Seeing the other view

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London, UK,...

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In all the finger pointing and rancor going on post-election, I keep remembering two big lessons about world views I got years ago.  I think they keep coming up for me because I see some assumptions being made in the jibes about those who voted for Trump and my lessons told me those assumptions are probably wrong.  In times like these it’s so important to be able to step back and at least try to understand another world view.

The first lesson occurred when I was a sociology graduate student, working on a big study for Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs.  I’d been assigned a couple of neighborhoods to interview as many people as I could.  One of the areas was a working class neighborhoodk with some big open housing issues going on.

Having done some networking, I went down one day and interviewed a group gathered in someone’s home.  Afterward, a few of the people took me aside and told me quite nicely that if I wanted people there to feel comfortable talking to me I needed to quit talking so “high brow”.

It came as a shock because I’d been very careful not to go into “PhD speak”, which I’ve always despised.  Eventually I realized that even though I grew up in a blue collar area, my family is loaded with college-educated people and all my friends growing up were the children of educated people — if not formally educated, the kind of people who read a lot and are always learning (often better than school, I’ve noted).  In many ways we don’t speak the same language as people who aren’t readers and learners.  The people I was interviewing were put off by my style of speaking and I could see I didn’t have a clue how to change my language to what they needed.  We literally talked past one another.

The second lesson came as a fairly new lawyer, back in the late eighties, when I joined a pro bono legal team who were defending a group of protesters arrested at the South African Consulate.  Our case intended to set precedent (and did) for using the necessity defense, in this instance arguing that the conditions under apartheid in South Africa were so atrocious it was necessary to violate the law by protesting (kind of a simplified explanation).  A lot of our case involved testimony from people who’d either been there or had some expertise about conditions under apartheid.

During the voir dire (choosing the jury panel) it was very important to both sides to know how much awareness the potential jurors had of the situation in South Africa and whether they already had opinions about it.  We questioned something like 60 potential jurors of many ages, races, jobs, etc, asking every one whether they regularly read the newspaper or watched the news and what they knew about South Africa and apartheid.

With two exceptions,  the startling answer was no.  No one read the newspaper.  No one watched the news.  They barely knew where South Africa was and they knew nothing about the apartheid situation or the call for an embargo, nothing about Nelson Mandela (he was still in prison and far less famous outside the circles who were informed about the situation).  Since my entire family and all the people I knew had newspaper subscriptions and watched the news, listened to NPR and stayed informed, this came as a great shock to me.

But it also stuck with me that I need to always remember the world view my circle shares, which assumes you need to stay informed by paying attention to the news, is not the only world view (and not one I share any more).  I keep seeing people accusing those who voted for Trump of being bigots, misogynists, etc. (and I did it in a post too) based on an assumption they heard and saw all the things he said.

While I am sure there were plenty who did know these things and voted for him anyway, the probability is that a significant percentage of those who voted for him do not read newspapers or watch the news and didn’t know most of the outrageous things he’d been saying.

The sweet spot for me at the end of the trial story:  when I went to the picket line at the Consulate after the trial was over, several members of the jury were there marching. As soon as they knew and understood what was happening they felt they had to take part in the fight to end apartheid.  The fact they’d previously chosen not to stay informed didn’t mean they were stupid or unfeeling, it meant they lived a different lifestyle than mine.  And when they knew they showed up to help.

We’re all divine sparks of All That Is.  Sometimes you have to be open to seeing that spark and trying to understand a different way of thinking.

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6 thoughts on “Seeing the other view

  1. Excellent on all points. I remember moving from affluent suburbs of mostly professionals to a rural small town. I heard two men discussing their problems with layoffs. I didn’t know what layoffs were, never-the-less that many times they were unexpected if sales were down. As a newspaper editor, my father told me that they wrote for the equivalent of a twelve year old readership. That’s a seventh grade reading level. We often are oblivious to what a privileged minority we belong to because we consider ourselves comfortable, not rich. When I substitute taught seventh grade English the students had to share very old text books, while plenty of new ones sat on the shelf. Rural southern children simply didn’t have the vocabulary to use the newer text books.

    • Wow, the one about the newer books would not have occurred to me although I can see how it would be true. Yes, we are privileged and too often lack understanding of any other view than ours.

  2. Thanks yet again for opening up my mind and heart to another perspective. I do not know who I am or where I would be without books, newspapers, radio, film, higher education. etc..

    I did not come from highbrow people, but my family valued books and education and upper mobility. Not everyone does and not everyone thrives in this way of living. Most of us are comfortable with what we know. When I was a social worker for youth services, I visited the poor of the poor and was totally out of my element. I learned plenty from those who were not like me, at least not on the surface….

    Namaste wise friend,
    Linda

    • My dad and his brother were the first in that side of my family to go to college (GI Bill), but they were a family of learners and readers. It’s an interesting divide in the working class and working poor — wonder if anyone has studied why some families cherish education and some actively avoid it (and often resent those who have it).
      Since most of us hang around mostly with people like us, it’s hard to remember there are large groups of people whose world view and way of life are nothing like ours… I can imagine why it was unsettling for you to visit in the poor neighborhoods.

  3. This needs saying and thanks for doing so. I can relate to you in many ways though I hark from the other side of the world and lives on a tiny dot of an island. You’ll have thought we’ll be a lot more connected and ‘alike’ being packed in what’s the size of a 5-million sized city in the States, albeit probably in a far smaller land area. But here the divide is also very real. We have what’s called the heartlanders who are more concerned about their local community and bread and butter issues, and the more cosmopolitan ones who are higher income and perhaps more liberal. It’s tough straddling the two or getting either side to understand the other.

    • I think big cities are very good at dividing into areas where people with completely different world views live separate from one another so I can imagine you have divisions in Singapore. And yes, the two sides everywhere seem to lack the capacity to learn to communicate.

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