If there’s one thing I can thank Donald Trump for it’s providing America and the rest of the world with a wake-up call too loud and obnoxious to ignore. The election of our 45th president has left us with little doubt or opportunity to ignore some decidedly unpleasant truths about our nation, what it stands for and how much – or little – we have actually achieved.
For one, we can no longer in good conscience ignore how broken our political system is (evident regardless of how you voted). Then, for White Americans, there’s the unavoidable and very ugly fact that ever-present institutional racism is alive and well, and that our privilege and comfort easily made us complacent and thus complicit. Women in the meantime are reminded that if 1992 was “The Year of The Woman” then America missed the memo, because, in the 26 years since Anita Hill spoke up against sexual harassment and was shot down by a panel of hostile senators little has changed here for women, and especially for women of color. These and host of other issues repeatedly reminded us how precarious our liberties are, and how fragile freedom and social gains are when challenged by the behemoth that is the political system.
Sometimes it gets overwhelming to think about all the problems that need fixing. It’s especially true for people who assumed that some, if not all of these issues, were dealt with. Clearly, they’re not, and here we are again with a chance to make a change. Unfortunately, our track record is abysmal. We are not a country “of the people, by the people, for the people,” racism is alive and well, women continue to be blamed when they’re victimized, and a human’s right to marry, procreate (or not) and earn a decent wage, or stay united with their a family in a safe space is not guaranteed.
I hate you!
It’s tempting to point fingers and cast blame on those who think, live and voted differently from us. It’s easy (and media makes it even easier) to pit ourselves against an opposing enemy: right vs. left, women against men, people of color against whites, cis vs. non-cis, LGBT vs. straight… choose a side, go to war.
The problem, of course, is that I’m pretty sure all that divisiveness and finger pointing is 90% of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place. The second you label someone as other than you, as less than you, as wrong (when you are so very clearly right), becomes the second you discount them. When you create that division you open up space to discount, diminish, discriminate, and to minimize and rationalize the plight, perspective, and needs of others.
So if we’re not going to point fingers and group everyone who’s not like us under monolithic umbrellas and labels, then what should we do?
Bridge the gap, one conversation at a time, that’s what.
Whatever issue you’re focused on, if you want real change (without bloodshed) you’ll need to bridge the gap that separates you from “the other guy”.
That means you’re going to have to talk with people you disagree with, maybe even hate, so together you can come to lasting solutions. For that, we need to build a space where two or more
people with opposing perspectives and experiences can first relate to each other, then engage in respectful and very uncomfortable conversations.
Bridging the gap isn’t about talking for talking’s sake. It’s talking with the goal of understanding an issue and finding solutions that we can act on individually. It assumes openness to change. It also assumes that we are accountable for our actions. That we can and will take ownership of our choices and build the world we say we want.
Bridging the gap is what we do instead of passively waiting for politicians and institutions to change. It empowers every single one of us to be part of the solution or own up to being part of the problem. And all it requires is the willingness to be self-aware, the humility and patience to hear someone out without immediately arguing your point, and the courage to express our own thoughts, needs and views with honesty and transparency.
A small price to pay
This type of conversation is no fireside, kumbaya, love they neighbor chit-chat. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. It requires supreme patience and self-awareness to hear your own biases and challenge them.
At times it will make you mad as hell. Especially when you’re the one trying to speak up, and across from you is someone who thinks they’re listening but is really just looking for holes in your argument and enough of a pause to tell you you’re wrong.
Other times it’s going to make you anxious and uncomfortable. Pay attention when that happens, chances are you’re realizing you’re part of the problem, which means you’re also finding out what you can do to be part of the solution.
Some days, most days, it will feel easier to retreat to your own circles and surround yourself with others who think, feel and live just like you. You need to fight the tendency to withdraw to an echo chamber. As Viola Davis reminded us in her January 2018 speech at the Women’s March in LA, real change demands sacrifice and the price to pay to make this work is your comfort.
To bridge the gap we’re going to have to own our differences without fearing that diversity will keep us apart. We’ll need to recognize what we have in common, without mistaking being similar for being alike.
If we learn to put aside our egos and insecurities, to speak up and listen to others, we will bridge the gap. Those who need to be heard (including you) will have a voice . We’ll create a space where those who can’t/don’t yet understand the issues can become aware of the real problem, and their role in supporting or eradicating it. We will replace helplessness with power and passive talk with real reform when we choose to bridge the gap, one conversation at a time.
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