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The Power to not Change Someone


As someone who accepts the label of progressive, or liberal if you prefer, there are moments I have worried about my own thinking and those I tend to share viewpoints with. The tones I hear taken (and have taken at times myself) towards those I disagree with, the overly-simplistic answers I hear given and the shunning I see taking place worry me we are not digging in enough. We are moving to reaction rather than understanding. Statements are made or articles/clips are posted more to provoke reaction as if to say, "See! I told you this is true!" We are seeking validation rather than to expand what we know.

A couple months ago, a friend sent me to an NYT piece titled, "Liberals, you're not as smart as you think". Despite having a tone of inclusion, liberals tend to be very clear about who is and is not welcome in their camp. That the language used by calling the opposition derogatory uneducated terms is provocative and inflammatory and pushes people on the margins away. That we must recognize how much change has taken place in a short while, which can stress people who may be on the fence if we push them too hard. That calling all republicans, conservatives or people who voted for Trump idiots or another term can again drive people away. Finally, there is a call for discourse, which comes up at the end of the piece saying, "without sacrificing their principles, liberals can comes across as more respectful of others".

A friend of mine said she was recently called out by someone she had been on a date with when she said, "I could never go on a date with someone who voted for Donald Trump". Her date proceeded to tell her he found that a bit troubling. While he had not voted for Trump, he identified as conservative but had written in another candidate and had certainly not voted for Hillary Clinton. She said it forced her to rethink casting such strong comments without context.

A colleague told me she simply did not vote in the last election. She identifies as pro-choice but is a practicing Christian and has a family history of military service. She did not see herself in the values she hears espoused by democratic party and was disgusted by Trump so she simply opted out.

So are there moments we are becoming too fundamentalist in our own positions? Echoing the above piece, I bumped back into an interview with the Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who said, "The problems in the left interest me more because I just think that there’s an increase in—‘intolerance’ is maybe putting it simply—but there’s a feeling that you’re supposed to conform... There’s an orthodoxy you’re supposed to conform to, and if you don’t, you become a bad, evil person, and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or what you stand for."

I came across a term used by Emma Green, who covers religion, politics and policy for The Atlantic who said, "I arrive at a term called 'intolerant pluaralism' which means: diversity is acceptable only so long as you are checking certain boxes or viewpoints".

Do progressives identify as the party of inclusion as long as its our kind of inclusion?

As I think about my own path forward, a quote from end of the NYT resonates strongly, "Self-righteousness is rarely attractive, and even more rarely rewarded." This leads to say I want to avoid thinking, "How do I convince this person they need to join my side? What do they need to know or see?" While there may be things I should share with them, this is only one side of the equation. To think that alone misses the harder questions which are, "What do I understand about their experiences or perspective?", and, "If I am asking them to change, what am I willing to change about myself?" Politics after all is usually a game of compromise rather than absolutes. I must avoid coming at people from a moral high ground. It could be thought of the same way the white savior complex is discussed today. My job is not to save conservatives but understand and work with them.

This is not the kind of attitude and worldview that allows you to declare victory. But perhaps it is the kind of worldview that allows us to find a way forward together than marching back into battle over and over again.

Go Forth Boldly

"Often we do not allow ourselves the luxury of being persuaded by others", Andrew Solomon


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