Binary of Feelings: Oversimplifying the Spectrum of Human Experience

In reading more on Colin Kaepernick’s protest, I read this opinion and many things about it resonated with me. I especially appreciate this bit about moving the conversation forward:

The rub lies in how we move the conversation forward. Free speech is a right, but it’s also a test for both the speaker and audience. It demands grace and conscientiousness. Criticism of America won’t always be accurate, it won’t always be fair, and it won’t always be delivered in an articulate fashion. There’s nothing wrong with pointing this out. But we need space to disagree on views of America without making the leap to that’s un-American or you aren’t patriotic or you don’t support the troops. These are nothing more than verbal grenades, McCarthyisms designed to denigrate the speaker at the expense of engaging their ideas. It’s cheap, it’s dumb, and it’s beneath us.

Another friend posted this link to a comic by the Oatmeal (some language may be unsafe for work). “I’m not ‘happy’ because our definition of happy isn’t very good. It’s a monochromatic word used to describe rich, painful spectrum of human feeling.” Especially after reading Ross Richendrfer’s Whose America Is It?, it got me to thinking about how many feelings we treat as binary: if you’re not happy, you must be unhappy. If you don’t love America the way I love America, then you must hate America.
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And what problems does this really cause? In a post about undemocratic schools, Will Richardson describes the “race to the bottom” in campaign rhetoric, and how our binary polarization feeds it. Acknowledging spectrum would make room for nuance but might be too complicated for us.

We’ve become a nation of dull-witted consumers of whatever partisan drivel we might subscribe to, preferring  just to cement whatever worldview we already have rather than engage in some type of reasoned conversation that negotiates where the “truth” might actually be.

And this is a scary thing. It’s no wonder one candidate for president proclaims “I love the poorly educated,” because that’s a great way of getting elected these days.

This isn’t good for the health of democracy overall.

Seeing the world critically and not simply accepting what is is a fundamental part of what democratic societies need their citizens to do… I’m talking about “reasoned conversation” of an intellectual type that I don’t think we’ve seen at all this year in the primaries or general election. In fact, at least in politics, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen two candidates just sit down at a table and have a conversation about something they disagree on with the intent of understanding the other side more fully.

When we treat these issues like a binary, we’re taking shortcuts, we’re jumping to conclusions. We’re putting people into boxes without taking time and energy to try to see and understand their perspective. We’re kind of turning into the mob from the end of Beauty and the Beast.

So what do we do? We begin by acknowledging complexities both in ourselves and in other people. By remembering that we can’t always know someone else’s point of view without listening to them first. Beyond that, I don’t know. I want to build more empathy, cooperation, and democracy into my life and into my classroom. I stand open for suggestions.

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