Saying What Everyone’s Thinking

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

When people defend the outrageous statements of Donald Trump, they often say, “He’s just saying what everybody’s thinking.” So no apologies, he must be legit.

 

Okay, so obviously this is not true. Trump is not saying what everybody is thinking. I am a bona fide member of “everybody”, and I don’t think just about any of the disgusting things Trump says about women or immigrants or President Obama.

The list of things Trump says that I don’t think is too long to really go into it.

But.

The point that Trump is speaking what many people leave unspoken is important.

Because, to be sure, SOME people do think the vile things that Trump says. There are more than a few Americans with racist, sexist, and/or xenophobic ideas swimming around in their heads.

And those who disagree with Trump are not off the hook. EVERYBODY really and truly does think simplistic, uncharitable, and even reprehensible thoughts about other people, sometimes.

I’m personally guilty of mentally slandering friends, neighbors, family members, politicians, lots of people. I conflate their motivations with my insecurities. I reduce their humanity to whatever small-minded mischaracterization meets my self-centered needs at the moment. I can be a real jerk when I sit around talking to myself about others.

And you are guilty of this bad habit, too. I mean, right? You think wrong-headed stuff, sometimes.

Therefore, let’s all just acknowledge that it is right and good that WE DON’T SAY ALL THE STUPID STUFF WE THINK.

Sometimes we hold back because of wisdom. Maybe I am personally mature enough to hold my tongue, take a deep breath, and realize that in my mind I was jumping to conclusions, or that I must be unaware of somebody else’s side of the story. Maybe I’m wise enough to remember that speaking as harshly as I sometimes think would do real harm to a person, or sabotage my ability to work well in a situation.

But also, regardless of my personal smarts about whether and how to express what’s on my mind, I am kept in line by the social fabric. My upbringing, my community of friends and family, my church, my neighborhood association, my teachers and coaches over the years, my professional colleagues – these folks create a web of accountability that doesn’t let me just get away with being an asshole.

When I do say something out loud that’s short-sighted, untrue or unfair, I understand that it is in everyone’s best interest, especially my own, to clarify my intentions, acknowledge when I’m wrong, and apologize.

The problem with Trump is not merely that he is ‘saying what people are thinking’, giving voice to some people’s crummy ideas.

Trump is encouraging people to reject/abandon wisdom and accountability, and to revel/wallow in the muck of degenerate social nastiness. He is encouraging people to wantonly fling the basest expressions of their fears, prejudice and viciousness WITHOUT STOPPING TO THINK about how things they say might be untrue and damaging, to individuals, communities, our nation and the whole world.

In fact, Trump’s message seems to be, “It doesn’t matter if what you think is true or false, helpful or harmful. If you’re thinking it, and I’m saying it, you’re right.” So never back down.

The proper counter-example to Trump’s model of anti-community, willful misunderstanding, is not what many people call ‘political correctness.’ When people use the phrase ‘political correctness’ they are referring to a ‘walking on eggshells’ framework of social niceties, based on arbitrary standards of code-speech. It’s a label people apply when somebody speaks in a way that somebody else perceives as inauthentic or pandering.

The proper response to Trump is not political correctness, per se. It is for all people to express themselves with RESPECT and HUMILITY.

Trump’s statements are wrong, but he’ll never admit it. Opponents of Trump can show that we follow a different path by recognizing our own capacity for error and the limitations of our understanding of other people, coupled with a desire to understand people and issues more deeply over time.

So…

  • I may be tempted to label a person or a group of people, but I recognize that my assumptions and bias might be wrong.
  • I may be tempted to dismiss a person or a group of people as unimportant, but when I pause in my judgment I know my humanity is tied to theirs.
  • I may be tempted to vilify another person or group of people, but I am curious to know the stories and the paths that led to whatever troubling choices I observe them making.
  • I may be tempted to see a person or a group of people according to a dehumanizing caricature, but I know my grandmother would have invited them to dinner and hugged them when they walked in the door, so I’ll give that a try and see what happens.

If I focus on humility and respect, if I check my cruel impulses and cloudy judgment, I might never hear anybody say I was ‘speaking what they were thinking.’

But somebody might say of me, “There’s a guy who thinks about what he’s going to say before he speaks.”

 

 

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