Fresh Ideas: More empathy, less outrage needed in public discourse

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Scan the media and instantly you’ll be fueling your already politically-heated emotions. If you’re a liberal, with one glance across the headlines, fear over the increase in racism, or outrage over Trump’s lies, egomania and ignorance, rises. Though it’s important to know the facts, we mistake these primitive emotions as also necessary to taking action. It’s true since Trump’s inauguration marches, town hall meetings and call-to-action organizations have increased, and our political leaders’ offices have been flooded with phone calls, emails and letters, but getting charged up isn’t the prerequisite. In fact, it often creates negative consequences.

In the New York Times’ article, “Are Liberals Helping Trump?” on Feb. 18, Sabrina Tavernise reported while “liberals may feel energized by a surge in political activism ... that momentum is provoking an equal and opposite reaction on the right.” Many moderate conservatives who, because they feel publicly shamed by their liberal friends’ outrage, are being forced closer to Mr. Trump.

Then consider the alt-right also uses a similar fear-mongering strategy. As Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer, the most popular radical right website in the world, says, “Triggering outrage is the national sport.”

Then add the perspective on how the mainstream media often only feeds the war it helped to create. Recently, Paul Krugman, a NYT op-ed writer, said, “Only outrage will save our democracy.” And Maureen Dowd, also a NYT op-ed writer, stated, “The main way that Trump is proving that America is great is that the affronted and angered are rising up to take him on.”

Michael Moore, the Academy-Award-winning filmmaker and best-selling author, takes the media’s complicity a step further. He believes the media is what strengthened Trump. “He was never a joke. Trump is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.” (The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2016).

Now top off this social turmoil with the biological consequences of outrage and fear. Humans weren’t designed to take on the responsibility of everything at once. Living from a constant state of outrage, anxiety or fear isn’t sustainable, nor healthy. Ariana Huffington in “How to Get Out of the Cycle of Outrage in a Trump World” (Huffington Post, Feb. 7) says it best: “If we are consumed by fear, the terrorists wins. If we live in a perpetual state of outrage, Trump wins ... The goal of any resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane and act from that place of inner strength.”

How do we find that strength? We turn to ourselves, to our curiosity and more mature emotions, to our neighbors and communities, and to facts, experts and solid reasoning to handle the complexities we face.

This is what some countries like Denmark and Canada are trying to do — they’re trying to fix their democracy. They relied on research which showed how a typical town hall meeting is often counter-productive to mending political rifts because the emotional stress of public speaking and of not having facts on complicated and complex issues drops the average person down to their primitive emotions. Instead, consultants randomly select and invite household members to meet with experts and policy makers to study in-depth one issue. Eventually these panels made recommendations to their communities.

But what can we do in America when our emotional drama and mistrust in our democratic process is at an all-time high? We overlook Trumpland and look to where we want to be, emotionally and ethically, as a nation. Then, we search for present-day glimmers of this silver lining.

Like on Feb. 25, when the New York Times published a selection of letters to the editor under the title “Liberals and Trump.” Rather than defending their outrage, eight citizens talked about wanting an honest fact-based government with humanistic values, about owning up to rudeness across the political spectrum, about the desire to discuss facts and policy without insults, and about the need to understand why voters felt inclined to vote for Trump and why others felt inclined not to so we can unite around efforts to hold him accountable.

It will only be the democratic process — the practice of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — that will civilize us all. Only with empathy, not outrage, will America prove itself great again.

Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy. She works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville.


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