A week that began with me reeling from the beauty of autumnal Kyoto has ended with getting students to give speeches convincing PRESIDENT Trump (GASP) to stop denying climate change. Disorientating or what.
Perhaps due to a combination of being tired from Kyoto and the emotional upheavals of the past few days, I opted for a quiet, reflective one this weekend. Alaina and I still got out to Ueno park yesterday, spending a few hours picking over our thoughts while looking out onto the resplendent waterlilies… We also came across a group of old blokes, who beckoned us over and had us feeding the sparrows with them! That was a lovely moment.
As I’m sure has been the case for many of you, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, thinking and soul-searching this week. I’ve watched reactions to the US election oscillate between disbelief, fear, confusion, anger, apathy, and defiance. I know that I have felt all of these things at least once since Tuesday. The damage that the man is likely to do to our anti-climate change efforts has me in a particular panic, not to mention the women, POC, LGBT, disabled (and the list goes on) whose lives stand to be gravely affected by his presidency.
And then I thought: apart from the gloating far-righters on Fox News, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen, who have I seen who is actually happy about this result? I haven’t had a proper chat with anyone from the ‘other side’ anyway. Same goes for Brexit. Where are the people that made these decisions? How are they feeling? What do they think now?
And why are we not talking to them? Did we really talk to any of them before they voted? What were our arguments? Did we really listen to their concerns and try to reason, or did we dismiss them as sexists/racists/fascists/rednecks/idiots before retreating to the safety of our own enlightened Facebook feeds?
(Disclaimer: I hold my hands up and admit to having done many of the following things myself on occasion – self-reflection is a wonderful thing!)
It seems to me that we are where we are now because we stopped listening. We demonised and dismissed people with real concerns as sexists/racists/fascists/rednecks/idiots because that was the easier, more comfortable thing to do. And that’s why the polls got it so bloody wrong. Instead of engaging potential Trump/Brexit voters and addressing their concerns, we assimilated them with the worst, most extreme examples from their side of the political spectrum, and in doing so we forced them underground so that they only finally expressed their (unchallenged) views from the anonymity of the ballot box.
When we stop challenging ourselves and others, communication breaks down. And when that happens, we mute the conversation. And that’s when people like Trump and Farage sail in and have the conversation for us.
Man we have GOT to start talking again. But I’m talking about the tougher chats. The real, frank, open conversations that go beyond re-posting Guardian articles so that our middle-class, lefty friends can give it a few likes and we can go to bed feeling all informed and self-righteous. And yes – sometimes it is important to get validation from like-minded people, to feel that we’re not alone in our views. But that’s too easy. We can’t just leave it at that.
When I was in Buenos Aires, I spent three weeks working with a climate change-denying conspiracy theorist. He perplexed, frustrated and often appalled me with his views. But he also gave me the great gift of a genuine CHALLENGE. He forced me to defend my position, to re-make points I had long since assumed were obvious to everyone, to really scrutinise my arguments and how I communicated them. Despite its difficulties, my interaction with him was one of the most valuable experiences of my entire journey.
I have some very close friends who often do not share my political views. One works for the Conservative Party. Another voted to leave the EU in a surge of frustration and patriotism. My own grandfather challenges me about climate change on a regular basis, and threatens to vote for the BNP every election (still unclear to what extent he’s winding me up on that one).
Particularly in the light of this week’s events, I have come to cherish and value these differences, because they don’t allow me to sit back and wrap myself in a comfy blanket of liberal righteousness. They hold me to account. And I will now be seeking their opinions with more gusto than ever before, because never before has it been more important to keep our communication – and our minds – fully open.
The Brexit/Trump result has taught me that if we are to stand a chance going forward, if I want to fight for progress, I cannot settle for the cosy, exclusive neo-liberalism championed by Hillary Clinton, the kind that allows us to rant and rave about the evils of the right to our lefty friends while simultaneously slurping a Starbucks, being swept up by celebrity endorsements or signing up for private healthcare. I’m not saying we must all immediately reject and avoid doing all of these things – that’s a matter of personal conviction. I’m just saying we must take a long hard look at ourselves and stop this ridiculous demonisation of the ‘other side’, particularly when we engage in many of the typically right-wing activities we profess to condemn. To face the Trumps of this world, we must first face our own hypocrisy.
And most importantly, we must not dismiss those who do not share our views; we must SEEK THEM OUT, make them challenge us and challenge them in return, instead of shaming them into quietly making dangerous decisions when it’s time to cast their next vote.
I hope you will forgive this outburst on what I hope is usually a light-hearted travel blog! Much more Japan-related news next week, I promise. I’ll leave you with some shots of my students puzzling their way through some quality British publications (courtesy of Leanne – thanks love, you’re a gem!), and of Ueno in the autumn sunshine.
Stay strong, well and happy my dears. All my love.
P.S. In the spirit of this post’s subject, PLEASE feel free to challenge me on any of the above views – I would be DELIGHTED to hear from you!
P.P.S. I use ‘we’ in this post loosely – no direct accusations, just some food for thought (I hope)!
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