I was in college and wondering what to write about for my editorial column, when my adviser came in. “I want you to write about the O.J. Simpson trial,” he said. My heart sank.
Nationally, the O.J. Simpson trial had been divisive and lingering, and I didn’t want to take sides. Everyone had made up their mind on what the outcome should be; and at my conservative white college, they all had the same opinion. He was clearly guilty, was the thinking. It shouldn’t even be something we’re talking about. Justice demands he pay an appropriate price. Now get off of the T.V.
It seemed like I wouldn’t have much to offer by repeating that stance, nor would I probably convince the student body by making an argument for the opposite. Instead I focused on the part that I found the most interesting—the divisiveness. The divisiveness fell along racial lines and it roughly went like this: if you were white, it seemed a pretty cut and dried case. Look at how he tried to escape! He had clearly committed the murders and he should go to prison. If you were black, here was yet another example of the police mishandling evidence against a black man just to get a conviction at any cost. The fact that police were trying to sway the case probably meant he wasn’t guilty.
The assumption about the justice system was at the heart of both worldviews—is the justice system mostly fair? Or is it systematically unfair? Which assumption you believed had a lot to do with your own personal experience, and good luck trying to change anyone’s mind.
Now here we are, on the eve of an election, and though the issue is different, the divisiveness is very much the same. Except now is it a divide that falls along urban, suburban, and rural lines. We view the same events and come to completely different conclusions. In this case, there is only one assumption—our country is systematically unfair, and we should do something about it. The question is, who has the worst unfairness of them all?
But a pissing match arguing which of the bad things is the most bad doesn’t solve anything. Seeing the ugliness in other people tempts us to be ugly too. A witty argument, though personally satisfying, won’t change the mind of someone who doesn’t want to be changed. People don’t change their minds or themselves easily. And no matter how irrational any one person may be, each of us has our reasons for believing what we do. Which is why I found this article inspiring, and I’ll add my two cents.
Voting is a great thing to do, but change takes time and our most powerful impact, as always, is within our own sphere. Be kind to your family, friends, and be kind to strangers too. Seek to understand before being understood. Contribute in time or money what you can to find solutions to the things that make you the most angry.
Regardless of the outcome, we have found out more about what our friends and acquaintances believe than we ever did before–and some people will simply disagree. For our future, we are going to have to find a way to disagree peacefully, because we are beyond the era of simple problems that have simple fixes. The problems we face are complex and can no longer be solved by lone individuals. We need everyone, even and especially the ones that are not just like us. But we can’t work together unless we let go and listen.