November 24, 2016

I am thankful for my family, including its recent expansion, but I’ll come back to family in a minute.

I am also thankful for Empathy, Empiricism, and Hope, and for the current that runs through them all, Openness. And I am thankful for Opportunity and Autonomy.

I’ve been thinking so much lately about the various divides the recent election has highlighted: race, gender, class, geography, party, etc., but whenever I think about acting to bridge those divides I feel a kind of despair. How do we think we’re going to heal the racial divide, overcome misogyny, or unite rural and urban ways of life when generations of Americans (and humans in general) have failed to do so?

But then Empathy kicks in and says, “Look at it from another point of view.” Empiricism adds, “Reset your assumptions.” Hope chimes in with, “There’s always a way.” And Openness smiles approvingly and says, “Be curious, be flexible.”

So I’ve started looking at the divides differently. When we see or read what we perceive as delusional, irrational, rage-filled responses to policies and perspectives that to us seem so true and right, what are we really seeing? In one sense, yes we are obviously seeing Whites, or Men, or the Under-educated, or Gun-owners, or whatever, but we are also seeing Egotism, Blind Faith, and Despair, the polar opposites of Empathy, Empiricism, and Hope.

You can’t change someone’s genetics or, for the most part, where they live. You can’t make someone go back to school. You can’t change the way their parents raised them. But maybe, at least to some people, you can help spread Empathy, Empiricism, and Hope. Generous acts have been shown to engender empathy in others. Evidence, if conveyed at the right levels of complexity and personalization, can change minds. And hope—that requires that an individual feel like he or she has choices and the ability to independently choose among them, Opportunity and Autonomy.

Too many Americans see little generosity in their daily lives. Too many Americans are exposed to too little evidence and too much opinion. Too many Americans have few opportunities and little or no autonomy. These are things we can work on. Those of us in “The Liberal Bubble”—or any bubble—can start building the bridges across the country’s divides by continuing to be generous with all those we encounter, by pressuring our media outlets and politicians to mix more evidence into their rhetoric, and by working hard to elect public officials who will enact policies to create real choices for the millions of working class Americans who feel powerless. In other words, it is possible—hard, for sure, but possible—to heal our fissures, but only if we focus on underlying circumstances, emotions, and mindsets, not the categories that endlessly distract and diminish us.

I know how lucky I am to possess opportunities and autonomy, and I am so grateful that I was raised to be empathetic, to be curious and think critically, and to never give up hope. I have lucky genes and an amazing family. We need to start thinking of all 330 million Americans as a family. As with the awkward Thanksgiving dinner we’ve seen in a hundred TV shows and movies, we are stuck with each other, and we have to make the best of it.

I believe we can.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

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