Social media is one warped place these days. Ain’t no one on Facebook who doesn’t have an opinion and I, for one, think that’s great. We should care what’s happening in the world around us, even if we don’t share the same vision. It shows we’re engaged, that we’re paying attention, and that we recognize our own stake in the matter.
But here’s what’s not helping: comparing apples to oranges in an attempt to discredit our opposition.
I’ve seen a lot of memes and virtual pleas over the past few days chiding Americans for their support of one group over another. Among the most popular this week is, Why do we care more about refugees than we do about veterans?
The message here is not hard to decode. There’s a direct implication that those who have expressed opposition to the President’s recent executive order on travel and immigration clearly must not care much about those within our borders. The veterans. The patriots. Our own.
But this is simply not true. And neither are any of the false equivalency arguments I’ve read online.
False equivalencies are a useless and convenient segway around real and complicated issues. Another way to avoid really listening to those we disagree with, because, let’s face it: listening is hard. It involves shutting up, silencing our retorts, letting thoughts hang in uncertainty, and tempering our egos. If we cared as much about learning to listen as we did about watching TV or taking selfies…. (wait, see what I just did right there? That’s a false equivalency. You can learn to be a better listener AND still take selfies!)
Just because people show compassion to one group doesn’t limit or negate their compassion to another. You can be concerned about innocent people fleeing from war torn countries AND want to ensure our veterans are properly cared for. In fact, if you care about the plight of refugees, I’d argue you’re even more likely to care about the plight of veterans. It shows you’re willing to look out for your fellow mankind.
That’s the thing about compassion in general. It’s not an either/or. It’s an AND. I can have compassion for minorities, and the LGBTQ community, and children with cancer, and endangered animals, and the environment, and refugees, AND veterans. I can want success and jobs and stability and home ownership and health insurance for people in my town, in the midwest, AND on the coast. I can want justice for the loss of innocent lives AND fully support law enforcement. I can oppose war AND still bow in deference to the sacrifices of our armed service members.
Like many people, my heart is so big and so hard working that it can hold compassion for all these groups. And more. That’s how compassion works. It’s based on the notion of abundance, not scarcity; inclusivity, not exclusivity.
When we accuse people of caring about one thing but not another based on what they do or don’t post online, we are not helping to open up a dialogue. In fact, we are deflecting away from one. What an incredible opportunity we have right now to talk to one another — to steer away from black and white thinking and into the reality of nuance. If there’s one thing that might ensure America is made great again, I wager it’s this: our willingness to engage in nuanced discourse. To talk specifics, not generalities.
So, I implore you (without chiding), let’s put down the apples and oranges and abandon the myth that our empathy is inherently partisan. It’s time to start recognizing our capacity for wide-reaching, expansive compassion instead. We can disagree AND still be friends.