The Failure to Listen: Conservatives vs. Liberals

I don’t know how the world got to be so divided. I don’t know how attempts to destroy binaries like ‘white vs. black’ or ‘men vs. women’ has instead resulted in creating an entirely new binary: ‘conservatives vs. liberals’.

And I won’t lie; like most people, I take a side in this binary. I am not an American, but I am very liberal. I believe that all people, regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation, whatever it might be, deserves the opportunity to live their fullest life and receive every right that they are entitled to as human beings. This is something that I believe in with all my heart. This is something that I am more than willing to fight or die for if need be. But at the same time, I also believe that every perspective needs to be listened to and understood. I believe that sweeping another person’s perspective under the rug as simply wrong is reductive and unfair, and this is something that both sides of the binary are guilty of right now, and it is creating so many problems.

From the liberal perspective, conservatives are uneducated, stupid, and hateful. From the conservative perspective, liberals are attacking their rights and threatening their freedom to support an agenda that they don’t agree with. From either perspective, the other side of the binary is dangerous.

I have spoken to liberal-minded people who have said that they like talking to conservatives because they’re curious to know what it’s like to be “so wrong.” The problem with thinking like this though is that it’s instantly reductive: you aren’t listening to them because you want to have an actual conversation and make progress between the two of you. You are listening to them to mock their beliefs, leaving you both in the exact same position that you were when you started talking. You haven’t grown. You haven’t learned anything. You just leave them thinking they were an idiot, and they leave you thinking you were a jerk.

And I’ll admit, I have been at fault for thinking this way in the past as well. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, it is really hard for me to see someone verbally abusing a woman who wants an abortion, or telling transgender people that they can’t exist in certain spaces because it makes them uncomfortable. When I see that, it’s very difficult for me to see anything other than blatant ignorance and hate. In order for me to see beyond that, I need to really think about things from their perspective. I need to take the time to remember that this is a person who honestly believes that abortion is murder and transgender people are mentally ill or transgressive from nature. Whether I think they’re wrong or not really doesn’t matter; they think they’re right, and that is important for me to remember if I’m actually going to have a conversation with them.

And the same thing can be said from the opposite perspective as well: it is just as important for conservatives to remember that liberals might have a reason for believing the things that they do, because it is really frustrating for me to have a conversation with someone where I am trying to explain my beliefs and yet I am constantly being told that I’m wrong and that my beliefs are dangerous to your way of life. Maybe I’m not wrong. Maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe the path toward progress can be found somewhere between the two of us, and maybe the only way to find this path is to listen to the other.

The problem nowadays is not liberals, and nor is it conservatives: the problem is that we don’t listen to each other. We are so quick to dismiss the other as wrong that we don’t even stop to consider the possibility that maybe there is no right or wrong here. Maybe there are just people who need to be taken seriously and have their perspectives heard. Or maybe I’m wrong. Who the fuck knows at this point, really? All that I’m trying to say is that we aren’t understanding one another, and when we don’t try to understand, then we turn instead to hate, and there is far too much of that in the world already – we don’t need more. I think that’s something both sides can agree on.