Opinion: When did politics become more important than empathy?

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Every day issues are becoming increasingly politicized and arguing on issues seems like the only result. If instead we listened to each with empathy across political and ideological divides, then we could actually work together to create solutions and move forward. (Graphic by Allie Peterson)

It seems like just about every aspect of society nowadays is seeped with politicization.

Conversations at family dinners or friend get togethers now feel like a minefield. If vaccines, masks, Biden, Trump, immigration, the economy, college, religion, work, women’s (or any groups’) rights or even that one celebrity who is now being cancelled is mentioned then an argument ensues or tense silence fills the distance between the people who know they have opposing opinions.

That’s not to say everyone has to agree on every issue or that there aren’t legitimate reasons to disagree with events occurring in the world, but when did we stop listening to each other?

Friendships torn apart, familial relationships strained, work chemistry slaughtered and more — all because when an opinion is voiced, we assume the other person is stupid for believing so and choose to argue rather than listen. Does no one have any empathy left?

Let’s take COVID-19 vaccines for example. Immediately, most people reading this are holding their breath to see if I’m a liberal who’s been poked or a conservative who refuses to have their medical freedom taken away.

Instead, let’s look at why each side believes what they do. These are observations from talking with several people on both sides; none of these statements are absolutes.

Those who have gotten vaccinated, for the most part, believe by doing so they are protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus. They hope everyone who can get vaccinated does so as it will bring up the community’s immunity to the virus, lower cases of COVID-19, protect and prevent people from being hospitalized by the virus, and consequently help the world go back to normal with less casualties in the process. When these people believe what they are doing is helping the world, they can be confused why others are refusing to do something so simple to help and instead are choosing to endanger others.

Now, unvaccinated people most likely have some concerns on the relative newness of the vaccine, the fact that full FDA approval has not yet been given (only emergency use authorization), and long term effects of the vaccine are not yet known. Many can’t understand why others want to force them to have something they distrust injected into their body and feel their medical freedom is being taken away. (Several other vaccines are already required by the government with minimal pushback, but this controversy has been newly ignited for the context of COVID-19 vaccinations.) Others feel they are being villainized if they don’t get vaccinated and as a result, are pushed even further away from getting vaccinated.

It is doubtful that those who are unvaccinated are purposefully trying to kill or endanger other people but equally unlikely that those who are vaccinated are just being duped by the media to get an “unsafe” vaccine.

We don’t have to sympathize, or share the same feelings, with every person on every issue. But we can definitely have empathy where we understand why someone feels the way they do.

Sharon McMahon is a non-partisan U.S. government and law educator who has recently become famous for her “Sharon Says So” blogs, podcast, workshops and Instagram posts that spur conversation on current events. She explains what is happening in government and helps people understand government topics and social issues through pure facts, allowing them to make their own interpretations.

In a recent reel, McMahon told a story of she and her daughter arguing about what rock band they thought was better. In it she points out how arguing with someone about their musical taste is not going to change their opinion at all. Similarly, arguing with people on the internet about politics never results in anyone changing their mind.

“Just like much of our musical tastes are the result of how a song makes us feel, many of our political beliefs are based on our feelings,” she said in the reel caption.

Often people fall into the idea that arguing with facts will change minds, but studies show being argued with often does the opposite and drives beliefs in deeper, she said. Instead of arguing on the internet, let’s start having real, genuine conversations where the focus is to listen and learn rather than persuade.

Even if you have a discussion with someone about an issue and your opinions are still divided after, it is so important to understand and appreciate why someone believes what they do. Every person has gone through different things causing them to believe a certain way and some people will never change their mind about certain topics. But, if we have a better understanding of why people feel the way they do, we can hopefully work together and create real solutions as a society.

— Cassidy Wixom
Campus Editor

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