Character Flaws & the Election: A Lesson in Empathy

20170226_144759I’ve always had a hard time writing flawed characters. Flaws were, to my goody-two-shoes brain, hard to write in a genuine way. I’ve rammed against this door, but I was never clever enough to pick the lock.

The election picked the lock for me.

I’m not going to make any statements about particular policies or politicians. I’m thinking about the citizens who strongly believe in their causes. There can be villains and heroes on both sides of an issue; it all depends on how they choose to support their views, how they respond when they meet adversity, and whether they pursue truth over agenda.

I saw people I deeply disagree with be courageous and honest, while people I generally agreed with were brutal and scheming, and vice versa. The issue in question made no difference. When such strong feelings rise to the surface, it’s all about character.

I saw fearful people. Some were blindly reactionary and violent, while others sat back and weighed their options before commenting. Gut instincts rose to the surface, cutting through those facade-like filters that people hide behind.

Witnessing human nature roar in such a dramatic way was enlightening. All I needed to do was turn the knob and open the door. I asked why. Why is this the hill that they’ve chosen to die on? What personal history makes these issues so deeply important to them? Why do they communicate their views the way that they do?

For me, 2016 was an exercise in empathy.

When you cut to the root cause of people’s words and actions, you can step out away from your own filters, set perceptions, and expectations. You see them for who they are and why they are. To write genuine character flaws, you don’t need to agree. You need to observe, and you need to care.

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