Some of my friends have been on a campaign to unfriend the many closet racists who have popped up in the last few months. I've had the urge myself and was just about to start when I had a kind of revelation: It's exactly the wrong thing to do.
It is by now obvious to all of us that many Americans live entirely in environments of like-minded people, so compartmentalized and isolated from other people's problems that it can seem as though they don't exist. It is devastatingly easy to surround yourself in a cocoon of talk radio and Fox news and never be exposed to any experience outside that.
But this is a two-way street. It is equally easy to spend your time reading The Atlantic and reading Bernie Sanders quotes and dismissing what Ted Cruz is saying. The Liberal way isn't any less blind and rigid than the Conservative.
Unfriending people contributes to that. You, the unfriender, are closing your eyes to something that angers and hurts you. But that doesn't make it go away; it's the opposite. You're making your environment conform more closely to your worldview, not to the actual world.
What's worse, you're contributing to exactly the same thing in your ex-friend's world. Your voice is now missing from their conversation and it's an important conversation to be having.
Surround yourself with opinions you don't like. Listen to the people you hate and try to understand what they are saying and why. That doesn't mean you're agreeing with them, but understanding diffuses hate and hate accomplishes nothing. You can hate the opinion but it's far too easy for that to turn into ad hominem hate of the person, and it's easier still when you can't even be bothered to listen.
My conservative friends know I'm a liberal, and when they disagree with things I post, I cherish the opportunity to hear a dissenting voice that pulls me out of my comfort zones and challenges my assumptions.
And when I see a politically offensive, or even racist or homophobic post, I read that, too. I may hate it but it helps me broaden my understanding of just what exactly is going on in this fucked-up country of ours.
We're all here together. It's hard and it's painful to hear things that are contrary to your worldview. But you have to. The other way doesn't accomplish anything, either here or anywhere else, including Congress. Other people's opinions and experience is what America IS. That's the whole goddamn point.
Surrounding yourself with ideologues, no matter how just your fight, makes it not a fight but a war. It doesn't even leave you the option to have anything other than a war, because you only hear one kind of words. You can be angry as hell in your struggle, but if only one side listens then nothing can be accomplished, because it's all or nothing, which is what a war is.
I am not saying accommodate. I am not saying capitulate. I am not saying back down, back off, be humble, settle for less or be quiet. What we CANNOT do is make people understand us and our causes if we do not at least try to understand them, no matter how hard it is to hear what they are saying.
I believe there is hope for everyone. I have seen with my own eyes, I have seen people turned around to face the truth and I have seen the light of understanding come into them. It can be done and it must be done. If someone is lying down and grovelling in mud and filth and degradation then sometimes we have to get down into that pit with them if we want to try to lift them out. Anyone full of anger and fear is hurting and it is our job as human beings to care and to try to help, however small the hand we offer, when we see someone hurting.
Words of intolerance come from fear and if we turn our backs on the people uttering them then that fear can only turn to hate. We have to have the courage to look at the things that repel us and not be afraid ourselves. If there is any hope for this country ever to heal then it must begin with an outstretched hand and an open mind and a clear heart.
I am not saying that dialogue is the only answer; activism, sometimes in extreme forms, is often not only the right course but the only course. But we are in danger as a society, with broken institutions and harmful traditions that alienate and oppress people and if we declare war on them, then war is a means of breaking things, not fixing them. I am not saying we have to be peaceful but if we are hateful, then our path can only lead to destruction.