Liberals of the world – peer out from your social media echo chambers!

Daryl Davis befriending KKK members. Photo: Daily Beast. Accidental Courtesy

On December 31st mine will be part of the huge, collective sigh of relief that 2016 is over.

And I will partake of the tremulous collective hope that in 2017 the tidal wave of bombed civilians, terrorist attacks, drowned refugees and beloved celebrities’obituaries will abate… and that the rightward swing of the global political pendulum will slow, stop – and maybe even reverse.

But one of my New Year’s resolutions will be number five of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

To understand that there will be those who are celebrating 2016 and looking forward to 2017 with renewed hope; like  people in the American ‘rust belt’ who genuinely believe that Trump can breathe life back into their defunct car industries and money into their empty pockets.

Like the Brits stuck in unskilled, low-income jobs (or no jobs) who felt left behind by globalisation and genuinely believe that Brexit will give them the opportunities that their more educated compatriots – or their migrant neighbours – have had.

And, I suppose, like the despots and oligarchs who genuinely believe that they are achieving political stability for their countries by defeating those they see as terrorists… (though that will be harder as I see images of bewildered children in the rubble of their homes and drowned bodies washing up on European shores).

Because, fellow liberals, if 2016 has taught us anything, it is that we need to take long, hard – and honest – look at ourselves.

It’s that loudly lauding our liberal values into our social media echo chambers, preaching love and tolerance to our converted friends and relatives and heaping scorn on those who disagree with us, calling them stupid and selfish, will not change anything.

It’s that political correctness merely stifled the voices of those who disagree with us, it didn’t change their minds or hearts. And that the pressure of their silenced fears, dissatisfaction and perceived disenfranchisement built up so much that at the first chink of opportunity it exploded in the opposite direction to their silencers.

I see now that political correctness has been the equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “Lalalalaa” whenever we hear words that we find offensive.

To genuinely win people over to our views –  we need to do two things; firstly to understand the fears that underlie their views. And secondly to allay those fears. To seek to understand, and then to be understood.

If someone says “Foreigners are taking our jobs”, instead of crying “Racist!” and quoting stats about how much immigrants contribute to the economy as a whole, could we instead look into what underlies that individual person’s statement? Is it really racism or is it actually well founded concern about not having a job? And the fact that someone has told them that the reason they don’t have a job is because of foreign migrants? If so, what could be done to remedy that?

If someone says “I hate Muslims”, is that racism? An argument of comparative religion? Theological discourse? Or is it an echo of the terror that terrorists were actively seeking to create? If so, what could be done to remedy that?

If  African American blues musician, Daryl Davies, can befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan to try to understand why they hate him without ever having met him (resulting in 200 members leaving the KKK), surely we can do the same?


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