I’ve had a hard time writing lately. I mean a really, really hard time. (The fact that I can’t think of a better word than “really” probably sums this up for you.)
Like most writers, I’ve gone through periods of writer’s block. Sometimes even writer’s Great Wall of China. My experience of the last few weeks is more like writer’s temporary amnesia. It’s not that I can’t find the right words. It’s that I’ve forgotten what the point of writing was.
I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. You might have guessed that, since I wear the label “Bleeding Heart Liberal” like a jaunty scarf. Every word I could think of to describe Mr. Trump’s governing style was unhelpful, to say the least. So I kept my laptop shut. Like Mom always said, if you can’t say anything nice…
“Give him a chance,” some people have said. “We have to compromise.”
Got to admit, I have a hard time with that. But Mr. Trump is the president, no matter what I think or how many hashtags say otherwise. I dislike the electoral college, as do a majority of Americans in polls dating back to the 1960s, but so far efforts to get rid of it have gone nowhere, so here we are. We’ve taken our country to an unprecedented state of polarization. Where do we go from here?
Well, personally, I went to the movies.
To Allegiance, to be precise. For the second time, to be even more specific. The musical, loosely based on George Takei’s experiences in the Japanese internment camps during World War II, ran on Broadway for four months. A taping of one performance screened in a special showing in theaters nationwide back in December. The screening broke the record for Fathom Events, the company that brings plays, opera and ballet to the big screen, so they brought it back for one more viewing over Presidents’ Day weekend – on Feb. 19, the anniversary of the executive order that created the camps. The first theater I checked was already sold out, and from the looks of it, the place I ended up sold out shortly after I bought my ticket. I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes back for a third screening, and fingers crossed, eventually for sale on DVD. The show lets you live inside the camps for two and a half hours, and shows you the good, the bad and the very, very ugly about our nation’s past.
The show stayed in with me for two different reasons. First, it reminded me that as a nation we’ve made some horrible decisions, and we have to remember them and learn from them in order to make wiser ones in the future. Second, it brought home how much worse we make things when we refuse to see things from anyone else’s point of view.
The prejudice against people born in this country, people who’d done nothing wrong, made me angry. But the conflict between the brother and sister who are the main characters of the show? That broke my heart.
The fact that the siblings fell out gets revealed in the opening scene, so I’m not giving anything away here. If you see it, and I hope with all my heart that you do (or have), you’ll find out the reasons for this on your own, and may well find yourself as torn up as I was. Two people, each following the path they truly believe best, find themselves staring at each other across a seemingly unbridgeable chasm. It seemed somehow…familiar.
While I’m naive about many things, politics isn’t necessarily one of them. I don’t believe everyone has the best intentions at heart when they decide to run for office, or even when they vote for one. But a lot of us – yes, I’ll even go for as to say most of us – want what’s best, not just for ourselves but for everyone else too. I truly do believe that. In fact, most of us even want the same things, at the far end of the horizon. Of course, we have radically different ideas about how to get there. Probably the best of all possible world lies somewhere in the middle, but how do we find that common ground?
Years of therapy have taught me one thing: the only person you can change is yourself. Fortunately, there is one thing I can do that will help, and I don’t even have to leave my couch.
Read the fine print.
I’m tempted to say “read smarter.” Not very grammatical, but it has what Malcolm Gladwell would call “stickiness,” and sometimes you have to make the trade. Blending journalism, entertainment and politics tends to give us gummy news – high sugar, low-fact. It’s time to start reading labels. Who, what, when, where and why go even better with a chaser of who says so?
We’re hardwired to screen out the things that contradict our beliefs. Early on in the campaign, I heard that Mr. Trump had said if he ever ran for office, he’d run as a Republican because they’d believe anything he told them. Painful admission: the notion fit my idea of him so well, sounded so much like his take on life, I didn’t bother to fact check it until recently. According to Snopes, it’s not real. Lesson learned (okay, re-learned, and hopefully this time with better retention): check your sources.
I know those with different political views than mine have the same tendency to believe things that sound good. It’s a hard fight to keep an open mind. However, I have to try, so I’ve come up with three new habits to keep myself grounded.
- Breathe before reading the news. Not just figuratively. A good inhale and exhale before tackling the headlines keeps my head clearer, so my reactions will be less knee-jerk. Never mind the news. More deliberate breathing is a good idea for life in general.
- Automatically delete emails with titles in all-caps. Labels like “Trump is FURIOUS” or “Liberals HATE this” mean nothing important has happened. Genuinely newsworthy events don’t require isolated capitalization. In both cases, the words endorsed by capital letters want to manipulate rather than inform.
- Take any stories that elate or infuriate with a grain of salt. Maybe two. Headlines grab our attention, and all too frequently, they are all we read. The quick summary may be a wild exaggeration, or it may be completely false. Read the whole article and then fact check. Just as Donald Trump didn’t say he wanted to scam Republicans, Michelle Obama’s mother does not receive a pension for serving as the Presidential daughters’ nanny. People can write anything they want on the internet. That doesn’t make it true.
As a world, as human beings, we’ve been handed a lot of challenges lately. The situation can bring out the worst in us, unless we find the ways to turn to the light. Read smarter. It’s a start.
Even better, read smarter and be kind. That sort of thing really could change the world.
Kimberly is trying so hard to be kind, she’s even occasionally kind to herself.