As I was overhearing two people having a not-quite heated but not-quite agreeable discussion about our current president in my classroom, it was clear that even though they were not seeing eye to eye, they seemed at least open to listening to what the other was saying. Finally, in a moment of exasperation, the non-Trump supporter explained, “I don’t understand why. Help me to understand.” Instantly, the sentiment reverberated in the room, as everyone listening suddenly realized what we were sorely lacking: empathy. It was a moment of clarity for that person and for all those around, as they realized that we are living in a time period where understanding is needed more so than convincing, but most are not living that way.
Ever since that moment, I’ve been trying to get a hold of where the nation and our individual situations are headed. I did not vote for Donald Trump, a fact that I easily admit to not as anything else other than a fact. I merely did not agree with his views and policies and felt that he did not accurately represent me. So, during the election process, I found my default to be one of quick judgment of him and his supporters, and since they disagreed with me, it must be their mental shortcoming. In fact, most of the country seemed to be defaulting to that approach, which may explain why we are now so divided. The fact is, judging and dismissing is easier than trying to understand the opposing viewpoint. Empathy requires patience, time, and openness, all signs of humanity.
So in an attempt to bring us together, I’ve been recently trying a new approach, where when I encounter a political opinion contrary to my own, I want to know why they feel that way and how they got there. I may not agree with their view or decision, but at least I understand them. If our ideas of what’s best for the country don’t match, that doesn’t make either side inherently evil; it just makes them different. It’s our intolerant reactions to one another that invites evil.
The “Serenity Prayer,” a staple wall-hanging in many Christian households, reads, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” With the three active requested characteristics being serenity, courage, and wisdom, they can be categorized as three traits that align with empathy and understanding, all of which fall under the same umbrella: acceptance. In Romans 15.7, the apostle Paul encourages us to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Even though we rejected, persecuted, and crucified Him, Christ was still able to accept us. Surely, we can do the same for those that merely disagree with us.
So when I asked some Trump supporters about what they thought of the latest enacted policies, I instead pursued a line of questioning that helped me to understand why and how they could support them, not a line of defense that created intolerance and discord. From there, I learned of the past pain and struggle that plagued them, how they grappled with disappoint and failure, and how these new ideas provided hope for them. This approach humanized them, and I could now see why they felt that way. In the end, I didn’t agree with their stance, but the conversation went a very different way than it could have, as I was learning to accept them and reflect His approach to others, as well. Through this humanizing act of acceptance, we can model His example, giving others a glimpse at His glory and bringing the country closer together in the process. Amen.