Change the Content of our Conversations

Emily Mediate ’15
Rhodes Scholar

My Facebook newsfeed seems to be constantly filled with generalized platitudes about the divisions plaguing the U.S. today. This sentiment spills over into daily life—when I ask my classmate how he is doing, he often responds: “Not good. Haven’t you seen the news today?” While I don’t disagree that our country’s polarization is disheartening and understand the perspective that recent actions by President Trump are worryingly marginalizing members of our communities, I struggle to believe that my friend’s entire existence is wrapped around the condition of America the country. This kind of thinking leads one to spiral into despair and helplessness about how to fix our country. It’s time for us to change the content of our conversations.
I encourage us all to focus on America the counties, cities, and states. It is in our own hands to enable local, small-scale change that will then turn the tide of America the country. If you think that there is racial tension in the country, befriend someone with a different background, listen to them talk about their experiences, and then ask what you can do to create a more welcoming environment. If you don’t understand why your co-worker or grandmother voted for Trump, talk to her about what she spends her days worrying about and how she hopes the new president will change that. If you see something on the news about the Affordable Care Act, talk to someone who is on subsidized health coverage about what seems to work and what is failing. If you want to see a more unified America, find the person who is most different from you and try to find common foundations.
We need to better understand one another. We are facing an epidemic of disconnection, leading to a world in which we construct others’ identities from insipid stereotypes and not ideas created in the crucible of personal experiences and values. It is time to transform our dialogue. It is time for us to rediscover our local spaces. The fabric of our country is not woven by the ways in which we are similar, but by our ability to understand one another and work together to improve a country that we love.
I am trying to bring this to fruition in my own life. As a first-year Rhodes scholar at Oxford, it is frustrating to feel thousands of miles away from my “local spaces,” studying academic theory in a foreign country. Yet there are two fronts to my efforts to reconnect. First, I have broadened my engagement in my temporary local space. I visit weekly with a 91-year old British woman in my community who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and I babysit for a lower-income family in east Oxford. Both have broadened the way in which I view the world and understand those who look, think, and act differently from me. Second, I have decided to return to the U.S. this summer to work for my state senator. I hope to connect with his constituents and better understand my fellow Coloradans. Though meager to start, I believe these efforts, and whatever ones you decide to take on, are critical to reknitting our communities back together.

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