“I cannot find them…Those people. Those awful people.”
Since July of 2019, I have traveled in person (and by video conference) to a third of the states in the union in search of them. By them, I mean the people who are ruining this country…supposedly. Now, for some folks, that might mean those liberals who think everyone except white men is a victim, who want to give away handouts to people who refuse to work, who don’t care whether our laws are respected or our freedoms eliminated, who want the government to do everything for us. For other people, they would be those conservatives who don’t care about people who don’t look and believe exactly as they do, the racists, the xenophobes, the homosexual and immigrant haters, who embrace magical thinking over science, the morons who don’t know they’re gettin’ hoodwinked by the politicians they vote for.
You know…THEM…THOSE PEOPLE.
I’ve only begun this journey…I’ve personally surveyed about 150 people – but a pretty diverse mix: from Trump supporters to Bernie supporters; Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus atheists; city folk, country folk, high-school graduates to PhDs; rich and poor; young and old.
I cannot find them. Those people…those awful, stupid people.
But here is what I have found: when you speak to Americans one-on-one, and you listen without a rush to judgement, people do not neatly fit the stereotypes we have for them.
I met many people:
- who do not believe abortion is right, but also do not think a fetus is the equivilent of a 3-year old child
- who want to make sure there is a safety net for those who cannot care for themselves but expect people to be as self-reliant as possible
- who are gun-owners and are deeply concerned about gun violence
- who are intensely religious and that is the source of their commitment to caring for others
- who are not religious at all and are also deeply committed to caring for others
The list could go on and on and on.
Don’t get me wrong: you can find the stereotypes if you go looking for them. But if your mind and your ears are open, and you speak to Americans one-on-one, you will find that nearly all of us are more nuanced, reasonable and humane than they are. They. Those terrible people we hear about on the news and our social media feeds.
When we are not incited to anger and righteous indignation by our preferred politicians or pundits, when we really listen to each other…it turns out that we are wonderful. We are compassionate. We are rational. We want to be good. We want the world to be better than it is.
Now, our ideas about how to make it better are, of course, shaped by the ideas and information we have – which are, for almost all of us, woefully limited. But nearly all of us will admit that maybe we don’t everything– at least will admit it when we aren’t under attack. Our willingness, when we are at our best, to be a little humble about what we know, is an opening that could allow us to find a way forward together.
Thus, the changeable ideas we hold today are not as consequential as the unchanging hope all of us hold for a country that is more just, more wise and more caring. Unify America is doing research that’s uncovering that when it comes to our goals for this nation, when it comes to our aspirations, we are profoundly and overwhelmingly unified.
I went looking for them. And all I have been able to find, so far, is us.