So, you want to talk about the midterm elections…

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PIXABAY/CC0

Why is everybody so mad?

That’s a very good question. I will attempt to answer this question without blaming people or being mean - tough order these days, amiright? In one sense we are seeing so many angry people because of our involvement in social media, the FaceTweets and InstaBooks and Snap-o-grams. This increased involvement and rapid expansion of communicating through the internet has begun to expose us to more and more people with different and varying opinions on just about everything - often times before we are mature enough as people to handle such conflicting ideas. Online you generally run into two types of experiences which we will call the echo-chamber and the shouting-match. While these are two sides of the same experience, I will address each separately at first.

In the echo-chamber you tend to find that people all think just like you and have similar if not identical experiences and beliefs. This kind of environment can be comforting because it helps you to feel connected to something bigger than yourself. But the downside to this is that you begin to think that everyone thinks like you, that you are the norm, and then at its logical extension your ways are the right and good and correct ways. This kind of thinking means that anyone who doesn’t agree with you has become the wrong-thinking and uninformed sheeple at best and the intentional agent of the opposition and en enemy to be destroyed at the worst. People don’t usually try to create spaces where they only hear a single monolithic version and perspective on the world, but without care we often find ourselves ending up there.

In the shouting-match you find yourself face to face (at least Internet-wise) with people who disagree with you - often with diametrically opposed positions and beliefs. This is the domain of the angry online personalty who tries to yell and scream about what they think and believe. They are desperately trying to convince others to join their side and see the error of their ways. In the best light a person such as this is trying to educate others, at the other end they’re being a bully and just trying to cause pain. In seeing the world in strict binary options of right and left or them and us we often find ourselves in a place that can only see our “rightness” and their “wrongness.”

Different experiences are what enable us to grow. If you were never exposed to letters or words, then you would never have learned to read. These different experiences are what give us the chance to become more than we were. When you ask people about their deeply held political beliefs and really probe their reasoning, you might find that you have a similar goal in mind but a different idea about how to get there.

I’m just one person, my opinion/vote doesn’t matter right?

Wrong, it does matter - just like you matter. Whatever is going on in the world or in your mind, you are a person and so have dignity and deserve respect. Whether or not your opinion/vote will change the world is a different question, one much bigger than I have time for here. But it does have value and worth, even if it’s wrong and bad. There are sometimes no greater stories than those of people who have been so filled with hate and meanness who then come to see the error of their ways and become a kind and loving person. So, just keep on keeping on. Take a stand, with kindness and respect, for your beliefs while trying to respect and appreciate the people who don’t agree with you. In that way you will always matter - whatever party gets more votes.

How do I become a different kind of person, one who doesn’t keep the hate going?

Martin Luther King Jr. said it this way, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It’s a simple statement, but a challenging thing to live out - the classic “easier said than done.’ An important first step is to recognize that people are messy and complex. There are no easy and quick solutions to learning about people and their experiences. It takes time and effort to understand people who are different from you and think differently from you and believe differently from you - but it’s worth it. 

Sometimes it takes serious effort on our parts to learn about ourselves and see our own weaknesses and blindspots, but that’s how we grow and how we learn to stop the cycle of hate and replace it with love and understanding. How do we change things? The same way things have always changed, one person at a time - starting with ourselves.