I grew up in a liberal Northern California town.
But grew up under a conservative, southern household.
I grew up reading the New York Times articles assigned by teachers at school.
And came home to Fox News anchors speaking on the TV.
I grew up with a unique lens, most would agree.
In college, I lived a block from one of the more horrifying university mass shooting crimescenes of our lifetime. I heard the gunshots that killed a classmate of mine. I stared at bloodstained grass marks on my walk into town. And when I went home for the weekend to clear my head, tears welled in my eyes and the foundational questions about human life weighing in my heart, my dad said "Guns don't kill people J, people kill people." And when this week's tragedy broke news, and we heard the fatality number climb, I was having dinner with parents and the sentiment was the same. My outrage and emotional stance on the issue was met with cold facts on the legality of the constitution, the probable illegality of the weapons obtained, etc. etc.
It's frustrating, most issues. But my Dad is not some evil, hateful person. He is a responsible, loving, and respectful member of the community. He raises his voice and comes fully loaded with years of conservative rhetoric to most conversations. He gets mad when I make accusations against him and his party, and usually has the facts to "win" most arguments. But he is no villain.
Then every once and a while when I bring up a conservative outlook to my intelligent, well-versed and liberal peers, I'm met with the same raised voice, deck of empirical evidence, and (to be honest) judgement that I would even dare to speak of another viewpoint. The father (whom I respect very much in most cases) of a close friend once said he thought Republican's brains were probably the size of a lizard's. My friend elbowed him and remarked that he shouldn't say things like that in present company (me, daughter of a Republican). The truth is, he shouldn't say thing like that, ever. But he is no villain either.
There is something wrong with the way this (always) shakes out. It is no secret that our country is facing a gaping bipartisan divide and the civil war of words and will is very much alive. I have a distinct vantage point- I see the day-ins and day-outs of two sides of the story. Spoiler: media is f**cking convincing. It's like it's their jobs to be persuasive or something. The left hears the highly intelligent, well-equipped leaders of the left rhetoric. The right hears the same, but only on their respective side.
One thing I can say with certainty is that I've seen the emotion and pride of it all cloud judgement. Nobody is willing to reach across the divide, to listen, to internalize the opposition of the opponent. Nobody likes debating because the result is usually two separate streams of conscience. I don't see leaders of opposing sides talking together, or working together, or attempting to empathize. That's something we could use more of. This is not a country of right vs wrong. It's just not that simple. It can't be. We'll all be better off to try to understand, to really listen to our opponents and understand why they think the way they do.
We'll be better at articulating our stance if we listen to that of the other side. Padding our opinion with affirmation with our media of choice or acting like an opposing opinion is inherently "evil" is not drawing us any closer to bipartisan resolution.
Empathy for an opponent is never easy, but I'd argue it's worth trying to get to.
Illustration by Amélie Fontaine