Hello Listserve World!
My challenge for you today:
Think of someone, or a group of people, who you disagree with, or get really frustrated by.
Now take a moment to think about how they got to where they are. Why might they believe the things they do? What circumstances, environments, influences, could have brought them to where they are? How do those things differ from your own circumstances?
What could you learn from their perspective?
Most importantly: if you were in their shoes, would you believe or act any differently than they do?
As someone who grew up in one (political, religious, worldview, etc) mindset, and has done nearly a 180 in terms of switching viewpoints, it can feel really painful to see people with my past views and people with my present views clash in such impersonal, attacking, and stubborn ways – because I can see myself and people I love on both sides.
I never would have become the person I am today, with the views that I have now, if I were only ever attacked for what I believed. And the people I now disagree with will never even be interested in seeing the world the way I do now if I just call them stupid or wrong for not agreeing with me. Yet I feel like that’s most of the discourse I see today – shaming people we disagree with, name-calling, writing them off.
I had no control over the setting I was born into. I did have control over the way I sought new perspectives when I got older, and the way I had conversations about topics I was curious about, and topics I became passionate about.
I’ve come to believe that everyone is a product of their environment and their genes. What I mean by that, is that if you were in someone else’s shoes, you would be the exact same person. Yes, I’m including everyone in that: from the person you disagree with, to the homeless woman on the corner, to the total asshole at the store, to Kim Kardashian, OJ Simpson, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (yes, I realize that is a very strange list.)
I think of it as radical empathy. And it can be really hard. But whenever I remember it and take a moment to think about it, it changes the way I interact with people and think about the world. It brings me closer to people I might normally distance myself from. I also learn more. By thinking: “what made the cult leader Jim Jones who he was?” rather than just thinking of him as crazy, I start to think about how, as fellow humans, we may be more alike than different.
I truly believe that if every single one of us thinks about the world, and our fellow humans in this way, we would be more productive in our conversations, in our solutions to problems, and in our love for each other.
So there’s my challenge for you. In writing this email, I realized I’d let my own empathy kind of fall by the wayside – so it will be my challenge today as well.
I’ve written to you all before, about two months ago, when I was leaving my Missouri home to move to Sydney, Australia. I was touched by the number of people who reached out. This is a lovely community. I’m now settled in Sydney and loving it!
(But shoutout to my city St. Louis and alma mater WashU for hosting the second presidential debate!)