America Needs Therapy: the importance of connecting with those different from us, fight the fear and listen to one another.

A few things need to be said before reading this: this is an analysis of the root of the behavior we are seeing right now. It’s obvious but i will make it clear just in case someone misinterpret this post: white supremacy is evil and there is absolutely zero excuse for it. Same goes for bigotry,  racism and any kind of hatred. We, however, spend so much time stating these obvious facts and hating without trying to understand how anyone actually get to this point.

Isolation is dangerous. Not being exposed to what differs from us ends up making us intolerant, ignorant and self righteous. It is a normal human tendency to want to be close to those who have similar views or tastes as us. Have you ever heard anyone say “I’d really like to find someone who believes the opposite of what I believe and hate everything I stand for.”? Ok. I made my point. Does sticking to those who are like us make us grow or teach anything though? No. It brings us comfort and happiness. It validates us. Let me repeat that. It validates us. We function better in tribes. We all, at a certain level, belong to a tribe. We thrive in it. We feel safe. Wandering outside is risky. It can be risky in two ways: it can alienate you from your peers and potentially lead to personal difficulties, depression, etc especially if you don’t quickly find a new group you identify with. It might not always be easy, however. Breaking the mold can be hard and getting another group to welcome you arms open is not easy as it sounds. 
Conservatives, white supremacists, progressives all have A definition and explanation of why they think the way they think right in their names. Conservatives like to conserve, stick to an old idea and refuse to see that life, people, and circumstances change everyday. White supremacists believe that their tribe and their tribe only is pure and supreme and that everyone else is bad and out to get them. These types of thinking are rooted in, not only fear, but also complete isolation within their own tribe and lack of exposure to the outside and other tribes. Therefore, fear and isolation are linked.

Let’s start with fear.  Comfort is everything. When you belong somewhere, you are happy, rewarded each day. Why on earth would you want to experience anything else?  A white supremacist is convinced that his race is superior. He’s been told over and over again that anyone who is not white is less than, not intelligent, dirty, trying to contaminate them to eventually exterminate them. So imagine being raised this way, being only exposed to the type of news or books that promote that ideology. You wouldn’t know any better and would never want to wander out to try to find out if it’s true or not. Of course not all white supremacists were brought up in the ideology. Certainly,  there is a group of plain angry, uneducated people who decided to blame all their problems on everyone else and declared that the only way to be free and have what they think they are entitled to is to eradicate anyone who is not pure. Those might have left a pretty good tribe for a worse one just because they couldn’t deal with the consequences of their action and inaction and were looking for a scapegoat rather than looking in the mirror.

Let’s tackle how isolation works in the particular case of bigoted people, racist or white supremacist. Those of us who live on either coast or big metropolitan cities are very much exposed to all types of people on a daily basis.  Whether people like it or not, if you live in Los Angeles or New York city,  you will be exposed to someone who looks or speaks differently. Being exposed to diversity makes us more tolerant. The more you’re around something, or someone, the more you are ok with it. It’s like food for a little kid. Research has shown that parents shouldn’t just give up if their child refused to earn a particular food and to instead reintroduce it as many times as possible, up to 15 times. So pretty much, if you don’t like something,  don’t give up, give it a chance, eventually,  you’ll forget you disliked it in the first place. 

Now, imagine being in a small town in a red state. You’re no longer in LA or NYC. Everyone is white. Everyone pretty much believes the same thing and they all take pride and comfort in those beliefs. Confederate flags on the front porch is a normal thing. Most of the people in town are or were miners. They dont have the same lifestyle or desires as me for example. But to them, this is the life they know. Anything outside of that is foreign, scary or repulsive even. So as much as we resent them,  we have to put ourselves in their shoes in order to come up with a way to fix it. It’s very difficult. It took me decades to be able to say, ok, let’s try to see where these bigots come from (not literally).

So how do we lessen their fears? How do we make them less isolated so that they are more open to listening to anyone else but fox news?

The answer is not simple but I truly believe the fighting must stop. You turn on the TV and journalists, journalists for goodness sake, or commentators from both side are arguing and ripping each other apart. All this does is temporarily make us feel better but at the end of the day, nothing has changed, peace is a million miles away and even a bit further.

What needs to happen is for the 2 sides, the 2 tribes to come together.

Remember Dance with Wolves,  how  2 sides completely foreign from one another, slowly got to know each other. Yes, ok, it ends in a massacre but, for arguments’sake, the entire movie shows 2 people trying to communicate and understand each other. I’m not saying it’s easy. Having a conversation with a racist is very difficult and it is going to be 1 step forward, 3 steps back for a long time. It’s going to take every high school in the country to welcome more international students, it’s going to take cities and communities encourage townhalls where people can freely express their fears. It’s going to take a damn good mediator. And of course, it’s going to take more history classes, better history classes, mandatory trips to museums. It’s going to take a lot out of each and everyone of us. 

Denouncing bigotry, hatred, white supremacy is always a must. Protecting lives come first and if you are physically attacked, I believe you have the right to defend yourself but generally speaking America needs therapy.  People get caught up in rhetoric and forget to look into the other person’s eyes and heart. We need to share our stories and connect. Yes, we need to connect with the enemy. As hard as it can be, the fighting has to stop, the olive branch must be extended, we must learn to agree to disagree and at least cohabitate. The truth is, the L.A. born and raised 25 years old doesn’t understand how the West Virginian son of a miner live and vice versa. Ignorance and lack of connection creates hatred. Ignorance is bliss only for those living in it. Unfortunately,  it often takes for the more educated to take the higher road and lead the way. It’s up to each and everyone of us. Like Michelle Obama says, when they go low, we go high. We no longer have diplomacy in the White House, and we can’t seem to count on our Congress to do the right thing but we can try to bring back decency in every American community.