The Importance of Understanding

Close up on a man and a woman holding hands at a wooden table

Close up on a man and a woman holding hands at a wooden table

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Growing up, I considered myself a liberal.

As an actress, I was relaxed and inspired by theater. I felt confident when performing, and I attribute that to the support of my friends. Theater friendships involve a huge amount of support. Because many of us were known as quirky or strange, the auditorium was a place we could all band together to establish togetherness and understanding.

My theater friends were liberal. Rehearsal made for a nice place to rant about the injustice we saw in the world. We cried over fear and sadness due to a seeming epidemic of school shootings, and we reminded our LGBT cast members of their worth. These beliefs—and the empathy I felt regarding them—made me positive I was liberal.

I blamed conservatives for my country’s problems. Conservatives composed the NRA, and I was under the impression that the NRA intended to thwart all weapon restrictions. Therefore, I blamed the organization and conservatives when I saw news of a shooting. Every time I got together with a close friend, I was reminded of his conservative family’s temporary estrangement of him upon discovering his homosexuality.

How could I not be liberal? To me, to be liberal meant to have a heart. Republicans frustrated me. I never understood their points of view, and I never wanted to.

As a freshman at The University of Minnesota, things changed for me. I met conservative individuals; I befriended them without knowing their political affiliations. After finding out, I felt more inclined to talk politics with my conservative friends. At times, we would argue and I felt proud of my arguments. Most of the time, however, something happened that surprised me: I felt myself unable to respond to the majority of arguments. Even more strangely, I actually agreed with them.

Over time, I began to realize that I had always held a countless number of conservative beliefs. My empathy for other people never ceased, but I became aware of different ways to channel that empathy. I felt proud of my newly-discovered conservatism, and I no longer saw conservatives as the enemy. Rather, I saw them as misunderstood by Democrats and misrepresented by a handful of corrupt politicians. I befriended Republicans, realizing many of them were some of the kindest people I had ever met.

Every day on my liberal campus, I heard conservatives referred to as “heartless,” “selfish,” and “idiotic.” Many of these judgments came from people claiming to have the hugest of hearts. I remembered feeling the way they did years ago, but I could not help but wonder: Do Republicans and Democrats alike truly feel empathy for others or merely for others with their same agendas?

Although I am more exposed to it on the left due to the political makeup of The University of Minnesota, hypocrisy and judgment exist on both sides of the political spectrum. As we move toward the inauguration of our controversial President, I plead with our Democratic readers to ponder why we Republicans care about the issues we do, and likewise for my fellow Republicans to think about why Democrats believe what they do. If there is anything my complete party-swap taught me, it is that as much as we would like to think we know everything there is to know, we actually couldn’t be farther from understanding one another.