One of the hallmarks of teenagers is the line “you could never understand,” hurled at their parents to make a clear distinction between their world and that of adults. I think it is appropriate at that age to try to carve out a niche for oneself that makes one stand apart from parents. However appropriate for teenagers, the stance seems to have seeped its way into American life. There it causes much unnecessary division because it cuts off conversation and sends people into opposing corners, ready for a fight.
It is true that my particular experiences limit my understanding of the experiences of many other people. For example, I have no idea what it would be like to be a man. Similarly, I have no idea how anyone could believe that Donald Trump was sent by God to save the United States. But if I just park myself in the corner marked “female Donald Trump opponent” and maintain that neither a man nor a Donald Trump supporter could ever understand me, I am stuck listening to my own limited thoughts.
One of my favorite books in recent years was written by Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley called Strangers In Their Own Land. Hochschild realized that she lived in a liberal “bubble” and had no understanding of conservative America. She set out to correct that by spending months really getting to know people in Louisiana whose views were polar opposites to her own. She wrote with compassion and concern about the world so different from her own. She was willing to get past the idea that she could never understand. So did they. It is a stance worth taking, particularly now as the American obsessive focus on self and slights at every turn threatens to drive us even further apart.