By Gabriel Jones-Thomson
How many times on TV, in the news, or just in daily conversation have you heard that our nation is more divided than ever? This excessively overused, but accurate catch phrase is symptomatic of a more universal problem: We aren’t listening to one another. The culture of extreme partisanship has become widely accepted by fierce conservatives and fierce liberals alike. Each political side has villainized the other, convinced that the opposing position is not only wrong but a threat to society. Writing as a Democrat, it pains me to see fellow left-leaning individuals shame and demonize fellow country men and women because of who they support or voted for.
For example, a man I know recently shared an experience he had after the 2016 presidential election with me. A friend at church asked him who he had voted for, and when he reluctantly responded with “Donald Trump,” she verbally attacked him in front of everyone, telling him he should be ashamed of himself. Just a couple weeks ago, I witnessed first hand in a conversation how a good-natured man instinctively responded with indignation and incredulity when another said that he supported some of Trump’s economic policies.
These instances illustrate the larger psychology of many Americans: We group everyone who voted for a certain candidate as racist, sexist, crazy or stupid, and we tell them they are ruining our country. This behavior instantly puts people on the defensive, and alienates any progressive message. If we actually want to create change, such as addressing the climate crisis, we must stop enjoying making others wrong, and instead understand their world and speak into it. Because a lot of people that supported Trump, for example, did it not because they were racist, but because they wanted to keep their manufacturing jobs, or they were worried about national security, or the economy. If we can openly listen to people, and understand where they are coming from, we can deliver a message that doesn’t make them wrong, or threaten them, but actually interests them.
I tried this approach with one of the Trump supporters I mentioned above, understanding after listening to him that he cared front and foremost about the economy and foreign competition. I told him that climate change can serve as an opportunity to create millions of jobs in renewable energy and sustainability services. I told him that China is investing heavily in green technologies such as energy storage, and that if we don’t, the U.S. will fall significantly far behind in the future global economy. Through my passionate and non-accusatory words, he welcomed the new perspective and was genuinely curious.
All things considered, in both politics and climate change, those of us seeking action need to end our message of apocalyptic fear, shaming, and making others wrong. We need significantly more than half the country on the same page to address climate change, and we do that by speaking to people about the issues they care about, be it immigration, national security, social justice, religion, or economic growth. A campaign of righteousness accomplishes nothing. Lets get to work.