January 21, 2017

A Circle of Madness Broken by Empathy


2016 was a brutal year for many. Amid the deaths of cultural and empathetic icons, the world watched as a new leader of the “free world” was elected, in no small part on the backs of racism, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and nationalism. Martin Luther King Day this year underscored the dichotomy between the Civil Rights movement and this haunting new world we face in 2017. It is so painfully acute. How did this happen? And more importantly - what do we do about it?

I tend to avoid mixing politics and games - after all gaming can be a source of respite for many (myself included). And yet, it is impossible to ignore how increasingly politicized our world, our art, our entertainment, and all the mundane moments our lives have become. And so I’m writing this as I watch the beautiful Women’s March in Washington D.C. unfold - not only in our nation's capital, but in places big and small across the United States and, indeed, across the globe. 

Optimistically - I hope that I’m witnessing the birth of a new civil rights era. It's easy to be complacent when everything seems like it’s going fine - particularly I admit as a white male. It's easy, though it shouldn’t be, to forget that things are not fine for a lot of people. So often, and unfortunately, it takes something truly horrible to deliver the wake up call that “things aren’t right” in world. And optimistically, I hope that Trump’s election will deliver a motivational kick in the ass for all people to reclaim their democratic rights and liberties.

All during the primaries, and the campaign, and even after election night - even right up to the moment before Trump started talking during his inauguration - I hoped that it was all a ruse. I hoped that Trump would smile and say to the American people: “Are you kidding me? You all elected me? I said the worst possible things about almost every type of person on the planet - and you still voted for me. This says something about me, but more importantly it says something about you. As it is, I don’t intend to actually carry through on all the awful stuff I said.” 

Sadly, that didn’t happen - and so here we are.

I don’t really want to debate what went wrong in the election itself, but I’ll mention a few things - because I think it underscores how our Country is poised in a terrifying moment. First and foremost is the issue of Russian hacking - the extent which it impacted the election will undoubtedly take a while to discern. But it is dreadfully worrying to the integrity of our democracy.

Second, and I think worse, is the wholesale gerrymandering of voting districts across the Country. We’re just now seeing ethics and legal action calling out these practices. These practices have resulted in representation for many demographic groups being unequal as it manifests in State and Federal legislatures - fueling a cycling of disempowerment. This gerrymandering, coupled archaic and unjust voting laws and practices, are not about democracy and American values - they are about the people in power staying in power by any means necessary.

Third is the catastrophic miscalculation concerning the blue collar working class - the long-standing base of the Democratic party. In a campaign focused on the personality and antics of Trump versus Clinton - Trump with his incendiary remarks and Clinton’s perpetual spectre of conspiracy surrounding her - it isn’t hard to see why the base, upset at stagnation and gridlock in Washington, just wanted to say “screw it” to the whole system and vote for something, indeed anything, different. 

The unfortunate part is that the working class base was duped into believing that Trump will do anything to further their wellbeing and prosperity. Whether the issue is taxes, health insurance, environmental protection, housing, worker pay, or education - Trump’s rhetoric paints a harrowing picture for the future. And what little substance there is in his words - such as his cabinet and administrative nominee selections - show a clear interest in dismantling and scaling back all the institutions that are vital for every person in this country: clean air and water, safe food, quality education, stable neighborhoods, and health.

The direction of education in particular saddens me to no end - because the more inequity and dysfunction is sowed in the educational system, the more people are kept ignorant and denied the tools for thinking critically. And so many seem to take pleasure in being anti-intellectual - and in large part, this is what got us into this mess to begin with.

Fourth, and most shocking, is the surge of racism, misogyny, and nationalism that has been emboldened and set free by Trump’s election. We might summarize that the shadows have to grow darker before things can become brighter. Perhaps, by this underbelly of our Country being exposed for what it is, we will be afforded the opportunity to challenge it head on once again. And it needs to be challenged head on before it snowballs into something much worse. 

And so it is sad that this nation spends much public discourse over what rights a woman has to her own body, or what bathrooms a transgender person is allowed to use, or what false science we teach our children, or what rights that all citizens have - regardless of their origin or anything else. It is a travesty that these are pressing issues weighing on our conscious - these should be solved issues. But they are not. And so we must continue to fight for them.

Taking action is hard. A march, like the Women’s March, can galvanize many people - but you have to act on that momentum. Take that energy and build on it through your own lives. It starts with everyone, as their own individual self, being willing to be critical and reflective of their own lives and actions. To be willing to question their own assumptions and beliefs.

It takes empathy. 

This is an increasingly divided country - both ideologically and geographically. Political leaning and whether you live in a red or blue state, a liberal island or a conservative plain, divide us increasingly more than any other characteristic. So it is ever more imperative that we be willing to listen to each other - if nothing else than to understand where we each are coming from. To endeavor to find a common ground. To be willing to have our beliefs and assumptions challenged - and to respectfully challenge the beliefs of others. Building empathy is about building understanding - and I believe that when we truly understand each other - we will find that our interests and aspirations have far more in common than we assume.

I hope that the energy of the Womens’ March gives rise to a new movement born of respect and equality for all people. One that is willing to reach across and shatter old political lines to form a new accord. Opposition and competition has defined the political landscape for generations. And in turn, cooperation and inclusion has been lost at sea. I hope that such a movement will rise at the national stage and bring the ships to port. 

But close to home we each have a role to play in building empathy - in reaching out to those different from us, finding common ground, and standing together for the values of freedom and equality that this nation can exemplify like no other nation in the world.

But it starts with each of us.


1 comment:

  1. It is kind of true how politicized our world has become. Those times must have been great when there wasnt politics involved in everything. But good post.

    ReplyDelete