Wednesday, November 9, 2016 was a day that the Hofstra campus, the United States of America, and the world felt shockwaves. The knowledge that Donald Trump would be president for the next four years triggered a range of extreme reactions. Some were triumphant, others were in tears, and still others called for unity. In the days following, hate crimes are bubbling up from the underbelly of America, shocking people into the reality that this level of hate really exists in our society. Anti-Trump protests rock through the cities full of people who reject the president-elect. This election cycle has been like a match igniting deep divides in American society, driving them deeper.
One of the ingredients for violence and hate is dehumanization, which is present in all divides our society faces: political, racial, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation. This has been a consistent theme in human conflicts throughout time, and we are looking dehumanization in the face today as we look at the aftermath of a particularly aggressive election and rhetoric from leaders and citizens on both sides of the aisle. People are so polarized and lost in their anger that they forget the common interests we all share. Violence is inevitable if we do not refocus our efforts and be an example of peace.
We all must change the dialogue by starting in our own lives, words, and actions when faced with divisive topics. Here are some ways to diffuse the tension and re-humanize others who you think have incompatible interests with yours:
- Point out common interests and experiences. People are generally not looking to hurt each other, but they are looking out for their own interests and don’t always understand how this affects other people. Tell them you understand the valid interests they are trying to express, but that there are ways to address those concerns without negatively impacting others in the process. Remind them that the safety, freedom, and happiness of whoever they consider to be the “other” are just as important as their own interests. Chances are, everyone in the conversation would agree to a plan that protects the wellbeing of all people equally. Even if it is difficult to find a practical plan to do this in many of the social issues we face today, it is a huge victory simply to bring people in the conversation to a place where they remember and value the humanity of the “other.”
- Reverse roles. Part of being caught up in one’s own interests is that we struggle to see other people’s perspectives that conflict with our own. People with different life experiences and ideological backgrounds can benefit by seeing the world through each other’s eyes. No one’s experience is wrong, just different. We re-humanize each other by listening to each other’s stories and having an open mind. What would you feel like if you experienced what they did? If you were in their shoes, what would life be like for you? Would you continue to judge them as you do now? When people understand each other’s backgrounds, they understand the others’ concerns and feel more empathy for each other.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. No peacemaking strategy can work if you do not bring a peaceful energy to the conversation. People can tell when someone is looking for a political fight, and if that is the case you will sabotage your own ability to truly hear the other person and make them feel defensive until you both spiral into a battle with each other. The decision to be open-minded and facilitate peace in the conversation is infinitely more powerful and constructive than losing yourself in fear, blame, sadness, or aggression. The divides between people that lead to violence will only worsen if we do not change our attitudes and re-focus on our common humanity. That process starts with you.
Image Credit: The Boylan Blog