This is why we need safe places to talk politics and religion. We need to be able to say what we believe without belittling one another. We need to not pretend that things used to be easier when things used to be easier only if you were white and straight and a man. We need to stop imagining that things will get better if we keep hammering away at each other, because, every time we hammer, our resolve thickens and is harder to chip away at when we finally put those hammers down.
But, mostly, we need to listen. Not every conviction is worthy of respect, but when you hear someone out, you’re forced to acknowledge a person’s thinking and, thereby, his humanity.
If you’ve done it, you know it’s not easy. A guy in my group will say that people on welfare don’t want to work, and if they don’t want to work then they shouldn’t have kids, and if they have kids then those kids should be taken away. I’ll want to shriek, but I know this guy. If his sister lost her job, he’d take care of her and her daughter. If he couldn’t afford to, then he’d want the state to step in. No way would he consent to seeing his niece dragged away because his sister couldn’t pay her bills.
He’s not a cruel person, just someone who’s been taught cruel rhetoric. The failure isn’t one of empathy, but imagination. That single mom could be his sister. He just hasn’t seen that yet.