Vander Graaff: Kindness deserves higher value in American discourse

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

What do a certain founding principal, an ex-Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust survivor have in common? They each advocate for kindness.

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American political polarization is common. Some argue that it’s a necessity for our country, but that doesn’t mean we should be outright hostile to one another.

Kindness isn’t valued in American discourse, and it should be.

An emphasis on kindness in American culture would increase our relationships with one another, and in turn help to mend the political polarization that our country faces on a large scale.

The Pew Research Center found that during the 2016 presidential election campaign, 70 percent of Democrats said Republicans were closed-minded, and 42 percent said they were dishonest, while 52 percent and 45 percent of Republicans said the same thing, respectively, about Democrats.

Liberals argue that conservatives aren’t listening to what they have to say, while conservatives argue that liberal defenses are fraudulent, padded by “fake news” and elitist institutions. It’s easy to focus on proving the other side wrong, rather than listening and trying to understand the reasons behind a difference in opinion.

“When we enter interactions with the intention to be kind, we put our peers at ease. In doing so we create a space for collaboration that is otherwise unreachable.”

Holocaust survivor Irving Roth discussed kindness during his talk at the Lory Student Center last week. “While humans do not have the perfect solution to everything,” Roth said, “listening to one another and compromising can help solve today’s problems.”

Kim Roth-Howe, founding principal of CoCreative Labs, gave a TEDxTalk focusing on ways to combat hostile political partisanship by simply listening to those who hold differing views.

She discusses her desire to move the political conversation from “a game of mental ping pong” to something more productive by asking “What’s the world that you long to live in, that you want to help create?”

Howe notes that usually, the worlds each side longs for are similar. After finding this common ground, a constructive argument becomes more achievable.

In the midst of the conflict that our political atmosphere produces, perhaps sympathetic, personal conversations are the key to progress. These conversations could work where strong argument and political advocacy might fail.

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Instead of wasting energy on the shortcomings of a certain group, we can educate each other on a more intimate level, and use our relationships with one another to foster some understanding that spans across political boundaries.

Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi-turned peace advocate, exemplifies this process in his work. In his TEDxTalk, he discusses his descent to white supremacy and his journey back to peace. After witnessing the humanity of Nazi-targeted groups, he renounced his affiliation and began convincing others to do the same by listening to their understanding of the world and kindly explaining his own.

When we enter interactions with the intention to be kind, to compromise or at least try to understand one another, we put our peers at ease. We allow them to feel the positive effects of our kindness and in doing so we create a space for collaboration that is otherwise unreachable.

Instead of taking the responsibility to convert someone from one party to another, or to change someone’s ideas on an entire philosophy, we should see our conversations as a way to gain mutual understanding.

We must build on our similarities, but first, we must be kind enough to one another to discover what they are.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegain.com or Twitter at @abbym_vg