Don’t let your rock-solid views trump your empathy

2nd February 2018 at 00:00
Refusing to see the world from where other people stand doesn’t mean that their choice is wrong for them

As a professional gob, I have an opinion on everything. If I’m ever in a medical emergency, the quickest way to check if I’m dead would be to gently whisper in my ear “What are your thoughts on…” and insert any topic. If I’m alive, I’ll have a view.

More recently, every time I have a rock-solid stance on a divisive topic, I’ve forced myself to push certainty aside and look at the opposing view. It’s a way to establish purposeful vulnerability and occasionally ask: “What if I’m wrong?”

The trigger for this is someone who has forced many of us to repeatedly ask “WTF?” – the planet’s most dangerous distraction: The Donald.

I’m angry that his antics have diluted my fervour about aspects of British politics, which would have previously got me boiling mad and ready for action. Even Brexit seems well-considered, compared to the rolling theatre of stupid that blasts from Trump’s office daily.

I’m still confused why so many Americans chose him. I love the US and I’m angry that he made me, at least initially, think less of the massive chunk of the population who voted for him.

This is wrong. I am wrong. Refusing to see the world from where they stand doesn’t mean that their choice is wrong for them. They might be good people who have made a choice I never would. It raises the question: is it possible to separate the person from their views?

Misleading world views

There’s a teacher on Twitter with whom I have never exchanged a cross word, but who I have unfollowed then re-followed numerous times. I know he has done the same to me. He’s even blocked me. He is a committed Catholic, pro-life advocate and Brexiteer. I am a committed agnostic with beliefs informed by a liberal, feminist stance. It’s an understatement to say that our views on many subjects don’t converge.

Last year I accidentally ran into him in real life, when we both attended the same event. I saw his name on the speaker list and gave myself a lecture about being tolerant, even in the presence of someone who would undoubtedly be a right dickhead. Then we met…

He was funny, kind and articulate. A good man. On the way home, I re-followed him on Twitter – then scrolled through his tweets, became re-enraged and instantly unfollowed him again, even though I knew that I liked him. It was a troubling conflict, demonstrating that I have some way to go in challenging my own opinions.

The people-like-us enclaves of agreement create a misleading world view. They are the reason I was so shocked at Brexit, and then Trump, when, in both cases, just over half of the British, and then American, population were not. But it’s a step forward to recognise that opposing views on specific issues, even those that seem impossible to reconcile with immovable personal beliefs, do not equate to the entirety of a person.

That’s my view.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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