The last few months in the United States has been a bit of a whirlwind. On November 8, 2016, there were many tears shed. These were both happy tears and fearful tears. In addition, there were also lots of anger and denial. This is not a post about specifics of the political situation, nor is it an op-ed about who I support and who I don’t. Rather, this is a post about the necessity of trying to understand one another- especially in this time of chaos.
As someone who likes to strip down all political affiliations and get to know someone for what their values are, and how they feel- I found myself wanting to learn all the reasons supporters of Donald Trump feel the way they do and how we came to such a wide political divide in the United States. With that, I picked up a recommended book to begin understanding the “deep story”. This book is called Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russel Hochschild.
In Strangers in Their Own Land, Hochschild- a renowned sociologist based in Berkeley California embarks on a journey to the Deep South, Louisiana, to find answers from the conservative right. She attempts to find out why one of the poorest, and most impacted State from policy decisions made by the Conservative right continues to support these same candidates. She coins this “The Great Paradox”. Throughout this process, she finds out much more than meets the eye.
She begins to understand the “deep story”, this story that is true to each and every one of those people she interacted with. She finds that whatever their experience was, what motivated their decision making was based on their emotions. As I read stories of Americans Hochschild met, I learned that this political divide has emerged more from a class divide rather than a “republican or democrat” divide. These citizens of Louisiana felt they’ve been waiting in line for The American Dream for so long through their hard work, and yet time and time again, continue to fall back as groups such as “LGBT”, “African Americans”, “Immigrants” gain support from the government and American citizens who have already “made” it.
In addition, what increased the big divide is the unwillingness on either end of the spectrum to talk with one another. The right felt attacked from activists on the left, and yet, many on the left felt attacked from the right. This represents the empathy wall and lack of understanding that exists between both sides of the deep story.
“An empathy wall is an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances.” (Hoschild, pg 5)
Whether you agree with all of the above or not, I sincerely hope that at the very least, we agree that more listening & understanding to each other is necessary. Today, tomorrow, and for the next four years, it will be crucial to proactively seek out information and learn from those whose viewpoints we do not agree with. It can become very convenient to live within enclaves of our own views; electronic enclaves, geographic enclaves, and media enclaves.
There are many resources to take us out of this enclave if we so desire. The first of which I would recommend is to read this incredible book. It will provide a new perspective on the “anger and mourning on the American Right”.
Other resources I recommend are as follows. Please feel free to comment and share any additional resources we may utilize!
Blue Feed, Red Feed: A Wall Street Journal project providing a way to see the Liberal Facebook feed and the Conservative Facebook feed side by side.
Interview with Arlie Russell Hochschild: Interview on Democracy Now on Hochschild’s motivation, intentions, and experiences throughout the process of writing this book.