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Left or right, I stand with reason.

An essay on political and cultural spheres of 2019.

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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The extreme polarization and fragmentation in the sociopolitical sphere we live in has left me with one imperative question. What has happened to reason?

I look around, I talk to people, and what I find is that people have created walls — sociopolitical walls that restrict themselves to understand one another, to go and explore the hidden thoughts that they all feel but don’t talk about, to sit down and have a respectful conversation with someone who doesn’t mirror their beliefs. Using wildcards for identity politics, misogyny, racism, sexism, as a mask has become the momentum for a social avalanche that is destroying our society — in the sense that it has created a huge umbrella of victimhood, or a scarcity mindset, a place where there is always someone or something to blame and personal responsibility is an unheard concept. This is not to say that those problems don’t exist — they very much do, but things have been blown out of proportion lately. Everything is taken personally and social sensitivity to different viewpoints have exponentially increased. And because we align ourselves with a group and throw labels to find a sense of belonging, we have stopped to think critically and come to our own conclusions.  

How can I engage in a conversation with someone when they assume, I am x or y things without attempting to understand my viewpoint? Last week, I asked someone why classrooms in political science push for a certain way of thinking by referencing one sided media and viewpoints, and while the response was respectful, it underscored the assumption that I wanted far right news to be introduced to the curriculum.

 That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Attempting to understand a political issue holistically entails looking at credible, reasonable resources from both sides, without resorting to the extremes. This holistic engagement helps us understand ourselves in the context of the issue and the world better. So, before we assign an issue to the left or right, let us pause and think about the issues independent of what it associates with.

For example, abortion is a big debate that gets many people riled up. Personally, I think abortion should be legal and should be available to all seeking women. As a woman, reproductive rights are very important to me. But I do not think it’s the government’s job to fund places like Planned Parenthood. Hospitals and private companies should run abortion and reproductive health clinics because not only is it in the best interests of the patients, but it doesn’t use taxpayer dollars from the rest of society. Privatization of these services can provide for a much cleaner and safer environment for those seeking services, and citizens can feel much better knowing that their taxpayer money is not indirectly subsidizing the cost of an abortion or reproductive services that most reap absolutely no benefits from.

My stance on it has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with identity or party politics. It has everything to do with reason and individual choice.

It’s the same narrative with immigration.

In relation to immigration, I keep hearing the phrase “in today’s political climate,” followed by a predicate that is an ambiguous misrepresentation of an issue. People I am going to school with, the international students included, we are here legally. The political climate has been volatile, yes, but how does it affect me as an individual on immigration? In fact, the current administration has been implementing policies to help, not deter, legal immigrants. But most people do not know that, and do not care enough to educate themselves on it because they are so focused on the narrative on illegal immigrants.

Additionally, I cannot express how many times this past week I have been referred to as “a woman of color” and identified / pointed out based on my race, mind you all of this was said with positive intention. Irrespective of intent, I think people fail to understand that by outing someone like that to show diversity, it subconsciously creates a sense of otherness, and it can make for a demeaning experience in a very subtle way. How contradictory.

Sure, I am a minority, on so many levels, but the more I fixate on that idea and create this intangible boundary between me and you, the more distant I become from taking part in experiences that I may have otherwise enjoyed. It is a limiting thought. I am the person I am not just because of my skin color, but because of my upbringing, my education, my environment, my hobbies, my family, friends, etc. There are so many components that make up who I am, so why is the conversation only centered around race? 

Now socially speaking, do I believe that diversity and growing up in a multicultural environment can impact how you feel when you transition into a monocultural environment? Absolutely. At times it can feel very isolating, on a social level, not being able to connect with so many things of the residence culture you are in — but that is not limited to “people of color”, it goes for all expats of all colors and anyone who has spent a significant time abroad or living with people of different cultures. It is a very natural byproduct of environmental exposure.

Other than the social bumps, I feel very privileged and grateful to live the life I get to life. Sure, there are going to be people who you don’t see eye to eye with, there will be racists, misogynists, all sorts of misfits. But fighting the chaos of misunderstanding and misrepresentation with strength, confidence, and voice is the antidote to the mess we find ourselves in.  If we are afraid to say what we stand for because it is an unpopular opinion in that specific environment, then what type of standards do we hold ourselves accountable to?

The word conservative is almost a dirty word in today’s context, and as a result, people are afraid to speak up. This needs to change.

The polarization, labeling and radicalization of party politics have robbed us of the ability to think critically and engage in constructive discussions. Honestly, I used to be scared to be vocal about many of the conservative ideals I hold because people from the other side would jump to accuse and assume things prematurely, and I felt attacked. Fear of retribution for voicing very normal thoughts has prompted us to keep our mouths shut. But I no longer feel that way because I am confident in my beliefs, and because I have derived them from years of critical thinking and exposure, I and prepared to defend my principles if need be.

I appreciate diversity to the core — of cultures, races, thoughts. As a third culture kid and expatriate, my entire life has been centered around diverse individuals and communities, where nobody belonged collectively to a group, other than the fact that we were all expatriates abroad — and that was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever been a part of.

Thus, it is precisely for that reason that I have begun to cherish diversity of thought, of not belonging to any one group. On many issues, I am a conservative, but on some I’m a liberal; I’m never fully either one 100%, partly because I am afraid that alignment with a group is premature because you never know how the political party will be misrepresented to be something you no longer stand for. Ultimately, I enjoy and welcome reasonable arguments and perspectives from both sides.

So let’s embrace the uncomfortable, let’s research on what’s being said, talk about the topics everyone wants to tiptoe around, and create a medium for free flowing, respectful, honest dialogue. What is more liberating than that?

At the end of the day, we are all going to come home, do our chores, make dinner, sleep, wake up, and attend to our commitments. We are not so different from one another. Thus, we shouldn’t lose our humility, kindness, and sanity in efforts to argue with someone, and potentially damage relationships, but instead we should engage in constructive discussions to challenge others and ourselves.

My entire life, I have felt different — deviant from the host culture, almost in but just not there yet. That is home to me. Skipping around the social outskirts used to make me feel like I wasn’t enough, an outsider, that I lacked a sense of identity, belonging. But then I changed the narrative and leveraged my diversity to my benefit. Not just in culture, but in thought. And that opened up the world for me. Sure, I sometimes do not get social or cultural references, but that’s okay because I feel that I have so much else to offer.

And if I ever feel like an island during a conversation or an exchange, be it political or social, I remember a variation of a Dr. Seuss quote — why are you worried about fitting in when you were born to stand out?

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