On political labels: Stop it already! #Opinion #HuffingtonPost

Note: This piece was written by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoonfor Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here: https://goo.gl/zWT2a9

I just read an article about how the person of the year in India is the ‘Bhakt’. You obviously know that the ‘Bhakt’ they refer to is any supporter of Narendra Modi or his policies, be it someone who casually believes PM Modi is right about a thing (eg. Demonitization) or that he is right about everything (e.g. 2002).

Now let me make it clear at the outset: I am not a political person and don’t skew either right or left, I prefer to stay centered, and measure every political decision on merit. So the reason I write this is not so much that I’m in love with Modi but that I find us to be in a tricky time in our history where somehow everything needs to be labeled either one extreme or the other… and I find that to be a dangerous trend.

So you are either a Bhakt or a Libtard.. you can’t be a person who can be both pro-Demonitization for any reason whatsoever and yet have issues with other government policies. You are either an AAPtard or a Sanghi.. you can’t be a person who both finds Arvind Kejriwal’s work admirable but has an issue with his outbursts. You are either a Patriot or Anti-National.. you can’t be a person who both loves his/her country dearly but finds it strange that he/she has to prove it in a movie theater.

And these labels aren’t exclusive to India. You can either shut up about equal rights or be called a Feminazi, you are either Islamophobic or you are a true American, you are either white or you are an immigrant.. you are either a Hilary supporter or a racist. Yes, the pendulum swings both ways.

There is just no room left in the discourse for a ‘middle’.. in fact, the truth is that there is no room left for discourse. Everyone so easily labels each other with such broad strokes today that if it weren’t so casual, it would be horrifying. There is no empathy, no reasoning, no attempt to understand the other side.. and no other side for all practical purpose. It’s my way… or the wrong way. Either you think like my friends and me, or you’re dumb, illiterate, clueless or a troll.

Why are we reducing complex human beings to labels with such knee-jerk? Why does any one opinion become greater than the sum of the entire humanity of a person? Why are we getting so emotional that we are dismissing the emotions of real human beings (and not just user IDs) who may well have the same value system but simply a different perspective?

The memes may be hilarious, the gifs may make us laugh out loud, but when we constantly put down people because we can’t fathom their humanity from the high horses we sit on.. those people are bound to react in ways we may not see coming. The Alt Right is a child of this attitude, Trump won because we didn’t even consider his supporters as real people (just ‘trolls’), and everything that’s happening in Europe suggests that if we don’t start mending our mind sets, the worst is yet to come.

I don’t mean to sound preachy but the simple solution is empathy. Here’s what I staunchly believe in: Maybe instead of labelling people, we can start understanding them. Instead of dismissing the opinions of the other side, we can start engaging with it. Instead of calling everyone with a contradictory view a ‘troll’, we can start a discourse. The truth is, people are always only just a few well-meaning conversations away from broadening their perspectives, but for that, we need to first stop judging them with labels.

Yes, it won’t be easy; yes, not everyone wants to discuss or debate; and yes, some people will never change their hard-line stances… but we have seen what labels have accomplished so far, perhaps it’s time to try out empathy.

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Liked/disliked the piece? Leave your comments below!
Note: This interview first appeared in Huffington Post on December 13, 2016.
Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/nikhil-taneja-/the-humanity-of-bhakts-and-libtards_a_21625564/
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


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