Several people have responded to my column from last week, when I said it seems like the whole world is going crazy. This has included some of my conservative, as well as liberal, friends. I have fewer of those than I used to, at least fewer I can talk to about politics or life in general. But, thankfully, there still are some - and many of them agree with me on a lot of things (sometimes to their surprise).
One of those dear conservative friends, agreeing with much of what I said last week, posed an important question that I felt was worth addressing: what can we do about it?
I wish I had an easy answer. I ended last week’s column by saying that appeasing, or even ignoring, people on the other side that are actively encouraging hatred and even violence is not the answer. Honestly, I believe that at certain points in history (Nazis, segregationists, pro-slavery people… and some very large movements today) there has been a moral imperative to speak out in opposition and even to take action. Everyone who disagrees with you, though - or with me - does not fit into those categories. I think I do have an idea of where to start, where reasonable people are concerned.
Listen to one another.
Listen to people who are not like you.
If you are a man, ask women what it is like living in a man’s world - and actually listen. Don’t argue, don’t be defensive, don’t be in denial, don’t tell them why they are wrong: LISTEN. If you are white, ask a person of color what it is like to be in their shoes - and actually listen. You will learn that a lot of things you make assumptions about are not accurate. Let that fact sink in - again, without being defensive. Even if it makes you uncomfortable - especially if it makes you uncomfortable. People of color are made uncomfortable all the time… think about that, listen to their stories, and let it sink in.
Conversely, don’t immediately demonize people just because they claim to be conservative. Don’t make assumptions, or comments, about how stupid, backwoods, or ignorant you think they are. You are letting your own preconceptions blind you and prevent you from communicating. Honestly, the fact that so many working-class people in rural areas are correct in their assumption that a lot of liberals treat them like they are all morons instead of looking for common ground and treating them with basic decency drives them farther and farther away. At this point, I know that many of my readers are thinking “well, THEY shouldn’t act so morally superior, so quick to judge, or support policies that hurt people different from them.” And that is CORRECT. But it should cut both ways. Remember, I said that appeasement of radical far-right people (a fast-growing group) is not the answer - but neither is painting everyone with the same brush.
The next step: look for things in your own community that can be done to improve the lives of everyone, and look for those things with love. Then find ways to work together to help.
There are a lot of poor people going hungry in the Upper Cumberland. There are a lot of kids doing without things other than food, from toys to shoes. There is a lot of need for medical assistance for the poor around here - especially since so many local hospitals in other counties have shut down. There is a lot of need for assistance at your own local public schools and libraries. There is a need to protect our beautiful landscapes and wildlife.
No matter how crazy the world keeps getting, there are lots of opportunities to make a difference. If we can stop being so angry at each other, there is a lot of good we can do together - without violating our integrity in the process.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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