Reaching Out to our Enemies
Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon
Week 8: October 29, 2018
Musician, author, and activist Daryl Davis spoke at the annual Environmental Studies symposium at Lewis & Clark this week. Daryl has spent years befriending Klu Klux Klan members and has contributed to at least 200 of them dropping out of the Klan. Daryl’s philosophy of engaging with our enemies is deeply vital to environmental studies.
One of Daryl’s claims is that ignorance breeds fear, that fear breeds hatred, and that hatred breeds destruction. Since I first learned about the existence of the KKK, I was afraid. I do not like thinking about the KKK because the history and the practices behind the klan freak me out. It scared me to hear about Daryl’s personal attendance at KKK rallies and cross burnings. I have never addressed my fear and dislike of the KKK, which makes it so that I never changed my point of view on them, and I just tried to keep them out of mind. Daryl’s life story gave me a new perspective on the type of people that join extremist groups such as the KKK. People who are so extreme in their ideologies are, for the most part, ignorant, and this is something that can be worked on. While ignorance is not an excuse for violent and hateful behavior whatsoever, it is something that we can try to change. This is what Daryl Davis does. He personally befriends KKK members and engages in conversation with them. He emphasizes the importance of setting a precedent for respect in these conversations.
If you’d like to learn more about Daryl Davis’s story, watch his TED talk.
Photograph from Pexels.com
In the controversial topic of climate change, the opposition seems to be placed between two political identities: the left and the right, or liberal and conservative, whatever you want to distinguish it as. Why should something related to the environment be split between political identities? I think that this divide creates more of a stubbornness on both sides, because not only are people wanting to fight for their own beliefs, but there is already a hatred of the other sides’ political identity.
It is important to be open and willing to discuss with people who disagree with you. We need to have a discussion about climate change so that those who disagree with us have the opportunity to learn from rather than despise our perspective. It is important to give your adversary a platform and challenge them so that we can have the opportunity to teach them about our perspective and opinions. If we set up a respectful environment in which both sides feel they have an opportunity to voice their opinions, we are no longer antagonizing each other. From here, change can blossom.
The New York Times article, “The Rich White Civil War,” discusses the two most extreme ends of the political spectrum. The article says that people in these groups are the whitest, richest, and most politically active people in America. Why do we assume that people who disagree with us are our enemy? We are convinced that there are two modes of thought, two political parties, and two ways of thinking. This is wrong. The “exhausted majority” of America is in between these two groups, and most of us aren’t really fully sure of what we believe in or what we are willing to fight for. Lets stop antagonizing those who disagree with us, because the truth is, we will be more willing to agree if we are open to each other’s opinions and willing to communicate in the right environment.
If we stop the “you’re wrong, I’m right” mindset and start communicating, we will no longer be so polarized and offensive, and maybe we can start looking at facts rather than political identities. How are we supposed to solve the problem of climate change if we do not communicate with those who do not believe in its existence? Their view, as Daryl puts it, will fester. As leaders, we have the responsibility to engage with people who we disagree with and to educate them.