“Regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens love this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.”
—President Barack Obama
January 10, 2017
The divisive political discourse that has soared to stratospheric levels these past couple of years, and in particular the past eighteen months or so, has left a bitter taste in my mouth and sent my stomach churning. So ugly is the rhetoric, particularly on social media, that it is disheartening to see how mean we are to each other. So much name-calling, so much hate, so much rudeness. It’s as though we have taken to relishing intolerance. It’s as though we have taken to reveling in making the most disgusting, most inane, most biting comments we can, intentionally attempting to take someone down, to belittle anyone who disagrees with us, to shame the views of anyone whose opinions differ from our own.
What is the matter with people?
Of course, most of us believe that it’s everyone else who is horrible.
None of us wants to admit that we’re being horrible people.
It’s everyone else who is tweeting horrible things.
It’s everyone else who is posting disgusting memes.
It’s everyone else who believes all that fake news.
It’s everyone else who is a monster.
We are all monsters.
We are the monsters who are guilty of otherizing our opponents.
We are the monsters who continually engage in ugly rhetoric.
We are the monsters who pounce on the wrongs committed by others while denying our own.
We are the monsters who choose to see only the bad in others.
If you need proof of this, just check out the #MAGA hashtag on Twitter. That’s an enlightening experiment.
President Obama knows full well that, despite this ugly rhetoric, we all love this country, as he stated in his January 10 Farewell Address in Chicago. He knows that we must recognize in each other that, fundamentally, we all really do want much the same things for ourselves, for our children, for our country. How we go about achieving our goals is—and always has been and always will be—a matter of dispute. Healthy discussion and argument is not a problem. We should debate important issues. But this constant demonization of those we disagree with is undermining the very fabric of America. We must stop demonizing each other. It’s time to kill the monsters.
Killing the monsters means we need to stop assuming the worst in everyone else. It means we have to stop acting like children, to stop bullying each other, to stop assigning blame to everyone else.
That doesn’t mean that everyone else needs to stop being so cruel.
Each of us has to stop being so cruel.
How many of us have defriended or unfollowed people whose political views differ from our own? How many of us have posted snarky tweets or rude comments in response to a post we don’t like? How many of us have gasped or cringed at the disgusting things people tweet at each other?
No one can stop this rudeness but us.
We are the monsters who must be killed.
Not literally, of course—in today’s climate, violence is so pervasive that it seems important to note that I’m not actually advocating that anyone go out and kill anyone. We must, figuratively, kill the monsters within us.
Is it that difficult to be nice to people?
Is it so hard to be generous of spirit?
It is really impossible to disagree without being disagreeable?
Is it such a challenge to be kind to one another?
Is it too burdensome to do what we can to lift each other up?
Do we really want our world to become even more ugly?
Do we really desire to obliterate our opponents?
Do we really wish to devolve into screaming factions of fanatics who refuse to converse or connect with each other?
Must we assume the worst in people?
Must we insist that we are always right and everyone else is wrong?
Must we refuse to listen to other points of view?
Must we treat each other as enemies?
I think it fair to say that most of us can see how acrimonious the public discourse has become. As Susan Heitler writes in Psychology Today, the “antagonism modeled by our leaders is echoed by media commentators and, alas, in political discussions between friends and family. Over-heated posturing with denigration of differing viewpoints has become a cultural norm for talking about political topics.”
And what good has this over-heated posturing led to? We have a dysfunctional Congress—thanks to the Senators and Representatives we have sent to Washington. We have dysfunctional state governments—thanks to the legislators and governors we have sent to state capitols. We have dysfunctional relationships—thanks to the way we treat each other.
But it’s not impossible to stop being so dysfunctional. It’s not impossible to kill the monsters inside us. Plenty of friends and couples stick together despite having opposing political views. They have found ways to discuss, to converse, to exchange views—without monsterizing or otherizing each other. They have actual conversations rather than arguments. They share their views rather than imposing their views. They treat each other with respect rather than belittling each other. They lift each other up rather than trying to tear each other down. They have learned how to kill the monsters within so that they can engage in constructive dialogue rather than in destructive discourse.
I vow to do more to recognize that an opposing view isn’t necessarily wrong. I vow to listen respectfully to opinions different from my own. I vow to discuss without arguing, to converse without shouting, to share my own views without trying to malign the views of those with whom I disagree. I vow to try to kill the monsters within me, those monsters that urge me toward snarky posts, toward demeaning comments, toward rude tweets. I vow to remember that ugly, mean, divisive rhetoric never changed anyone’s mind or moved a discussion forward. I vow to do what I can to lift other people up rather than hoping to bring them down.
Now more than ever, as we enter what so many predict will be, at best, a tempestuous four years, it’s time to lift each other up, regardless of station, regardless of political views, regardless of gender, regardless of race.
Will you join me?