In college, I took an animal science course. I thought it was, more or less, an animals rights class. I was so wrong. One of our first classes consisted of the professor dividing us into two groups. One group who supported hunting and the other who opposed it. Being the intense animal lover that I am, I opposed hunting. He continued to tell us that at midterm, we were to present facts and arguments for the OPPOSITE belief. I won’t lie, I was aggravated, especially since this was immediately after showing us a slaughterhouse video. Which, by the way, turned me into a vegetarian for the next few years. I couldn’t handle the thought of killing animals, even for food. I was supposed to create a presentation in support of something that I hands down didn’t believe in and actually made me sick to my stomach to think about?
I’m sure most of us have had to do similar exercises in grade school or college covering a wide variety of topics, but I felt this topic was cruel and inhumane and unarguable. That following month was challenging. During lecture, I was forced to listen with pro-hunting ears. The days he spoke in support of hunting, I had to intensely listen, make sense of it, and draw my own conclusions. I skeptically went on the other side of the fence to take a look around. My grade depended on it.
As the weeks went on, my mind slowly opened. Forcing myself in another’s shoes. And sure enough, I lowered my blinders. I understood why deer hunting has a season and a limit. I understood there is an overpopulation and not enough food, which means many would starve to death. I understood that without hunting there would be an increase in deer related car accidents, creating a driving hazard. There are more facts, but these are the ones that stuck in my mind after all these years.
Eventually, I was able to put my strong opinions aside long enough to see another viewpoint. And the truth is, I still don’t agree with hunting. Nope. It still bothers me. These reasons aren’t enough to change my mind, but I understand why others are in support of it. It doesn’t make it right or wrong. What I realized now, that I didn’t truly realize then, is that my professor gave us a priceless life lesson in empathy.
Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
What does this have to do with the 2016 Presidential Election? Everything. It has EVERYTHING to do with it, friends.
Empathy can heal this nation.
We don’t have to agree to have empathy, we only have to listen long enough to understand them. We don’t have to change our political views or morals or ethics. We can still believe in pro-life or pro-choice, strict immigration laws or open borders, the Second Amendment or strict gun laws.
If we all slowly put down our weapons and step up to that fence and take a willing step over, I bet we can find the healing that we Americans are desperate for right now. Trump supporters, Clinton supporters, Third Party supporters. Let’s prove to the world how great America truly is. Let’s show them that we can embrace our differences and rise above them. Let’s show them how our differences make America, America. Even through these terribly tough times with major life-changing issues on the line, we can stop pointing fingers and spreading hate and bullying each other. Instead, we can consciously choose empathy. We can agree to disagree. We can recognize our friends and family who are kind and loving and good and amazing, but voted for a Presidential Candidate that we don’t agree with. It doesn’t make them bad people. They have their reasons, do you know what they are?
Do we truly think every Clinton supporter is put under one umbrella and all Trump supporters are put under another? The stereotypes are a one size fits all? No and no.
Put your weapons down. And by weapons, I mean words. Both sides of this divide are flawed. You cannot change what has already been said or done, but you can control your reaction to it. Be the change you want to see in the world.
I urge every single American reading this to open up your heart and mind. Read articles in support of your opposite belief. Talk to friends and family and listen to their view. Ask them why they believe what they believe and try to understand. Have respectful conversations. No name calling, no stereotypes, no finger pointing… just an open mind. I promise you, listening without judgement doesn’t make you weak. There is no harm in truly trying to understand why your fellow Americans believe in something completely opposite of you. What do you have to lose? Worst case scenario you get nothing out of it. Best case? Empathy. It erases the hate. It erases the stereotypes. It erases the civil war of words being shouted from all parties. It reminds us that we’re all Americans. We’re all human. We all have feelings. Choose to not let those filled with hate represent who you are. They need your grace the most. A friend of mine referred to the grace-givers as the peacemakers, and that is exactly what America needs.
Where are America’s peacemakers?
Our children are watching. They are listening. They are learning. There are little eyes and ears following behind us. Let’s show our littles how to win graciously and lose graciously. It’s not about who’s right and wrong. It’s about loving one another through our differences.
I believe that we can start this beautiful chain reaction that begins with us. That begins with empathy. We can break the cycle of hate and blame and bullying that’s spiraling out of control. Let’s choose love and grace and kindness and respect.
It doesn’t make you weak, it shows your strength. An eye for an eye will eventually leave the whole world blind.
Friends, choose empathy today and see what happens!