Exercising the Right to Listen

Given the allegations around Facebook’s inadvertent role in the election, spreading fake news and creating echo chambers, I will do Zuckerburg a favor and share documented evidence that someone who voted for Trump and someone who voted for Clinton could carry a civil dialogue. This exchange took place a few days after Election Day, just as protests and rioting and racial intimidation began to sharply accelerate. NSFW language below:

All too often exchanges between liberals and conservatives are reduced to heated debates. Liberals deem Trump supporters as racist and sexist, while conservatives retort with “suck it up, buttercup.” Both sides boil down their positions to one defense: the right to free speech, to openly express their thoughts.

But just as important as the right to free speech is the implied right to listen and learn, something perhaps not exercised enough these days.

Listening does not mean normalizing hateful rhetoric. Listening does not mean backing away from personal convictions. Listening does not mean setting aside palpable fears rising up as a result of the increase in hate crimes and harrassment. What listening does mean is simply to have a civil conversation with those who made a different decision in the ballot box to understand why they reached that decision.

In the visceral reactions to the election results, supporters from both sides escalated sweeping generalities against each other purely based off who they voted for. The problem is that the vote is a binary decision representative of a multitude of reasons. (Yes, technically the vote is more than two candidates, but at the end of the day, votes for the other parties truly accounted for such a small percentage of the total). A vote does not distinguish between center right, far right, or alt-right; all simply fall into the same bucket.

With the non-binary aspect of voting motives, one would have thought liberals would have been more understanding of the spectrum of reasons behind votes supporting Trump. But as Clinton supporters made accusations that all Trump supporters were racists, many liberals became susceptible to the same stereotypical thinking they judged conversatives to have. Yes, some Trump supporters are racists, but not all. Some people of color supported Trump, too; as a person of color myself, I can say that the election divided our community in a similar way as the rest of the population.

And while not every Republican is racist, not every Clinton voter is a “snowflake” either. Not every Democrat cried or protested or rioted over Clinton’s loss. And let’s be honest: for many of the minority groups that rallied behind Clinton, there is a genuine cause for concern with regard to Trump’s election, if not from the president elect himself, than with some of his supporters who hold a more beligerent disposition toward anyone non-white or non-male.

Most Americans prefer to avoid being labeled. However, the election did just that, placing virtually everyone into the largest buckets, superimposing an image of broad brushstrokes over the individual. Really what’s called for is to peel back the layers and to refocus on the individual again.

Listening helps to refocus, and not just for the one listening. It can be transformative for the ones speaking, too. It can disarm some of the deepest aggressions, as exemplified from this interview from MSNBC with Arno Michaelis, a former white supremacist:

By design, America had been a country where people can have differences with each other and still live in the same place. Safely. To consider someone with an opposing political view as “un-American” would be un-American in itself. To do so would suggest that American would ultimately be better off with a single political party system; that would place America with the likes of China or North Korea.

Filed under: Poltics

Tags: free speech

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