I believe in the importance of stories – both the stories around us and our own personal stories.
I am part of a small and tightknit group of three friends for whom I would do anything. Rachel is a devout Christian, raised in rural Southern Virginia, and is studying chemical engineering. Sarah is an atheist, who lives in Chapel Hill, and tends to be very outspoken about her liberal viewpoints which often surface as a polysci-major. Then you have myself – a lifelong Presbyterian, born in Norfolk, Virginia alongside the ocean, and someone who tends to more liberal beliefs. Despite our closeness and diversity of upbringings and views, two topics were always off the table for Rachel: religion and politics.
I remember three nights after the presidential election – Rachel had come into my room to talk to me about some homework and the topic of our reaction to the election results came up. After a moment of discussion, Rachel said to me, “You know, I didn’t vote…but if I had, I probably would’ve voted for Trump”. Rachel was raised in a small town outside of Bristol, Virginia; Sarah and I had gone back home with Rachel and stayed at her house for the ‘Battle at Bristol’. While Rachel never espoused her views on the election before, I had no doubt how she would vote. It wasn’t until this night that I had let myself understand why this person that I respected would vote for someone who I had thought delegitimized himself time and again. Sarah and I had seen the downtrodden and depressed state of her hometown. A large DuPont facility was the main employer. The factory had to cut back on employment when times were tough and manufacturing was low. That night in my room, Rachel told me how her family hadn’t seen a doctor in over five years because they couldn’t afford insurance – private or through Obamacare – and her family made too much to be on Medicare. I watched tears well up in her eyes when she recounted how her own mental illnesses were not addressed until halfway through her freshman year at Tech and her fears that her younger sister might need – yet cannot receive – the same help.
While these hard times occurred under Obama and as a result of his policies, they were symptomatic of larger issues. People who had grown up with stories similar to Rachel’s felt unheard and without a voice. A voice they found in the reactionary opposition of Trump.
I think that we have forgotten how to listen to stories and how to tell our own stories. I have seen people who cordoned themselves off so that they might not hear certain stories. Mass ‘unfriendings’ on Facebook leaving echo chambers of homogenous thought behind. When we disagree with someone’s point of view, our first priority should not be to negate their perspective no matter how flawed we perceive it to be. I believe that every person has a genuine point of view that has been shaped and molded by the years of their life on this Earth. To denounce their opinion and point of view is to call those experiences fake and the life they have so far led a lie.
That encounter was the first time I had vowed to seek to understand the impact of someone’s story. I believe that if we want to see positive change in our country and even the world, then we must open our ears to the stories of the people poised to help. We must listen to stories to collectively shape a future narrative.