How this started: A Conversation with my Right-wing flatmate
This site is the result of a lot I’ve learnt over the past 2 years but started with a 5am conversation with my flatmate in the first year of university.
On paper, we were completely different: he is a white, straight, cis male who identified as Right wing at the time, and I am the complete opposite.
I’d never really left my bubble before, of people who thought similarly to me. Most people I knew had had similar experiences and saw the world in a similar way. I thought I knew how to interact with the world and had created a nice image of what I thought everything meant.
But it was only coming to university, the bursting of that metaphorical bubble, and having to actually interact with people whose worldviews and life experiences were different to my own that taught me anything at all.
I was Left-wing and proudly so, but my beliefs were based on emotion.
I had never seen a flaw to that before – it felt right and that was all that mattered to me. I thought because of that, I had to be correct too, in believing what I believed. I didn’t understand how people could be Right-wing – I saw it as wrong and ‘bad’, whatever that meant.
And because most people around me thought similarly, I’d never had to properly defend my beliefs before, or challenge them, or myself.
I was just existing in my own construction of the world.
Somehow though, this conversation between a strong Left-winger and a strong Right-winger didn’t go the way I would’ve expected it to in any other situation.
It was easy – easier than so many conversations I’d had before or since. It felt good. It didn’t feel like we were discussing hard, divisive political opinions or ideologies.
And despite me being so anti-Right, weirdly enough, my flatmate’s opinions, in the context of how he explained them, made sense too. They weren’t ‘Right wing opinions’ – they were just how he had understood the world through his own subjective experiences of life.
I later realised how safe I felt in that conversation too – not only to question myself and my own opinions, doubt myself and my own construction of the world, but also question my flatmate’s constructions, without fear of a confrontation I couldn’t control.
I felt I could change my opinions if I had learnt more, or I could say I didn’t know enough to carry on a thread of conversation and wouldn’t be judged for that. I could be uncertain, and unsure, and not know, without that meaning I was any ‘less’.
It didn’t feel like we were talking to win or prove a point – we were both listening to each other, and not putting each other into boxes of what our opinions meant or creating a picture of each other’s identity.
But so often, this doesn’t happen. Conversations like this, between two polarised groups, turn bad. They become charged, with emotion, with the certainty of being right, with anger. And obviously, this is natural – beliefs come from experiences which we attach emotion to, so of course we’ll feel strongly. But when something becomes charged, our brain behaves differently, and we lose our ability to listen and be curious.
I realised a bit later that opinions weren’t certain. They were just made from experiences. And we all experience the world so differently – of course we’re going to make different conclusions about what these experiences mean.
But we live in a time where opinions are solidified into meaning.
Everything, every mistake we make is immortalised either on the Internet, or in others’ perceptions of what our opinions signify and what box we can therefore be put in – made into stamps of our identity that follow us everywhere, however much we may have changed.
But when this happens, when opinions mean more than we ever intended them to mean, and the threat of being ‘wrong’ or shamed follow us everywhere, what happens?
We either form our opinions into what we know is already accepted as correct without questioning alternatives (usually meaning we identify with one of two polarised groups), or we just don’t form an opinion at all, because we’re scared of the consequences. Either way, we conform.
But then how do we grow? How do we learn more if we can’t admit our ignorance? How do we entertain possibilities that aren’t something we already believe in, when our opinions just come from the opinion of the group? Why am I feeling scared to write this? Should I be scared that this will be controversial? I don’t know.
The psychiatrist Carl Jung talks a lot about Shadow selves – the parts of us that we repress because we’re scared of what the world will make of them.
Yet these things are parts of us too. And he talks about how the more they’re hidden, the more they manifest in our lives in ways we can’t control.
If opinions, borne either out of a lack of information, or ignorance, or doubt, or whatever we’ve experienced to get us to that point, aren’t allowed to be discussed constructively, they’ll do the same thing.
There are pros and cons to everything, and as much as there are pros to “cancelling” people who say the wrong things, it also means that these views, whether borne out of ignorance or hatred, will continue to exist, just under the surface. If we can’t address something, if people can’t ask why something is the way it is, if everything we don’t like is brushed under the carpet, it’ll just continue to fester there.
It creates a standard of perfection, rooted in moral superiority, that none of us can reach alone and creates a culture of shame.
What I thought made this conversation with my flatmate different was the space to be uncertain being a given, and the respect we held for each other. We already considered each other friends, and the conversation was based on trying to understand why someone believed such different things to ourselves.
Instead of a conversation that focused on identification with a political opinion, it was a conversation between people, first and foremost.
And however special this conversation is to me, it’s not unique.
All the time, conversations like this are happening, conversations where people respect each other enough to listen, even if the other person’s opinions may challenge even their most deeply held beliefs. Conversations between ‘opposites’ work – because for whatever reason, people have let go of the divides for a second.
And I really think it’s in those moments that change is being created. When we stop, and think of people as people, not a collection of identities or opinions.
There are pros and cons to everything. Including this site.
There’s a big chance this could turn into something where hate is vocalised more. But consider the alternative:
A space for people to be unsure, and question themselves, and learn more, and see why other people believe such different things. A place for people to change, and grow, without being assigned an identity they didn’t realise they were being assigned nor realise they were speaking for.
I don’t know if this is naïve, or just my hippie side coming out, but I do think that at heart, people don’t want to hate each other. I think hate comes from not having the space to understand other people’s experiences or ask questions about it and transferring these into a group identification.
This is all a huge problem and I don’t think it’ll be solved by this one site. It takes a big culture change, and a lot of reflection, from all of us. My opinions are still Left-wing, because my problem isn’t the opinions themselves. I don’t think we all need to believe the same things, I don’t advocate for a society of sameness. What I’ve learnt, and what I believe in right now, is that we should be allowed to change our opinions, and the value of not judging people on their opinions, however hard that may be. It’s conversations with people who have been different to me, who’ve shown me a different way of seeing the world, that have affected me the most.
So, I am not starting this with a Left agenda, or to convince people to become ‘Left’ – this is just a place for people to learn and question, and be unsure.
And that’s why this site is made from everyone – why it’s a collective site. Because it’s based on everyone sharing their experiences, and discussing, and learning, together.
Or message to get involved!