For the past few weeks I’ve run across an attitude that is as troubling as it is pervasive. I’ve seen it in people I both care about and respect, and it honestly surprises me.
It is a sense of disbelief in one another’s experience and emotions.
Perhaps it is a natural result of our day. After all, CGI action, computer generated landscapes, and digitally enhanced photography have become the norm, so doubting what you see or hear is understandable. But I am hearing this doubt, this chronic disbelief in regards to the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others; particularly when the discussion turns political, and I’m shocked by it.
I’ve heard from multiple people, all along the political spectrum, that they don’t believe the fear, outage, hurt, disgust, or disappointment that others feel.
“I think it’s made up”, “I don’t think they sincerely feel that”, “I don’t think they really feel those emotions”, “I think they’ve just got themselves riled up over nothing”, “I think it’s just false outrage.”
Those are just some of the comments I’ve heard, used to negate the feelings and opinions of individuals, both known and unknown.
And I’ve come to a conclusion about it: those kinds of claims are cowardly.
Strong words perhaps, but let me clarify my belief.
Listening to the pain and anger of another person is difficult. It demands a certain amount of empathy and compassion. It requires that we look at the world from more than one vantage point, specifically our own. In short, it requires an incredible amount of courage. It’s not comfortable. It challenges us, pushes us out of our comfort zone, and demands that we hold our knowledge of truth out like a lantern in the midst of a storm rather than a glowing candle in our personal study.
Disbelief, by comparison, is just so blessedly easy. All it requires is our disinterest, our contempt, or our anger. Anger is easy compared to kindness.
Why believe someone who supports #BlackLivesMatter? After all, if a black man weren’t doing anything wrong he wouldn’t be targeted by police and get hurt, right? Or why bother to listen to a LEO’s spouse when they claim #BlueLivesMatter? They’ve got a gun, right? What do they have to be afraid of? Or what about the business owner who is worried she’ll have to let her employees go if insurance premiums keep rising or legislators demand she pay a wage she knows she can’t afford? That worry has to be fake, she owns a business doesn’t she? The rest of us don’t even own our own cars, what has she got to complain about? Or how about the woman who expresses her frustration with receiving a lower wage because she isn’t a “smart” option for her employer to invest in; because she’s a mom and she may have to choose to be more concerned about her child a few times a year than about her job. What did she expect, preferential treatment for being a parent? Men are parents too, but you don’t see them coming in late because their kid was sick. Women don’t really want equality, they already have it, they just want special favors. Or what about that woman who opposes abortion because she claims to believe a fetus is a human life? No one REALLY grieves for a fetus, she’s just making that up, it’s all about money.
Do you see the common thread of all these arguments?
It’s easier to disbelieve a person than it is to listen to them. It’s easier to pigeonhole them into a belief, a political party, or an ideology that we think we understand than it is to take the time to understand them individually.
If I can refute your claims by stating a disbelief in the sincerity of YOUR belief, then I’m relieved of the hard work of listening to you, of attempting to see the world from your perspective, or of trying to find a way that our two differing experiences can exist together.
Disbelief is easy, and I believe it’s cowardly. How will we ever overcome the challenges our nation faces if we can’t face one another with even a glimmer of belief?
Don’t give in to the temptation to disbelieve someone simply because they see things differently than you do. Don’t assume that the only reason they disagree is because of ignorance.
Do the hard work of listening. Weigh what you know against what you are hearing. Ask yourself whether or not you know all. Keep studying, not only the words that support your view, but the experiences and thoughts of those who disagree with you.
Our country needs men and women of bravery and conviction who are more interested in truth than dogma, who value civil discourse more than civil unrest. We are too quick to unleash our anger and outrage on one another and the seeds of anger we’ve sown are swelling now into a harvest of hate for anyone or anything that even hints at being “different” than we understand.
Are there liars in our midst? Yes. Will they seek to take advantage, to manipulate, or to abuse? Undoubtedly. But I don’t believe our caution and compassion have to exist apart from one another. Nor do I believe we should be silent in our own beliefs. Harmony demands many voices that work together. They are not the same, nor should they be, but they must at least try to strike the same chord.
Yes, I’m an idealist. An unrepentant one at that. I believe in expecting the best of people and helping them to achieve it. Crazy? Maybe, but perhaps Cervantes had it right:
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”