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An Empathy Challenge from the Other End of the Political Spectrum

The power of words from

Published in ChicagoNow, October 16, 2017

A reader presented me with a challenge when she wrote, “Laurie Levy, could you articulate with empathy the opposite viewpoints of the ones you express in this piece?” She was referencing Fear, Division, Loathing, and the Empathy Gap, and invited me to look at her Facebook page posts and comments to see if she is being disrespectful. She correctly stated, “Perhaps I don’t understand what empathy is. I thought it meant recognizing the valid grounds for viewpoints whether or not you agree with them.”

I don’t normally engage in Facebook stalking, but since she invited me, I took her up on the offer. So far, I had only read rabid pronouncements from the right similar to Mike Ditka’s rant about NFL players who #TakeTheKnee during the national anthem. Ditka has since tempered his remarks a bit, but I was appalled when he declared, “there has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of… maybe I’m not watching it as carefully as other people. I think the opportunity is there for everybody.”

I know folks who agree with that sentiment, and it was with that and @realdonaldtrump’s tweets and insults in mind that I wrote Fear, Division, Loathing and the Empathy Gap. But given the opportunity to virtually meet someone empathic whose politics differ from mine, I eagerly embraced it. I truly want to understand why our country is so divided.

My Facebook challenger appears to be a woman from my generation who lives in a rural setting. She shares beautiful photos of food that she grows and things she makes like Amish onion cake and blueberry cobbler, and many pictures of goats, which I assume she raises. So, while I can’t grow much of anything, we both love animals and baking

Yes, it feels a bit creepy to poke around on her page, but we both have daughters and are grandmothers. She seems like a compassionate, religious woman. But I assume she wanted me to have a look at her posts related to our current political climate.

While I get information from The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, and numerous other sources, she posts articles exclusively from The Blaze. I believe Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper, and she is a Glenn Beck fan. I think this issue of people choosing their news from sources that are in line with their politics is a huge problem.

Both of us grew up with Walter Cronkite and trusted that when he said, “And that’s the way it is,” he was telling us true facts. What we knew came from three major networks, and we heard the same things. Back then, fake news was communist propaganda. Today, we get to pick and choose our news sources, and we listen to folks in our respective bubbles that shape and reinforce our opinions.

In areas that are not huge media outlets, local news delivered on television and in print, has a greater impact than in urban areas. A right-leaning media outlet, Sinclair Broadcast Group, controls much of this market and pushes must-broadcast segments that reflect its point of view. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair favored Trump and gave him much more positive exposure. Jared Kushner reportedly said that Sinclair’s stations, particularly in swing states such as Ohio and Florida, reached far more people than the national networks. Once again, she and I hear far different news reports, both before and after the election.

One post my Facebook challenger shared from The Blaze was Steve Scalise speaking out against gun control. According to the post, even though he had been shot, Scalise still believes that proposed laws will not prevent mass shootings and warns that any gun safety legislation will start us down a “slippery slope” that will hurt regular gun owners. In contrast, I share the beliefs of another member of Congress who was shot, Gabby Giffords. Giffords, with her husband Mark Kelly, formed Americans for Responsible Solutions and campaigns for gun control. So, there we differ.

Yes, my challenger owns a gun and I don’t. But when a friend questioned the part in her post in which Scalise thought it was a dangerous thing for the federal government to track “who buys guns, the number they buy and which type of firearm,” she admitted she wasn’t sure about that statement. She filled out papers to buy her gun at a gun show, waited for the paperwork to go through online, and was told that the purchaser information had to exactly match the information the regulatory site already had on file. She thought the government was already keeping track of these things and seemed fine with that.

On healthcare and the congressional efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, she admits there is no plan that will please every person in every way. Her main objection to Obamacare is the mandate because it forced her to pay more than she could afford for a policy from which her family derived no benefit until November because the deductible was so high. For her, Obamacare gives few choices. I can’t totally disagree here. The Affordable Care Act is flawed and needs to be improved. But for my granddaughter with cystic fibrosis, the fact that she can’t be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition means everything. I also view healthcare as a right for every American that should not be so costly. Maybe we agree a little bit here?

I hope my Facebook challenger forgives me for poking around on her page. What I found was a caring, decent, religious woman living a very different life from mine. We get our news from different sources and have different positions on many things. But there are two things we have in common. We both care about our friends and families and communities and want what is best for them. And, perhaps for different reasons, we both thought the gender non-conforming jeans skit on SNL was very funny.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall


by Laurie Levy
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