The Election Empathy Challenge: 2016 Edition (aka "Gee, maybe not everyone else is an idiot or villain after all.")
People who've followed my blog for a while know that one of pulpits I pound a lot is civility, understanding, and empathy. I am all for spirited public discourse. I believe a loud and crowded marketplace of ideas is the sign of a healthy republic.
My biggest fear about our country's future comes in what I see is a fundamental and growing inability to understand each other. Not agree with each other, necessarily, but simply understand our ideological foes without deciding they are just stupid or evil.
It worries me because in a country as big as this, with as many different voices and ideas, there has to be a way that we can make decisions. Historically, that has involved making some compromises.
In our day-to-day lives, I suspect most of us do this. We make compromises with our spouse or children, our co-workers, or reality in general. We realize life is a series of trade-offs. And live goes on.
But in politics we suddenly become all-or-nothing. We write ourselves into a melodrama that stars our side as the forces of light and truth, battling the forces of evil and destruction.
The problem with this is that it ruins the possibility of ever making any kind of compromise, of giving even mild concessions in order to achieve a shared goal.
I believe we can solve our problems. But I don't believe either side is uniquely able to see the problems and propose solutions with clarity. So, the ability to listen and understand the other side--really listen, not just preparing a rebuttal--is critical.
Beyond that, we have to live together 365 days a year. Election day comes once. Should we really allow our politics to be the defining moment in terms of our relationships, or the way we think about vast number of others? Simply as human beings, should we not be able to listen to each other and say, "I see your point," or "I understand how you feel," without launching into "But your side does it too...." or "Well, yes but Reagan/Clinton did it too...."
It might be comforting to hear the folks on Fox validate your bedrock beliefs about God, Family, and Country. It might be funny to hear Jon Stewart and Colbert and all the rest mock people you think deserve it.
Certainly, there is a thrill one gets when looking at one's foes and thinking that they are stupid, illiterate, backward, or just evil. But that thrill that comes is a tingle of self-righteousness, nothing more.
So, here's the Empathy Challenge: find someone you disagree with. Ask him or her to explain why your candidate scares them. Ask them the positive reasons they support their candidate. Listen with the intent to understand them, not to argue or rebut. Don't try to convert them. Just to understand. You don't have to agree. But you understand, and when you interact, you will not be objectifying that person. You'll be engaging with them--human to human.
You don't have to agree. But you could at least stop seeing your fellows as caricatures or cliches, or objects of scorn, unworthy of the same rights you grant yourself.
Try it. You might be surprised. Those Bernie supporters you mock might surprise you with a lack of entitlement. That person with the Trump sticker might not be a racist. And the person with the Hillary t-shirt might not be hoping for a corrupt oligarchy.
In America, we have the right to vote our conscience. I would suggest that this comes with a responsibility to try to understand the consciences of others.
If you are interested, I'd love to hear your experiences with this.
A reader recently asked some questions about the dryads in Orison. They were actually really interesting questions (to me), and it happens that I spent a lot of time thinking about the dryad world while I was working on the background story. In case anyone else is interested I thought I'd give some information.
The question was about the language of the dryads, and their naming conventions--specifically why their names were somewhat European sounding, since dryads would have been here in the Pre-Columbian times.
In it's purest form, dryads communicate in something called greenspeak, which is the shared language of living things, especially any kind of plant life. It's a language of instinct, conveyed through the rustles of leaves and whispers of grass.
Dryads have their own version of greenspeak--sort of a dialect, but it's not quite language as we think of it. It's based on more on the sounds found in nature, especially sounds around trees. Think of wind rustling through trees, or water dripping from leaves. That sort of thing. Dryad names are really sounds, based on the way nature interacts with the tree with which the dryad is associated.
However, in 1780, Ephraim King settles King County. Intrigued by the human, the dryad queen falls in love with him, and they eventually get married. Unable to pronounce her dryadic name, Ephraim calls her Athena, named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and war.
As the dryads and humans interact, the dryads keep their own language, but human customs--including language--slip in. Over the years, the dryads begin to move to their own hybrid version of greenspeak and English.
One custom that changes is names. Instead of referring to each other by unique natural, markers, they begin using names. At this point, the names are somewhat influenced by the European background of the humans around them. But more than that, they are attempts to express the earlier sound-based names in verbal language. In that regard, they are sort of like transliterations.
One other note: the dryads are light and ethereal, and so are their voices. They flow easily over vowel sounds, and some lighter consonants. But sounds like, "n" are difficult for them to make, so they have to hit the letter really hard, giving it extra emphasis. That's the reason for the double n formulation found in their names (and, of course, they don't have a written language. So the way it's written in the book is an attempt to put it into some kind of form basically comprehensible to readers).
They use those frequently, by the way, because their whole existence is based around finding something strong to bond with. Having a heavy consonant sound in the their names is sort of a linguistic expression of the driving instinct of their lives.
A street team is a special group of readers. All the cool authors have them! The idea is that they get advance copies of books, spread the world on social media, participate in promotions and that sort of thing. I'll probably also use the street team for beta reading for those who are interested. In return for your time, I'll have regular drawings for gift cards, etc. Also: hashtags. We'll have lots of cool hashtags.
The only requirement is to be willing to read and share your thoughts on social media, post honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, etc.
Let me know if you are interested, and I'll add you to our secret Facebook group where we plot to take over the world. You can contact me by clicking here.
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