This Election: Seriously lacking in empathy

The election for president of the U.S. this year has been more divisive than any I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot in my 48 years of voting. I’m not going to say here whom I will vote for. But I will say that as a preschool teacher, while I have used the presidential election every 4 years to help my young charges begin to learn about being good citizens, how democracy works, and voting, this will be the first year we do not discuss the actual current election, focusing instead on good citizenship and voting, and what the president does.

With the sheer volume of hatred and lack of empathy toward large groups of people being spewed in this election (OK, you may be getting a hint of which candidate I am appalled by), I am looking for any sign of understanding toward people with whom someone may disagree politically, as is expected in American politics. Here are two.

In the New York Times on Oct. 20, in the OpEd section, there was an beautiful article by Imbolo Mbue titled “How to Vote as an Immigrant and a Citizen”. She talks about how she is so excited to vote in her first free, democratic election since becoming a citizen, having emigrated from Cameroon. She writes about how, even though every day she encounters anti-immigrant bias, she understands where that is coming from, as countries in Europe as well as the United States and others struggle to absorb the influx of refugees needing so much help. Then she ends her piece with this lovely statement: “Being black, female and an immigrant–and for a good portion of my life, low-income, too–I’ve weathered my share of prejudice. But the empathy Americans have shown me far outweighs the unkindness. That is why, on Election Day, I will be voting for empathy.” How good does that make you feel?

Number 2: In the Minneapolis StarTribune on the same day, in the OpEd Section, was a piece by Faith Ralston entitled, “We can put civility back in discussion.” She talks about how she visited “dear friends” recently, who had polar opposite views on the election. “It was easy to argue,” she says. Then, “I started listening. I started looking for common ground. I began asking, ‘Where do we both agree?’ and ‘What are we both concerned about?'” She offers a number of guidelines on how to respectfully connect with those neighbors/relatives/friends/others with whom we disagree politically. For example, look for areas of shared concern; ask questions, sincerely; make room for differences. As she says, “When regular folks like you and me start talking, showing respect, listening past our differences and finding common ground, we find solutions.” I would add, assume that a person who disagrees with you has reasons for doing so, and try to understand those reasons. Then, ask the person on “the other side” to give you equal respect and try to listen to and understand where you’re coming from.

And yes, I have to say, as an advocate of empathy and understanding, that while individual supporters of any particular candidate deserve our respectful listening and empathy, castigating entire groups of people is not acceptable for any political candidate. This is the opposite of empathy. Let’s hope our country can get back to its core value of welcoming diversity of opinion and people.

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