We all live in our echo chambers but travel can seat us together with people from a different chamber. I had 90 minutes on a 6:00 AM flight to Seattle with a Trump supporter willing to talk. It took just a few opening sentences of “where are you traveling, and where do you live”, to figure out I was dealing with a person with a conservative bend.
I have nothing against conservative principles, life is too short to quibble over if God makes the rules for everyone, and if we should have small or large government, so I didn’t go there. But when he talked about the state of health and elder care for his in-laws (he was going to Florida to care for them for a while) I saw an opening to ask him a few questions that had to do with conservative policy making (i.e. no government supported healthcare). When he mentioned socialism in connection with my country of birth, the Netherlands, I enlightened him on social-democratic policies and the pros and cons of being taken care of from cradle to grave. In return he uttered platitudes representing his view on why things were awry in the USA: “people on welfare are lazy and need to get a job!” and “we need to give the jobs to Americans.” I couldn’t help myself and had to insert data about the relative small amount the government is spending on welfare recipients and the fact that when we give jobs to Americans in chicken processing plants, they quit after a day. He showed an awkward smile and admitted that certain jobs are just not fit for “Americans”.
I admitted to him it was hard to get facts based on truth by listening to the news and to people who are running for office. Did he get his info from FoxNews, I asked. He nodded, but added, “My wife listens to NPR.” He knew the difference. I asked if he ever watched the Newshour on PBS and explained that they try to present both sides of the political spectrum in discussions about current issues. I gave him credit for being an educated person who could think for himself (he liked that) and encouraged him to inform himself. “It’s hard”, I said, “to get the full scope of the issues in this complex world. It’s easier to believe the group with which you associate. He agreed that people gravitate to the familiar and stick with how they’re raised. "It's easier", he admitted. We parted with a friendly smile.
Can you make a difference when you talk with people from a different persuasion? Can you find common ground and hope the other will change their way of seeing things?
Travel to places where people see and believe radically different viewpoints shake up my complacency, but hasn’t changed my mind about human rights, altered my views on human nature, nor extinguished my hopes for a saner world. Actually, travel has made me more of a believer in the goodwill of ordinary people. Those in power do the damage: they manipulate ordinary people with promises they can’t keep and take advantage of the comfort-zone factor to which we’re all subject.
The Primaries have spoken. It’s gonna be a hard road to unseat the Republican congressional representative from my district. It’ll take a lot of talks like I had on the way to Seattle.
How do you break out of your comfort zone? Let’s have a discussion!