The Man in the Mirror: Self-Evaluation with Michael Jackson
I was in a group fitness class at the gym earlier this week, sweating my way through a series of lunges and planks, when an old Michael Jackson song came blaring through the speakers:
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer.
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”
My arms were shaking from trying to hold a plank, my breath was labored, my whole body felt uncomfortable, and all I could think was: "This song is so relevant for right now."
It's relevant in American culture because society shifted on election day, and no matter who each of us voted for, the one thing we can all agree upon is this desire for change and for making the world better. Except, the methods we've been employing for making it better aren't working so well. From protests to hate speech and everything in between, both sides of the political spectrum have been pointing fingers, talking over each other and refusing to listen. Why? Because they feel the other side needs to change. The other side is the problem.
But according to the King of Pop, if we wish to make meaningful change, it starts with taking a little humble inventory of how we might be contributing to the problem. Yes, us. Gulp.
When I took my own inventory, here’s what I found: I have a shocking inability to listen to people with differing political opinions. Although I like to think of myself as open minded, when it comes to certain groups, I have a tendency to stereotype and make assumptions.
None of these were fun observations to make, but after reading a recent op-ed on Wired.com, I got a small clue as to why. The author, Mostafa El-Bermawy, discussed how the internet itself--everything from social media feeds to Google searches--is now curated to reflect individual preference.
Most of us already know that both Facebook and Instagram have an algorithm that selects posts to display in our feeds based on what it guesses we will be most interested in. If I frequently respond to pictures of my friends’ babies and vacation photos, then that is what will pop up most in my feed. The same goes if I respond to posts marked by #ImWithHer hashtags.
What I didn’t know was that Google has its own algorithm, as well. It filters individual searches based on location and previous clicks. If I tend to click on Fox News stories, then Google will recognize that and put Fox News at the top of my results.
The problem, says El-Bermawy, is that “Our digital social existence has turned into a huge echo chamber, where we mostly discuss similar views with like-minded peers and miserably fail to penetrate other social bubbles that are often misled by fear and xenophobia.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that. In the midst of all this division, I want to be a peacemaker. I want to learn how to listen. I want to step out of my echo chamber and into unexplored social bubbles.
To me, this is about more than accepting Trump as the next President. I don’t know that I will ever like Trump, nor do I believe I even need to. What I need is to be at peace with the people who elected him. To understand why they thought he would make a better president than Hillary and to dare to believe that that they were driven by forces other than blanket stereotypes, such as “all Trump supporters are racists and that’s why they voted for him.” That assumption simply can’t be true, even if my social media and Google news feed told me that it was.
I think we owe it to ourselves and to each other to withhold judgment and listen with open minds. After all, if my liberal news feed was telling me that about Trump supporters, then what was a conservative news feed telling Trump supporters about me? It goes both ways.
After realizing all of this, what I want more than anything is to learn how to listen--not so I can interject, but so I can understand. So I can hear people’s stories, recognize their humanity, and create what my friend likes to call a "third space," which represents grace. In the third space, we strip away all party affiliations. In the third space, everyone’s opinion is equally valid in spite of who they voted for.
Are you with me? Here are some ways to start:
Listen to yourself first, and figure out what’s going on inside you.
Journal, pray, go for a walk or a jog. Whatever it is you do to process emotions and feelings, go do that. Then consider the following questions: Ideally, what do you want this world to look like. What do you hope for most? What are you scared of? Whose opinions do you not understand? Are there any assumptions about them you are tempted to make? How might you bridge that gap of understanding?
Listen to this podcast by The Practice called “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.”
Seriously, it’s so good. They discuss the difference between angry activism and peacemaking. In both methods, the exact same message is being delivered, but through peacemaking we are able to create a healing presence in the world.
Listen to other people . . . on BOTH sides of the political spectrum.
I did this first through reading an article written by a Muslim woman who voted for Trump. The most pertinent issue for her is the spread of radical Islam, which she fears both Obama and Hillary weren’t doing enough to prevent. She was especially concerned by a group of WikiLeaks documents showing that the Clinton Foundation received multi-million dollar donation from the Qatar and Saudi Arabian governments--governments the author deemed “theocratic Muslim dictatorships” who failed to provide their citizens with basic human rights.
Next, I talked in person with my friend and coworker, J.R. Molina. He began by saying that Trump had been his last choice for Republican candidates, with Marco Rubio being his top pick. Yet, when it came down to choosing between Trump and Hillary, J.R.’s biggest concern was the fate of his family business.
“My family owns six restaurants in Florida, and all of the employees work full time, which means it’s costing my dad and uncle $700,000 a year to pay for their health insurance. It’s getting really tough because they can’t keep taking that much of a profit loss. It’s to the point where they are considering closing one full restaurant--not because business is slow, but because they can’t afford to continue paying for health care when rates go up again,” he said.
I spoke with another friend from work named Alex Leyva, a gay male, who went jogging several days after the election and wore a rainbow headband and bracelet to represent gay pride. While he was running, a truck drove by and the two men in the front seat flipped him off seemingly for no other reason than because he was gay. Alex fears more random displays of hostility are to come--because if the president-elect himself has made homophobic remarks, what’s to stop any of his followers from thinking the same behavior is acceptable?
After hearing these three stories, I realized how complex this whole campaign is, and how deeply personal. Allowing these personal differences to divide us isn’t the answer. Listening is. And listening starts with humility, which comes from doing like Michael Jackson and asking, “Could it be, really me?” Once you realize that yes it could, that realization opens you up to a revolutionary act. Want to know what it is?
Changing yourself instead of expecting other people to change first.
And if that’s too much to handle, try turning your speakers up loud and dancing to “Man in the Mirror.” Maybe just start with that.