In primary school, we’re taught that if “you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all”. But as we grow up, the inverse seems to take effect. We become more inclined to complain than to compliment – and the internet has given us all a microphone.
In 2017, New Zealand goes to the polls and so it’s more important than ever that we create an open dialogue. But our verbal interactions with strangers have become typically one of two things: transactional or adversarial. And when it comes to the traditionally polarising topic of politics, it’s hard for that not to be magnified.
Politically speaking, 2016 was quite the year. My own social media echo chamber took to calling it the worst year in recent memory. Brexit and Trump’s election were resoundingly perceived in my Facebook and Twitter feeds as the most earth-shattering, shocking, and unpredicted events.
Perhaps the most frightening thing for those of us who lament these happenings is the fact our opinions are in the minority. I won’t pretend I wasn’t shocked when I watched the American election results solidify. I had become paralysed, fixated on flicking between television channels to gauge different interpretations of events.
I was astounded that Donald Trump’s catch-cry of the ‘silent majority’ actually existed (noting, of course, that Hillary Clinton eventually won the popular vote – but there’s a topic for another time). Almost every poll, every commentator, and every media outlet was wrong in their predictions. They hadn’t been able to read the room (or the country).
After weeks of reflection, the best hypothesis I have is that this was an anti-liberal movement. It was anti perceived ‘political correctness’. Donald Trump took anger and he channelled it. Although they were complicit in an openly racist and sexist agenda, I don’t think many of his supporters would classify themselves as either of these things.
I think they were ‘silent’ throughout polling and popular political discourse because they knew what would come if they voiced that support or spoke their mind on the matter. I’ve seen evidence of this multiple times, in seemingly mundane things like friends asking Trump supporters to delete them on Facebook.
Sadly and ironically, this threat of ostracism is the last thing the world needs right now. When we’re reeling to comprehend the monsters we’ve created of our political adversaries in our heads, would it not be best to peel back the horror and simply ask the human on the other side: why?
Social progress needs everyone – and we cannot expect to welcome people aboard when we are simultaneously scornfully casting them adrift. We all carry our own world maps in our heads, and sometimes we need to learn about the landmarks other people have circled their entire lives.
It’s time to start listening.
For more, see the January issue of NEXT magazine, and to follow NEXT on Facebook, click here
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