Sunday, April 23, 2017

Should I have engaged "The Silent Majority"?

It was a lovely October evening. I was on the subway coming home from work. I was on the sixth avenue line which meant I travelled under Rockefeller Center, where the group of people got on and talked loudly, totally upsetting my commute. These people didn't know where they were going or how to get there, but they didn't stop to find a map. They loudly complained that the trains weren't labelled well.
Their accents sounded different, rather, they sounded neither like working class New Yorkers nor teenagers who are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize they are upsetting the commute for everyone else. Yes, most New Yorkers hold public conversations at a level that can be ignored, because to do otherwise is to encourage interruption or interference, connection. I'm not sure why, but I do know that after taking subways to and from work for almost 20 years, we spend a quality amount of time trying to ignore one another.
Why is this? I think it's because we can't possibly acknowledge everyone, and we also know that we don't want to. I don't know everyone and my commute is time for me that I steal out of the day. At the worst all I can do is contemplate the day. If I'm lucky I can lose myself in whatever I'm reading.

But not that day. That evening these people got on and when I realized they broke the social barrier of the Mass Transit system of New York City (we ignore you because we can; if we can't, you're being rude) I looked up to see who they were.
They were holding signs. They had just come from a march or a protest, but before I could feel a sense of comaraderie, I realized their signs said "Make America Great Again."

I returned to my book. I don't want to know these people. They're going to lose the election and then they will spend 4 years bitching and moaning about it, I thought to myself.
Thankfully, they got off at Rockefeller Center, with a boisterous clamor as they did so. One of them, probably a son, given the range of ages in the group, held his small "Make American Great Again" sign for us to see as they climbed the stairs to the exit.
There was a young woman sitting next to me, probably my junior by about 8 years. She and I looked at each other with relief as silence returned to the train, and smiled.

"Idiots," she said to me, at the right volume for strangers talking to each other, and I smiled my agreement and nodded.
We did not say anything else to each other. She was reading a magazine. I was reading a book. We were relieved when the comforting sounds of the subway returned to drown our lives.

I wondered that evening, after they got off the train. If I should have talked to them, found out what they thought and why they thought it. We certainly hadn't had enough time to have a meaningful discussion, but I could have said something.
The problem is, that something I would have said, on that day, as I returned home from my job as a public librarian, AKA a civil servant who depends upon tax revenue for her job and the institution for which I work, to continue, probably would have been
"You do realize that as soon as Rump gets into office, you're going to be thrown under the bus, right?"

That is not a way to build alliances, even I know that.
But what could I have said to them? Given that all I wanted to say was "you're being rude because we are all trying our best to ignore each other, and you are PREVENTING that from happening." what good would that have done? Perhaps they came from a part of the world where strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, though I don't imagine walking up to a friend and saying "there are more of us than there are of you and you are going to lose," is a way of making friends. Should I have approached them and asked where they were from? How long they were in New York for? How humiliating would it have been for me if I learned they came from Nassau County and found the city as foreign a place as Timbuktu?

Every story has a perspective. Everyone brings their own story to whatever story they hear, and to whatever facts they encounter. How can we do otherwise? Someone once told me that he was the product of his experiences, and eventually I found that tiresome, because all he was saying was "I have my story and the facts I gather are fit into that storyline so that it continues to make sense;" in this context, it was "all women are fucking me over and I assume that every woman I meet will eventually start lying to me," and of course he didn't trust women at all because he was waiting for each of them to fuck him over, eventually to disappoint him to badly that it was better not to try to trust any of them.

This is why we need to learn about other perspectives as we encounter the world, particularly when we meet people who (we believe) should share our perspective but don't. A coworker once described people as crazy, and it took some time for me to realize that she just meant she didn't understand how they could think the way they did. I imagine she didn't try to understand their perspective, because she couldn't imagine a different one from her own.


I am a great believer in the power of story. The stories we tell ourselves inform our lives and shape how we interact with people. That's why The Rug won, because he told people who felt that they were losing the American Dream not only that they were, but that they were losing because of them, the illegal immigrants, and the elites.
Can we understand one another better if we actually listen to what the other side is saying? Perhaps but not if our first response is "what you think is completely stupid and you must understand why what I think is the right way.
The conversation that would follow would certainly last longer than 3 stops on the sixth avenue line.

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