We obviously have a problem in this country. We are very, very, very polarized. That’s not good. I think most people realize this. I also think many people don’t know what to do about it, or, for that matter, actually want to do anything about it. It hasn’t always been this way, but social structures ebb and flow, and I believe that we’ll eventually get past this and the pendulum will swing back towards more normalcy.
The heart of the problem, I think, is that too many people have become “barricade shouters.”
Barricade shouters stand on one side of the street, behind a barricade, and yell at the folks on the other side of the street who are behind their own barricade. They firmly believe that they and the folks with them are virtuous and pure and smart and right-thinking and are defending all that is good and pure against the onslaught of those terrible folks on the other side of the street.
Those folks over there behind that barricade on the other side of the street are terrible, awful, hateful people who are trying to overrun all that is true and right with this country with their disgusting way of thinking. Those folks over there must be avoided at all costs and fought tooth an nail. If those folks over there think that the sky is blue, then we think that the sky is green.
They pick out the worst of the worst of those folks over there and make them representative of the whole group. “See what these terribile people do when given half a chance!?!” They see a mass of hateful, awful people who all think alike and whose concerns are not worth even considering. After all, they are awful people — who cares what they think? They think the entire group over there is unreasonable and unpersuadable, so why try?
And of course they know exactly what those folks over there think because they were told by proper-thinking people on the Internet what those horrible people are like and what they think. Their talking head on their favorite cable news show is neutral and level headed and only reports the facts, right? When those folks over there say stuff, we know what they really mean — their actual words are just dog whistles for their true beliefs. See what they are up to in that little town 1500 miles away from me? That’s what they want for the whole country!
Those people over there must be stopped at all costs! The fate of the nation is at stake!
So, in between is this road, with a yellow stripe down the middle. I’m going to propose that instead of being Barricade Shouters we should be Yellow Stripers.
I think more people should come around the barricades and meet with folks from the other side of the street at the yellow line. These Yellow Stripers might ask things like “Hey, what are you really concerned about here?” and “I’d like to know more about what it is you are proposing. Why do you think it’s a good idea?”
Yellow Stripers seek to understand rather than to be understood. They don’t assume the worst about the people on the other side of the street. They know that some folks behind the barricade really are awful, but that most folks on the other barricade are nothing like the worst of them. They don’t let others tell them about those folks over there, they go and find out what those folks are like all by themselves.
They assume that the vast majority of those folks over there have real concerns and real desires that might be different from what this side of the street might want. They know that those wants and desires might clash with their own, but they want to understand and to work things out and come to some amenable compromise. They are willing to let those other folks do their thing over there while they do their thing right here. They are willing to listen and be a bit more accepting of different viewpoints.
They know that nine times out of ten, what the folks behind the other barricade don’t really affect them at all, and so they leave those folks alone.
Our problem, of course, is that we have far too many Barricade Shouters and not enough Yellow Stripers. And, most people don’t realize that the are Barricade Shouters. After all, Barricade Shouters are right-thinking, and who doesn’t believe that they are thinking right?
I’ve thought about it, and I don’t think I’m a Barricade Shouter. I certainly don’t want to be. But maybe I am and I don’t realize it. That could be. But I don’t think I am, and I certainly hope that if I am, a Yellow Striper will gently point out to me that I am.
If you merely stay behind the barricades and shout, I promise you that things will not get better. Things will not change. You will shout and wave your arms and be enraged and feel angry and nothing will happen. Nothing.
So stop shouting at the barricades and come out to the yellow stripe.