forgiveness • peacemaking • reconciliation
equality • poverty • missions


What Is The Other Side?

September 17, 2018 by

It’s embarrassing, sometimes, being an American outside of America.

(Here, a Uruguayan would correct me that I am no more American than they are. What I’m outside of is the United States – one small piece of America.) Okay. I’m from the states. But once that’s established, Conversation Point Number 2 is pretty predictable: And Trump? What do you think of that president of yours?

Wow. The inevitable next topic is Donald Trump, every time. Do I look like him or something?

Shannon with a group of her friends
Shannon and friends in Uruguay

What do I think of the guy? Generally I try not to. The open relief on their faces that this elicits is impressive. Sometimes that’s about all they want to establish, while others then launch into a full-blown Trump rant – we all know those. Verbal or written, they’re kind of a new phenomenon, but an understandable one. He’s a polarizing figure, and you could probably find new fodder on Twitter or the BBC to rant about every half hour or so.

Not long ago a friend forwarded me this one, an impassioned denouncement of Trump’s entire support block, lambasting their collective stupidity and rebutting any favorable claims they have ever ventured to make.

I concur: there is much truth in Pavlovitz’s list of grievances, and now as the world watches Cohen and Manafort go down in something less than glory, I don’t think the current state of the union is one of which many of us are proud.

However, I question the rightness of Pavlovitz’ approach.

An articulate tirade can serve as an emotional release of frustration. I do it myself – it’s affirming, self-affirming. It re-orients you in what you think. But beyond that?

Read through the comments which this post garnered. In terms of affecting change, in terms of truly altering the perspective of another person, I see this type of verbal drama as ineffective, even counter-effective.

Why? Because it is simply polarizing.

I believe that the first and most important step is to truly try to understand the “other side.” In reality, that means the other person, because the “other side” is never composed of anything more than living, breathing, feeling, hurting, searching, complex, singular human beings. Subconsciously, we reduce them to a group, an entity, to an “other” status, because doing so is frankly easier and keeps our little worldviews simpler. It relieves us of the imperative to love them as we love ourselves.

I’m not advocating some false and fabricated equilibrium in which we all neatly side step each other and no one speaks the truth. I’m all for calling a spade a spade, but only once you know what a spade actually is and how it became one.

The demand for rights – human rights, personal rights, whatever – is a catch-concept of our times. It’s not an invalid one. But what does it really imply? If I recognize and honor the rights of another person, perhaps the first of those is that person’s right to her own humanity, her own intrinsic worth as a human being, same as me. It places us on the exact same level of value.

If we are equals, if we are equally human, then both of us, regardless of how our lives and our choices have colored us, are by nature equally complex, profound beings. Once I belittle her world view, dismiss her opinion, cast her in a stupid or inferior light, I not only negate her humanity as being equal to mine, I deceive my own self.

Instead of choosing the adventurous and enriching approach of reaching out – out of my self and toward another – I opt for a simplistic and righteous frustration toward her, lined with ignorance and fruitless by nature.

I imagine we’re more intelligent than that.

No new thoughts, here, I know, but bizarrely they do start to sound somewhat novel as I contemplate the lengthening fracture lines radiating out from our center of government and dividing our united states. There is no other side. There are just other people, and I, frankly, am relieved to remember that.


About the author


Shannon McPherson

Shannon is a literature student at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

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  • Excellent perspective. Only when we can get beyond memes and buzzwords, and stop escalating and personal attacks, can our conversations improve.

    John C. Dench