For those who didn’t see it, I posted last week on Tumblr about my experiences walking the streets of historic Montgomery, Alabama. That post is here.
A friend shared his response to that post, via email. I’m putting it up here without comment, to further a discussion of a topic I’m still struggling with: how to show empathy and compassion to people who support a President I disagree with and who represents so much of what I think is wrong with the country and the world. Feel free to comment below with your own thoughts.
Here’s the response:
“With regard to current events, my dad is a big fan of primary sources (e.g., reading both liberal and conservative news sites and trying to make up his own mind), while I’m more prone to read news sites that I consider less biased and whose primary agenda is actually promoting independent versus partisan thought. While I think my perspective has the advantage of being less susceptible to personal bias (i.e., bias on my own part), I think there is a great strength in my dad’s approach to which I haven’t previously given enough credence. That strength is that instead of trying to understand “the issues,” by dad is actually putting a primary emphasis on understanding the person. My own method may be more likely to end up with a better picture of the facts, but missed something just as (or more) crucial: the personal perspective of those individuals with whom I disagree. In other words, I know, but I do not understand.
I guess what I’m saying is that instead of reading 12 books this year by people who aren’t Western men, maybe it would also be helpful to read a few books by folks that you vehemently disagree with. Regarding this resolution to read books by people unlike yourself, my assumption is that you are attempting to familiarize yourself with perspectives that are not native to you. That sounds excellent, obviously. But why not continue in that vein by exploring the musings of folks whose thoughts are really not like yours?
For example, why not explore why anybody DID vote for Donald Trump (Christians in particular)? Maybe you do interact regularly with conservative folks and have some really productive and illuminating conversations. But if so, I’m not sure you would be implying that a vote for Hillary Clinton would be particularly more consistent with Christian values (and in fact, I think you are actually “conflating religion and politics” here).
Or why not try to understand why do many white people celebrate their Southern heritage? I suggest that it’s about a hell of a lot more than “a nostalgia for segregation, slavery, white supremacy,” as you wrote in “The Episcopal Church of the Confederacy.” Maybe you should have visited the White House of the Confederacy… maybe it’s existence amounts to more than one of “the symbols of the slave state.”
In your quest to humanize the “other” in the consciousness of yourself and of others, don’t forget to humanize those who repulse you. You may be falling victim to your own bias.”