By Colby Duhon
November 8, 2016 was quite a night. I felt a mixture of fear and confusion as I walked out of the Clinton phone banking office. I began a slow and somber walk home through the quiet streets of San Francisco. A few days after election night, I recall calling my father nearly screaming and on the verge of tears as we discussed the newly elected President. My father informed me he had in fact voted for Trump which is when my anger boiled over.
The event and the conversation with my father lingered in my thoughts long after it occurred and I found myself bewildered at why my father, who has a gay son, could support a man I, and the majority of Americans, perceived as a bigot, a fraud, and an immoral bastard. Suddenly, it hit me;
“Perception is reality.”
It’s a relatively succinct and short phrase, but profound all the same. What does it have to do with politics and Trump? The short answer is simple: everything. To understand the wall between my father and myself, I searched for the key which lies in understanding our respective perspectives.
As a gay male growing up in the deep south, I know firsthand the feeling of prejudice and what bigotry feels like when it is aimed directly at you like the barrel of an AR-15.
My father grew up on a farm in this area. He was raised with the Republican ideals that the government is bad, taxes are terrible, and a white picket fence with two kids and the dog is the American dream. MAGA?
I have been privileged enough to do some extensive traveling and see different cultures and meet people not only from this country, but around the world.
My father has done very little traveling as he much prefers the comfort of his back porch in my small hometown. He doesn’t care to know much about the outside world or about the people living in it.
Given these differences it should come as little surprise that my father and I are at odds on nearly every political issue be it abortion, gay marriage, gun rights, etc. Yet, I still can honestly say I love the man with all my heart. Though loving those who may see the world differently can be a colossal challenge, it is nearly always worth the effort.
In the hopes of maintaining a shred of unity in today’s ever divisive political environment, I present the following tips that can help you maintain family/friendships in the era of Trump.
Do not immediately demonize because the opinion differs from yours
The knee-jerk reaction to something you disagree with for political/moral reasons is rarely constructive and often, in fact, quite destructive. Note that this is not a “Free to Say Anything” license. Abject racism, sexism, threats, etc. should be met with equal resistance. For example if you have the option to punch a Nazi, always punch Nazis. The difference between abject and suggested bigotry can be a fine line at times, but usually the gut can discern someone’s true feelings. For example, “Immigrants are taking American jobs,” is worthy of discussions whereas “Immigrants are useless parasites and deserve to die,” is not. It is important to reign in what could be your knee-jerk response and immediate want to “ad homeniem” the hell out of someone and instead discern what his/her true feelings are. Once you get to that point, you can decide whether to continue the discussion or walk away.
Humanize, Humanize, and Once More For Those in the Back Humanize
The first step in changing someone’s opinion on a matter (especially a political matter) is to humanize some aspect of the topic. I grew up hearing how immoral and terrible gay people were as human beings. As soon as I came out to my parents, never again did I hear such notions. There could be several reasons for this nearly miraculous change of mindset, but I suspect the main motivator was that my father could no longer cast hatred on some amorphous, faceless group of people as I was one of the faceless now.
Assume Ignorance Not Maliciousness
A very useful mental tool comes in the form of Hanlon’s Razor, which states “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." While it may sound a bit negative in connotation, it has a wide variety of applications in everyday life. No, that taxi cab driver didn’t ignore you as you rushed towards him in the rain because he hates you and wants you to lose your job;he just didn’t see you. The same can be applied to political views. My father for instance commonly cited Trump’s “business acumen” as one of the main reasons Trump received his vote. As I informed my father that Trump’s business history is a bit checkered and cited specific examples (Trump University, Trump tanking the American Football League), it was fascinating to watch my father’s face change as he processed this newly discovered information.
If there is Maliciousness, Sprint Away
Unfortunately, it would be blissfully naïve to assume there is no maliciousness in the hearts of others. I have heard the horror stories of men and women punished for being LGBT, whether from conversion therapy attempts, to families disowning them, to being driven to suicide. An inconvenient fact of life is this: there are people who place their ill-gotten beliefs above the love of their fellow human. Should you be unfortunate enough to encounter one of these hatemongers, sprint, do not run, do not walk, but sprint away.
Trust Your Gut
A large part of dealing with other people in life is listening to your gut. Your gut generally can discern whether someone is truly malicious or simply has viewpoints that contradict your own. The gut is less effective in discerning intentions in the virtual space due to lack of physical, contextual clues such as tone and body language. (This is partially why online arguments rapidly devolve to madness and destructive conversations). Trust your instincts when it comes to dealing with a person and whether a conversation could produce growth or just waste time.
Emotions > Facts
Facts are wondrous things, mostly because they exist largely independent of perception. Numbers don’t care if someone thinks one plus one should equal three. This agnostic nature of facts should, in theory, make them a cornerstone of changing someone’s perspective to the more “logical” or “rational” viewpoint. Unfortunately, there are two confounding factors when it comes to numbers arguments.
1. As humans we are not programmed well to deal with statistics and probabilities. The simple proof of this is that given that heart attacks and car accidents are among the leading causes of death in the US, people should be terrified of cheese burgers and/or driving. Instead the more common fears are dying to a shark or terrorist attack which, statistically, is highly unlikely.
2. Numbers are up to interpretation and can be manipulated to prove both sides of the same argument.
Due to the weaknesses of pure logical arguments, emotion can be extremely effective in helping someone see the other side of an argument. Basing a viewpoint on an experience can invoke empathy and thus lend great credence to a side of an argument.
It is Not your Job to Convert the World
Many people can become intimidated and think “How can I ever get everyone to see the world with my perspective?” The sad truth is that would be highly difficult and unlikely, but that is ok! It is not one person’s responsibility to move the world forward. Whether it was abolishment of slavery, the civil rights movement, LGBT rights, women’s suffrage, etc., all of these events were accomplished by a group of like-minded individuals who wanted a better world for themselves or their fellow human.
Getting even one person to see the world in a different way is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated as such. When it comes to changing perspective go for quality over quantity.
Perspective is Like a Diamond: Slowly Formed and Hard to Change
A person’s perspective is an incorporeal representation of how they see the world around them. It is a culmination of past experiences, biases, viewpoints, and an entire host of cognitions all slowly fused together over the span of a lifetime. That which is solidly and slowly formed is oft hard to mutate. It is unrealistic to transform someone’s viewpoint on a matter from one extreme to the other overnight. A much more realistic way to view it is a slow chipping away at a rock face or the ever so slowly brightening of a light. Give others time to see the world as you want them too, don’t force your perception onto them.
In heated arguments, your body undergoes a profound physiological effect. Your heart races and your breathing becomes shallow as your mind readies itself due to its fight or flight instinct. Despite this, do your best to maintain a state of calm during this time. Try to take slower breaths to calm the heart, mentally count to a number, any number of tactics can work. An effective persuasion is a calm persuasion.
Surround Yourself With People Who Love You, Even if you Disagree Politically
Not everyone who agrees with you politically will love you. The converse is also true; not everyone who loves you will agree with you politically. An individual’s political views is a highly complex aspect of their perception, and it could differ greatly or minimally from your own. What is necessary at times is to remove political beliefs from the relationship and ask “Barring politics, does this person care about me as a human being?” If the answer is “Yes,” congratulations cue the confetti and champagne and carry on with brunching and the such. If, however, the answer is “No”, sprint in the other direction. Life is short, find those who love and support you no matter what side of the aisle you believe in.