"Most people will do what's right when it don't cost much, but very few will do what's right when it costs a lot."
-- Don Winslow, Broken

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Held in Contempt


     I once read an article about how psychologists could predict which couples in therapy would end up getting divorced and which ones would patch things up and re-establish their relationship. The key element was not how much they argued, how different their views were, or how much they screamed or cried. The key element was contempt. If husbands or wives felt contempt for their partner, then divorce was almost inevitable.
    
      This came to mind as I was scrolling down my Facebook feed -- which I try not to do because there's little to be gained from the exercise. But sometimes in the middle of a self-isolating-induced coma of boredom, I can't help myself.

     And what strikes me is how much contempt my liberal friends have for their fellow Americans who are conservatives -- or anyone who happens to disagree with them -- and how they attack anyone who's not on board with their woke agenda. Their call their opponents dumb or stupid. They are liars, racists, even Nazis.

     Meanwhile, conservatives on social media reply in kind. They take pride in denying established facts, disdaining legal authority, ridiculing academia, the media, the government. They say liberals are either rich power-hungry hypocrites or else poor morally corrupt losers.

     That's on Facebook, or other social media, or sometimes on the so-called news channels on TV. It's enough to make you think that there are two different realities -- and that the country is falling apart.

     But then there's real life. I'd say most of my friends are liberals, some vehemently so. But I have a few conservative relatives who voted for Trump, and some neighbors who by all outward signs are proud flag-waving conservatives. And the funny thing is, in real life, we all get along pretty well.

     Okay, part of that is the natural tendency of people to avoid religion and politics in polite conversation. But a good part of it is that the stereotypes posted on social media are not just misleading, they are downright false.

     For example, in real life my across-the-street neighbor is a truck driver who hangs a big American flag outside his front door, and I've heard him make a few comments about how he's out-of-touch with our generally more liberal town. A selfish, narcissistic racist? Well, actually, no. He mows the lawn and plows the driveway of the elderly widow next door, for free as a neighborly gesture. And I've stood around with him on the sidewalk more than once having a friendly conversation with the African-American woman who lives down the street or the Asian couple that lives around the corner.

     Or there's my brother-in-law who is devoted to his conservative Christian church. I know he voted for Trump and -- yes, he's denies global warming and is socially conservative. But is he your typical non-college-educated redneck? No. He graduated from college and he's also taken some continuing education courses. But more than that, he defies the stereotype because he volunteers in the community helping people less fortunate than he is, and despite his views on global warming he drives a gas-sipping VW, has no a/c in his home, grows his own vegetables, and composts most of his garbage. Despite his political views, he actually lives the lifestyle of an ultra-liberal Vermont hippie!

     Then there's the nephew from Chicago. He and his wife are both Trump supporters. You get them started, and sometimes it's a bit much. And yet he's in the music business and somehow gets along with his liberal colleagues. And they live in an integrated building in an integrated neighborhood, so in terms of anti-racism they're way ahead of my liberal friends who live in middle-class white neighborhoods.

     On the other side of the ledger, one of my friends is self-consciously super-liberal. So is his wife. They support Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ rights, free health care -- and I'm guessing they'd support AOC if she ran for president. And yet they actually lead lives that any conservative would  aspire to. They're not welfare cheats. They're not morally corrupt by even the most conservative standards. They both have jobs; work hard; pay their taxes, go to church, don't do drugs. They own their own home, and they've raised two responsible children. Given their actual lifestyle, they could be Mormons!

     Now I'm not saying that there aren't some truly hateful people in the world. But most of us have good intentions based on our own beliefs. Each of us may think that we have better ideas, or support policies that are more fair or more effective. But as people we are no better than our neighbors. Besides, do you really think you'll convert someone to your point of view by insulting and demeaning them?

     I have another relative who lives in Florida. She's a card-carrying feminist -- her hero is Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- but she's been married for over 20 years to a retired military engineer who's about as conservative as you would expect. Yes, I've seen an eye roll or two when the subject of politics comes up. But for the most part they get along just fine. They agree to disagree on some items, but they respect each other as people and for the most part their lives and values are compatible. They obey the law, love their children, pay their taxes, get along with their neighbors, and they both volunteer to help out other people in the community. She volunteers at the art museum and helps raise money for community services, and he supports an organization for retired servicemen.

      So it is possible. We can disagree about things. We can argue and yell and scream. But we need to remember that above all we are Americans who believe in democracy -- and to believe in democracy we have to respect our fellow citizens, even if they have a different point of view. Question their assumptions, tear apart their logic, disagree with their opinions. But there's no benefit in insulting them or calling them names. We cannot hold our fellow citizens in contempt.
   

26 comments:

Fred said...

We used to talk about all the hot political topics at work, during coffee breaks and lunch. I never once saw anybody switch their political viewpoint. We desperately need a third party that can be a power broker between Republican and Democratic viewpoints. Unfortunately both parties have made it all but impossible for a third party to get a foothold. We have a very long and rocky road ahead of us.

ApacheDug said...

Good post Tom, and a good reminder for some (myself included) to not cast stones so quickly. At the same time... I don’t see all Republicans as Trumpers, and I don’t see all Democrats as Liberals. I’m a Democrat thru n’ thru, but would I want to see all of Bernie Sanders policies in place? No way!

I’ve had friends who were Republicans before Trump, and I’m sure I will after; but I don’t SEE trump as Republican, I barely see him as human. As for his followers... I am done trying to understand. All I can say is, I won’t rub my politics in my neighbor’s face if they don’t rub theirs in mine.

Olga said...

I have come to the conclusion that the only thing I can do if offer compassion and kindness to anyone I have contact with and hope to receive the same in return. I did try wishing for compassion and kindness for Trump but it was hard so now I just pray that he might be somehow healed.

Celia said...

I'm with Olga. You can say many things by softening your words. Be Kind. Be kind. be kind. One of our large anti-trump family voted for trump, won't wear a mask etc. but if someone calls for help he'd be the first one there whoever you are.

Wisewebwoman said...

I see a lot of hate on a group of about 4,000 that I host. Even though we have the best Covid rate (absence, rather) in North America, attacks on our politicians will zoom in, even on our medical officers who are on the side of absolutely caution and science (all women, I should add) with enviable results.

You can't win for losing as the old saying goes.

And political stripes are just there. My mother and father voted opposite each other forever. Thus negating. My father never knew tho. And I still chuckle inwardly about that.

XO
WWW

DJan said...

Such a thoughtful and necessary post for these trying times. I am a liberal Democrat but have friends who are just folks who see the world differently. I'm with Olga, the only thing I know how to deal with this is to send out kindness into the world and respect the viewpoint of others without judgment. We are in for some hard times ahead, and whatever each of us can do to help our fellow citizens will make things better, not worse.

Kevin from Virginia said...

Sensible, thoughtful and refreshing, Tom. I do wish more of us could sell-identify more along the "decent people" spectrum and less along the "Oh, yeah!?" line. Thank you.

Linda Myers said...

I am a just-left of center moderate. I am appalled by the hateful things being said by both sides against each other. I know we have way more in common than we do "in different." I strive for tolerance and, as a mediator, to be a good listener. Sometimes I am able to neutralize a hate- or disdain-filled exchange. I believe we're all in this together, and we're all the same.

Janette said...

What a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between stating facts and insulting (or contempt). Calling names is more likely insulting or contempt. One of the candidate keep calling people names like "sleepy xxx", "Low energy xxx", "Light weight xxx", "Little xxx", "Shifty xxx"... to name a few.

To state facts: "I would not trust xxx", "Disgusting for xxx to describe dead or injured U.S. service members as "losers" and "suckers."... is not insulting.

xxx is not conservative. "Lies and exaggerates often"... These are facts.

Carole said...

Great post. I sometimes wonder if it is too easy to hide behind the protection of an online rant. I too, have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. When I see some of the vile FB posts, I think to myself that I cannot imagine they would ever say that to someone in person, face to face.

Tom said...

Carole, I guess that's my subtext (altho' I'm only now realizing it after reading your comment): Despite whatever the original intentions, it turns out that social media brings out the worst in us.

Arkansas Patti said...

Another good one Tom. Actually most of my family and quite a few friends are Republicans and we get alone great. Like Doug, my problem is with Trump and I just don't see him as Republican but maybe as a Himself.

gigi-hawaii said...

That's a good word to know: Contempt. It says it all.

Rian said...

Tom, I believe everything you wrote. We live with "two different realities" and with the fear that "the country is falling apart". And what's so difficult about 'agreeing to disagree'? We all have friends and family on the opposite side. With some it's possible to have discussions, but with others it's best to just avoid the subject entirely.

A dear friend and I recently talked about this. We both respect each other and can talk openly and honestly. What we find is that what she's been led to believe that the other party wants and what I've been led to believe what her party wants is not true. We both realize that there's so much false news out there that we no longer trust what is being said - by either party. "A good part of it is that the stereotypes posted on social media are not just misleading, they are downright false".

I believe that we are not that far apart in what we all want in reality. How we go about it seems to be the issue.

And you are right, demeaning the other party (or party members) is not helpful. It only adds to the hostility... doesn't bring us together by any means... and we need something to bring us together again. We are fast becoming a nation divided. But I have to say that (IMO) our current president doesn't seem to know how to do this.


Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! I'm familiar with the Psychologist you mention. His name is Dr. Gottman and he can predict with a great deal of accuracy which couples will end up in divorce by viewing them discussing something troubling for about 15 minutes. I'm guessing you can guess can tell on FB who is likely to be "divorced" politically sooner or later just as easily. Of course I completely agree that the level of contempt is not only extreme, it is also very violent in expression. I don't agree with such contempt, but I do believe that the time for passively sitting back and letting the politicians sort it out is long past. Our leadership is headed in a dramatically troubling direction and if allowed to continue I believe it will only get worse. I do believe that most of us want the same thing (to be loved, to be safe, to be able to live in communities where we can be at peace) but I am deeply concerned that there are people, institutions and organizations that only care about profit and money and will continue to use messages of divisiveness to create fear and anger for their own benefit. Should we just sit back and hope it turns out okay? I'm in a space where I don't think that is best for our country or its citizens--and in many cases believing otherwise is a symbol of my white boomer privileges. Voting and participating proactively needs to take priority in the next couple of months. Otherwise, we will be left with the type of country that those on the extremes are doing their best to create. ~Kathy

Tom said...

I agree with you, Kathy, and many others, and I'd just add that it's not just profit and money (altho' there's plenty of that) but also power and influence -- among corporations, for sure, but also among political, social, and even educational, religious, media and non-profit groups who try to divide and conquer people to further their own interests. Not all of them, but too many of them. Thanks for the comments.

Pat S. said...

Tom - thanks for the extremely timely post. As a former lawyer and American Government teacher, I believe that Thomas Paine's words hit the mark in a new context. These are "times that try men's (and women's) souls." What seems lacking on all sides these days is an unwillingness to respect other's views and appreciate the high value of compromise. This can be especially difficult sometimes because some people are just biased and profoundly uniformed. Frankly, it is hard to respect the opinions of such people. You must, however, respect their right to express those opinions and their right to vote.
On the issue of compromise, one only needs to study the deliberations from our Founders at the Constitutional Conventions to understand how informed, opinionated citizens/leaders found ways to agree on important subjects even though they had very different views of the role of government. If only we had statesmen (and stateswomen) who could do that today.

David @iretiredyoung said...

Hi Tom, I read your post as describing a situation where the common people are generally decent (something I agree with) and it is in fact the people in power (or who want to be in power) who are leading the narrative on divisiveness, conflict, fear etc. I think this is the case, and I find it quite scary. The thirst for power can, in my opinion, be a very dangerous thing, something we are seeing not only in your country, but in too many other places around the world. Unfortunately, his politics aside, your current president seems to be setting new lows for such behaviour. Similar to a parent, perhaps the most important role of a leader is to set the culture and tone - if my kids were to behave in such a way, I would be devastated.

Laurie Stone said...

I no longer get into any political discussion, whether online or in person. Its not worth the energy and negativity. We won't change each other. Instead, I try and keep my own world as beautiful and positive as possible.

SmileIfYouDare said...

With all that goes on, I too avoid all political discussion (except if I know the other person and previously agreed wit them;) )

But I wonder over and pver: what is the purpose of politics? It must server some need if so many are die-hard into it. I try to make sense of it here: https://smileifyoudare.com/the-purpose-of-politics/

Anonymous said...

My motherinlaw stayed with a man who produced kids but never cared for her or them 8 kids in all..my hubs was the first kid..He would drift in and out of their lives..she never spoke ill of him, but was miserable..I totally agree with contempt, how can one live with that..My hubs is a funny likeable sweet fellow, how he survived his parents bs is beyond me..I left the family and town I lived in when I was just 18..Did not have much to do with them for most of my life, then boom got a call from a sibling who was abusive to me just about 18 months ago..I told him to never call me again, he was smug, wealthy (or so he says) inherited money from my aunt who lived until nearly 100 and was miserable---I was nice on the phone but firm..I just don't get people who are unkind and loving, never have never will..I enjoy your blog a lot, I always get a smile on my face from reading it..People who stay in contemptious relationships must be miserable...have a great week ahead...peace to you and yours!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I was watching a documentary on Netflix that went into depth about how manipulating social media is and how the algorithms are set so that each side doesn't see the other side of the story in their feeds other than all the crazy stuff. No wonder we aren't getting straight facts. And, although social media can do a lot of good, keep people connected, and help promote businesses we need to do something to stop this blatant manipulation when it does harm, spreads misinformation, and puts others in danger.

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Kay said...

Wow, Tom! This is an awesome post and a good reminder to us all in this divisive time. I will be sending your post on to family and friends. It's so very important.

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