Stop Other-izing

Over the last few years, it has been apparent – especially in the United States – that we are divided. Instead of debate, there is hate. Instead of seeking to understand, there is attack. Instead of working together, there is fear and defensiveness. Although recent politics have inflamed this divisiveness, I believe it has been smoldering beneath the surface for decades.

If you are like me, you may have a close friend or family member who has “suddenly” become consumed by hate speech. I personally see this from those I love who have different political views than I do, and I do see it from those who embrace a similar outlook as mine. To help me understand some who are embracing a policy and dogma of hate, I looked for research and analysis. What is interesting is that some of the reasons in this article explaining supporters on one side of the aisle also applies to the other political view. The problem is people not politics; thinking and emotion not policy.

For instance, #5 The Fear Factor in the Psychology Today article points out how some people have a heightened fear and anxiety response. The article points to conservative versus liberal reaction, but I would also add that the focus on negativity and fear in the media (news and entertainment), can make us all on edge. If our fear is the threat of Hispanic immigrants or the loss of rights for the LGBTTTIQ community, it doesn’t matter if there is a real threat or not; our brains react the same way.  And the fear and anxiety we feel can make us lash out. We use offense as a good defense; we come out swinging in a desire to protect ourselves and our family.

Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

My goal here is not a political debate. What I would like to discuss is how do we come together. I recommend we start by recognizing, desiring, and making steps to see our similarities instead of our differences. I tend to agree with Brené Brown when she shares in her book Rising Strong that “we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging.” What she shares is not a dogma of religion, but the connection and relationship we have with each other. The goal of this life is to connect, love, and be part of a community.  

To come together, I need to respect what you believe as far as politics, policy, and religion – even if, and especially if, it is different than what I believe. And you need to respect my beliefs.  Let us note that these are beliefs – a state “of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” Yes, they may be a “conviction of the truth of some statement,” but remember that the evidence we have and our ability to uncover evidence changes over time; what was true in the past may not be true now. Belief is conviction not fact.

Next time you have a negative reaction to someone because of how they think, what they choose to believe, or how they act, instead of attacking that person, take a few minutes to understand them. See them as a person. You don’t have to agree with what they believe, and you don’t have to put up with what they do if it is hurting you or others. What I do encourage, is that you don’t enter into the same black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking the other person may be expressing. “If we extend empathy to only those who believe in what we believe, that bankrupts empathy.” Without empathy for all, we have empathy for none.

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