Educate, Empower

For Unity + Empathy: Ask Ourselves Why, Not What

In a time of many voices and not enough open ears and minds, I’ve been trying to limit my words and listen as much as possible. As I grieve, as I process, and as I move forward, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means for our world and our country. At the end of the day, it mainly comes down to people not understanding others.

Usually, people ask what — what you believe, what policies you support, what your opinion is. Despite always being told that opposites attract, when we hear an answer that is dissimilar to our own, it’s often instinct to experience negative feelings of dissimilarity. This goes beyond politics. When someone says their favorite music genre is country and you’re strictly an EDM fan, you experience a mutual disconnect. If someone says they’re a psychology major but you’re pre-med biology student, confusion is often met with negativity. “But… why?” Some people think country music has horrible lyrics. Some don’t like how EDM often has no lyrics. Some think psychology is a pointless major with no career path. Some think you won’t make it through medical school so you shouldn’t try before you change anyway. These generalizations are critical and not usually constructive.

Regardless, minor disagreements are often brushed aside. “You do you. If that’s what you enjoy, do it! I don’t get it and may not agree but hey, it’s your life!” Others might ask to elaborate on your studies, about what you do or what you’re studying or what you want to do. After you ask and receive a lengthy answer, you suddenly realize how you don’t understand a word they’re saying about mitochondria and that makes you not care anymore. But you nod your head, smile, and continue on with life.

What often goes ignored is understanding the why (of yourself and of others) — why you like country music or why you’re studying biology. Is it what you’ve grown up with? Is it what your friends and family encourage? Does it simply make you happy?

On a deeper level, we should ask ourselves and others not what think they think is best for the country, but why they think it’s best — why you think Planned Parenthood funding is important, why you think immigration control is necessary, or why you think it’s dangerous to overlook occasional offensive language.

Still, these questions often lead to more answers of what. I’m challenging myself to look past these layers of what and ask the actual, more complex why about feelings — why you feel so scared of your right to bear arms being altered in any way, why you feel so worried about transgender people, or why you feel so nervous about a change in structure.

Wednesday in Chicago was a grim day. As a very liberal, Democratic city, everyone looked sad and everyone was checking in on each other, “How are you hanging in there today? Do you need anything? How can I help?” I’m not certain if many people realize how at unease some people felt. I wish they would have asked why people felt so terrified, why people felt so anxious, and why people felt so defeated.

I would have expected the Republican party to react similarly had the election resulted alternatively. No, I highly doubt they would have felt like they needed to leave their hijabs at home or avoid holding their partner’s hand in public, but they would have also felt scared for the future, as if their needs and goals were being forgotten and ignored, just as Democrats have felt.

What I absolutely will not tolerate is the violent language and behavior often guarding these deeply-rooted whys. The KKK has endorsed Donald Trump. That is not okay. Donald Trump has repeatedly insulted and degraded women. Not acceptable. Trump has mocked people with disabilities. Still not tolerable. Some people excuse this for a variety reasons, like that Trump tells it as it is. This rhetoric frustrates me when people are simply being mean if they feel so dissimilar to someone that they insult them and bring them down. Alternatively, bigot isn’t a good word to call a Trump supporter because that’s an insult and doesn’t make people feel good. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. We can accept that Trump has been elected, but we cannot normalize his language and behavior. I repeat, discrimination is not okay.

Alas, Trump is the president-elect. I am currently in the bargaining stage of grief, so I am desperately trying to process and understand what this means for my future and the future for everyone else in the United States. I am trying to be hopeful — maybe Trump will surprise us all! His team should really take advantage of “Love Trumps All!”

However compromising I may try to be, I’m not naive. This election is bringing many deeper issues to the surface, to the point where loyal members will vote against their party and policies simply for social issues. This is an opportunity for growth within all of us. We can seek to understand one another and be better people as a result. I may not understand why people find solace in Bible verses right now, but others don’t understand why I participated in protests. It helps me sleep at night, so maybe I should stop asking myself what other people are doing and instead ask the why. They’re probably just trying to find a way to rest at night too.

Deep down, we’re all trying to feel safer, happier, and not alone in this crazy world. Right now, we lack trust in people that are different from us. We hear, “the country is going to be fine” without thorough reasoning, so we get frustrated and angry. Let’s offer each other tangible, communicable reasons to be optimistic and hopeful for the future. How can people from each party and each side provide viable ways to unite the country? Better yet, how is your personal, deeply-ingrained why holding you back from uniting with others?

This is my challenge to myself, and I won’t always be perfect. Some days I might bang my head against a wall and think, “this is because of lack of education!!!” Then, I will get over my initial emotions of disagreement and check my privilege, remembering that I attend a Jesuit university and within ResLife, completed two years of intense cultural competence training in how to communicate and work with different types of people. I shouldn’t expect everyone to have the same education as me, just as I shouldn’t expect to have the same education as someone else. I especially shouldn’t want everyone to think the same as me. We need variety, but we need tolerance and trust for variety.

Open minds, open hearts, and lots of listening is my only solution to offer right now. Through clear communication and empathy, let’s hope we can still make some progress.

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