The 2016 presidential election was, without a doubt, the most divisive election we have seen in our lifetime as college students. Numerous romantic partnerships, Thanksgiving dinners, and friendships were shattered. Casual conversations about politics over a cup of coffee with friends ceased to exist and hostile conversations that led to fights arose. In our lifetime, never has the question “Who did you vote for?” come across with so much drama and suspense, with the possibility of your answer leading to havoc. The hyper-partisanship that has arisen has led to extremism from both sides of the aisle, leading to violent confrontations and political instability.
What occurred in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, is a clear embodiment of the current political climate. Members of certain groups have become accustomed to holding specific extreme views and viewing people who disagree as foes. These members sought out violence in an irrational attempt to demonstrate their dominion or physically show their hatred towards the other group. What these violent individuals fail to grasp is that persuasion and discussion will do far more than coercion and violence. No matter how much you verbally demonize someone or how hard you punch someone, you’re not going to change their views—if anything, you’re going to fuel them even more.
Humans will never respond well to antagonism, criticism, or humiliation. In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, the author Dale Carnegie devotes a chapter on avoiding criticizing, condemning, or complaining. Carnegie emphasizes that criticism is counterproductive; it will not accomplish anything and naturally, it will ensure the other person clam up and refrain from interacting with you. When one person applies pressure, the other person will inevitably apply pressure too and it will sabotage the situation.
It is not surprising that we are more open to changing our opinions when we are interacting with someone we like. It seldom, if ever, occurs that you are openly willing to change your opinion when you are with someone you despise. Therefore, no matter how robust your argument is on a specific subject, you must be an approachable, likable person if you wish to influence people. Be sincerely interested in other people’s opinion, encourage people to talk about their opinion without judging, and remember that people’s own environment shapes their views.
Violence is, and always will be, unacceptable. There is no justification to resort to violence. Violence not only harms the individuals involves, but it shatters communities, destroys cities, and benefits no one. As the political climate has gotten nastier, so has political violence. It is becoming a norm for us to tune in on the daily news at night and see some sort of assault, whether it is physical or verbally, because of political differences. These cases have been occurring across the nation, from college campuses to city parks to cities in blue and red states. In an ideal world, voters from one side of the spectrum would attend a rally or campaign event from the other side of the spectrum to hear what the candidate or supporters have to say. Nowadays, doing that is seen as reckless, vulnerable, and dangerous.
Since President Trump took office, protests have erupted from coast to coast in cities like Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. What have the protestors and counter-protestors accomplished? Nothing but havoc. Turn off the television and go talk to people, you will see you have much more in common with them than what you think. Discuss with others where you agree or disagree and why you think the way you do while respecting others beliefs. Maybe someday voters from all sides of the aisle will resolve issues with compassion, kindness, and empathy rather than shouts, punches, and insults.