For me, it’s always been second nature to try to understand other people and what they believe. I was aware very early in life that I was “wired up” differently than other people were. From an early age, I thought a lot about why people were different from me — and I spent a lot of time trying to understand why they were so different. (That’s what quickly led to my life-long interest in psychology.)
Even at this point in my life, nothing fascinates me and much as observing people closely and trying to understand them. Most people are that interesting, but I sometimes find things I wasn’t expecting. Every now and then, I strike gold and find someone with enough depth that I could spend a lifetime of exploring and not run out of new things to find. Some people are obsessed with football. Others are obsessed with stamps or fishing or shoes. I’m obsessed with understanding people and figuring out how they tick.
That’s the context for the article I wrote Tuesday about the two sides of the political mainstream not understanding each other. It’s so deeply ingrained in me to want to understand that I thought others would realize it’s a big deal if the sides don’t understand each other, but I think I was mistaken.
When I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page, a very conservative friend responded by saying, “It’s not so much conservative vs. liberal as educated vs. stupid.”
If you read Tuesday’s article, wasn’t that pretty much the way I said each side felt about the other? Each side believes that it’s the educated side and that it’s the other side that’s full of stupid people. So I told my friend that he was just making my point.
“Oh, I understand the other side, David,” my friend replied. “They really are stupid. [Emphasis mine.] They don’t see that there is a limit as to what other people can produce that they can take. They are short-term thinkers and unrealistic. As has been often said, socialism fails when it runs out of other people’s money.”
After a couple more exchanges in which I made the case that he doesn’t really understand the other side and why they believe what they believe, here’s how he responded.
“Also, I am not very interested in why people feel a certain way, because that doesn’t change the outcome of their ruinous paths,” he said.
And that’s when it hit me. He honestly didn’t care to understand the other side. And many of the people on the other side honestly don’t care to understand him. Each side is so convinced that it’s right that there’s no reason to “waste time” understanding why somebody would come to such a “crazy conclusion.”
This is even more depressing that the conclusion I’d already come to. I already knew — and have argued many times — that the sides don’t understand each other, but I hadn’t consciously realized that most of them don’t find this to be a problem.
As I said in Tuesday’s article, I have friends on both sides of the mainstream divide. I find many of them to be very intelligent, educated and interesting people. But I think a huge portion of them — probably a huge majority of them — have a big blind spot. They don’t understand the other side — and they don’t understand why it would help them to understand the people they disagree with.
That’s one of those things that’s so fundamental to me that I don’t even know how to explain it to someone.
I have a fundamental need to understand and to be understood. It’s as natural as breathing to me. Could it be that it’s so foreign to most people — that they’re so sure they’re right — that they’re really not going to make a serious effort? I thought about that most of the day Tuesday. The more I think about it, the more depressed I get, because I fear it’s true.
When groups don’t understand their enemies, they’re destined to fight each other at some point. It might seem like a small point to some — just to think about people not caring to understand — but for me, it adds a greater sense of urgency to the desire to find a way to escape the societal meltdown that I see coming this way.