Medicine For People!

November 2016: Red Neighbor, Blue Neighbor

Political Signs
By Zach Rudisin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Red Neighbor, Blue Neighbor

Changing Minds

Much of the polarization in today's politics is based on the myth that no one ever changes their views. Each party simply tries to defeat the other. Little effort is given to working toward a meeting of the minds.

So I was heartened recently to hear of a study in which activists went door to door in Los Angeles and, through listening and conversation, were able to collaborate with others and get them to change their opinions in a lasting way. You can read about this study here.

Red Neighbor, Blue Neighbor tells how the isolation of modern life can lead us to become overly attached to abstractions and differences. Sometimes we lose sight of the real qualities of the people around us.

Last week I wrote the following article which was published in the Port Townsend Leader November 16. I hope you enjoy it.

Stronger Together

There is lots of merry scorn on late-night television for our President-elect this week.

Can I throw some cold water on this?

My candidate (after Mr. Sanders went down the pipe) promised that we could be Stronger Together, and I am not willing to give up on that. For me, that means that I am not going to assume that those who voted for Mr. Trump belong to a species of inferior human and intend to initiate ethnic cleansing on Inauguration Day.

We disagreed with Mr. Trump's disrespect for President Obama.

We faulted the recent Republican Congress for acting so oppositional to our man.

Now we're going to behave exactly the same way?

Let's not, and not because we are morally superior, but because it's destructive to each and every one of us. Trust me, I'm a doctor.

Our children need us to behave as adults. Adults do; they don't just talk. You think we need to do more for the disadvantaged? Study the issues, volunteer, donate, do.

You don't think we're fair to minority groups? Extend the effort and accept some risk, because it will not be easy, and spend some time with people greatly different from yourself. Do.

You think we need to address climate change? Then stop kvetching. Do something.

In the news this week, some celebrities hinted how much more urbane and sophisticated they were than the Trump voters, and they were going to show that superiority by moving to Canada. If I lived in Canada, I would not roll out the welcome mat, not for someone who fears trouble ahead and promptly hits the road.

A couple of years ago three friends and I spent a 20-degree night out in the snowy Olympics. Because two of us are what you might call politically incorrect, and because none of us are shy of expressing our political views, our morning conversation led to an unexpected and heated set-to over the campfire. We did not hike back in easy cheerful comradeship as we usually do. But we got into the truck and came home together and set out on another trek a month later. We disagree with each other on important matters, but long acquaintanceship has led us to respect each other too much to indulge in careless pigeonholing.

Each of us in the United States of America benefits from the power we've gained by being part of the richest and most powerful enterprise the world has ever known.

We are a great tribe made of little tribes, the rich and the poor, the pointy-headed intellectuals and the broad shouldered laborers, men and women and those of a more imaginative gender identity, whole rainbows of colors and religions and political views. Our tribes populate the Republican heartlands and the Democratic cities. Because we are human, it is most natural that we feel allegiance to those most similar to us. It is also easier, and frankly a little lazy.

But let us do the hard thing – let us strengthen our allegiance with our neighbors near and far who voted for Mr. Trump. We all want better days for our children. We all want a fair share and no more than that for ourselves and our loved ones.

Let's reduce the voltage and rhetoric on both sides. Remember that wise saying "most of the trouble in my life… never happened."

The problems facing Mr. Trump and all of us are fearsome and daunting.

Most of Mr. Trump's shortcomings and faults have been held up for all to see – can we just let all that go at this point? Are the rest of us so completely perfect? When he takes up his new job, then we will see what he does. If he or his followers cross the line of fairness and justice, we can turn off our computers and stand up alongside those who are threatened. But why assume the worst?

The wingnut minorities, and there are some on both sides, must not be taken as representative of the norm or given more importance than makes sense.

Going forward as a nation, we must assume that we will be largely successful in solving our problems. We may not succeed entirely, but giving up before we start guarantees failure.

Even though all of us humans can prove to be severely fallible, we must assume that our representatives in Washington will do the best they can.

If we start out today by assuming otherwise, if we don't work to build bridges with those neighbors we disagree with, we are deadly certain to reap nothing but trouble.

My choice of the word "tribe" is inspired by a short and lovely book by Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.