better than the alternative.