I read the 2016 US presidential election results this morning. After all these months of campaigning, one thing became clear in my mind: both sides failed.
In my mind, both sides failed because no one wanted to speak to the other side. Neighbors won’t talk to each other to even out differing opinions. Instead, self-created opinion bubble exist where its participants all believe they’re right.
This blog exists because I believe in connection. I believe in working to unite people who normally can’t understand each other.
We have a duty to reach out to the Other. We reach out to them because we must, not because we want to. I’m not sentimental at heart.
We are language-learners, and we have a duty to reach out to the Other in the way that we are able. Many of us, though, do not do our duty. We serve ourselves. On the one hand, it feels good to learn a language that is fun, whose culture appeals to us. On the other hand, we can learn the languages of those who live in our community.
Problems of walls
As a society, we have rejected the Other. We don’t want to talk to them. Even if we do, I’m not sure if we remember how.
The Left think it’s permissible to persecute those they perceive as racist. The Right think that it’s permissible to turn their back on newcomers. Liberals won’t hold a real discussion with racists, and Conservatives won’t sit down to come to an agreement with immigrants.
Walls are coming up all around among communities. We thought that the internet would bring the world together. In a geographic sense, it did. Immigrants and refugees came from all over thanks to the internet. In a communal sense, though, it did not. People got used to their bubble on the internet, and then were upset by seeing the brown and black people showing up in the park down the street.
People are no longer interested in doing the right thing. They want to keep others away so that they can remain comfortable in their own bubble. They want to enjoy the freedom of movement that got them where they are without allowing that same freedom of movement to others.
If we have something to give, we give it. I don’t believe in manipulating people’s emotions. Do the right thing because it’s right. If it makes you feel good to give, give. If it makes you feel bad to give, give anyway. Just like I say to my kids, my business is not your feelings. It’s to teach you to do the right thing, however you feel.
Language-lovers naturally bridge divides. They know the websites to go to so they can learn vocabulary and grammar quickly, making them able to reach out to their new neighbors in a matter of a few weeks.
They have the drive to learn languages. If you’re going to be learning a language anyway, why not use that for helping to bridge the communities around us by actually talking to them? This is better than most people who only speak about them.
Language lover: you have work to do.
We just went through an emotional election in the US. Much of the discourse is around discomfort around the Other. This American Life reported in a recent episode that residents of St Cloud, Minnesota need a break from the influx of Somalis. Stearns County, the home of St Cloud, voted overwhelmingly for Trump (59% vs 32% for Clinton).
All of the West is struggling with accepting the Other. We know about the recent emotional Brexit vote in the UK. Within months of opening itself to unlimited refugees, Germany quickly soured. The governments in the UK and France were pressured by their people so much that they turned their backs on children at the makeshift refugee camp at Calais. A nutty party in Denmark introduced a bill to ban speaking Arabic in schools—and is considering going after Turkish, as well.
Who are your neighbors? Who are the ones you don’t like? How do you bridge the divide?
Photo credit: @boetter / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)