A Way In

Posted on December 31, 2017

[First published on May 1, 2017.]

As we outlined last week, we as a nation are building a wall. It’s a hella wall, as we say in Oakland. Brick by brick, with each reference to, among other labels, ‘Republicans,’ ‘Democrats,’ ‘Trump supporters,’ ‘anti-Trump protesters,’ we are creating a barrier to alienate us from each other. Unfortunately, we appear to be expert at our craft as the wall is arguably as polarizing as was slavery when it comes to creating a divide between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – where they’re wrong and we’re right. Where we’re good and they’re evil.

Our wall is more than divisive, though. It’s also causing blindness. In all of us.

In an attempt to help us regain our sight and the ability to live and work side by side, let’s review our Radical Premises:

  • Those guys’ – whomever those guys are – are not wrong and you are not right. Regardless of how offensive their views, their opinions are not wrong. That’s why they’re called ‘opinions.’ And we are all entitled to them. (Facts based on science or empirical data, of course, are different. They are unimpeachable.)
  • We need to talk about, and listen to, our various opinions. Attempting to understand the perspective of others is a sign of respect.  It’s not about changing someone’s mind, as that implies that they are wrong. Instead, it’s about trying, possibly struggling, to see the world through the eyes of those who have opposing opinions.  This, we believe, is a noble pursuit. The more diverse our opinions, the more blood boiling they may be, the more noble the pursuit.
  • We cannot allow alienation to become the new normal. We’ve put a lot of bricks in place, but the cement is still moist. We’re screwed the instant it dries.

To prevent the cement from drying, let’s add two more Radical Premises:

  • We’re not that different. Strip away the politics and the labels – the ‘bricks’ that are being piled on top of each other – and we’re far more similar than different, even those whose views we find vile. Family, a better future for our children, health, a long life, happiness. Our hopes and dreams are the same, despite whom we may have voted for or how we view the world.
  • We don’t have to do this to ourselves. At any point, we can say in unison, ‘Enough already. Let’s try something else.’ Our wall building is being fueled, even encouraged, by others. Strong, accusatory language that attempts to define right and wrong, that creates opposing sides, does that. We don’t have to cooperate or even participate. It doesn’t have to be this way.

A Henny Youngman jokes comes to mind: A guy walks into a doctor’s office and says, ‘It hurts when I walk this way.’ The doctor responds, ‘Okay, don’t walk that way.’

Maybe we need to walk a different way.

Here’s how to begin. Seek out someone whose views may be different and ask, ‘How are you feeling about things?’ It’s a good start, a useful way ‘in’ to the conversation we all need to have. It’s disarming, non-judgmental, levels the playing field, and gets to what’s truly important. Not surprisingly, anger, frustration, and feelings of alienation and isolation abound. Many are upset, regardless of which side of the wall we’re on.

After asking the question, listen intently. No interruptions, no judgments. Cling to every word, like the future of our society depends on it – which it does. When the answer has been given fully, share how you feel. Not in reaction to what you heard, but in support of it. Find commonality. Sounds a bit therapeutic, maybe even simplistic, but it’s a start and the outcome can be valuable. Because, when done well, most will feel better and will feel closer. Critically, our ability to work and live together will improve. A hella first step.

Given the speed of our wall building, and the extent to which it permeates many workplaces, professional help may be needed to facilitate such a conversation. Don’t delay. The cement is still moist.

We can stop building the wall anytime we choose. How about now?

To a very happy and healthy 2018. May this be our best year yet!

We’ll be back live next Monday. See you then.


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