The following story is a parable, written from my perspective. It takes about 10-15 minutes to read. If you stop before the very end, you will miss the primary point of the story.
It is an invitation for you to see this election through my eyes, and understand why I lost my mind and alienated family and friends along the way. In the story, I am describing myself - what I saw, what I felt, and what I believed. You are invited to try this perspective on like you would a new jacket. You don’t have to keep it on, but the story only really works if you’re wearing it.
Lastly, this story is not a perfect metaphor, so don’t get stuck in the mud trying to resolve every detail.
Imagine that you’re riding in a tour bus full of family and friends. You’re all heading to the same place, but there is some debate about which is the best route to take.
The driver has been ordered by his employer to follow the directions agreed on by a majority of passengers. This has been a long trip, eight years ago you followed a route that some passengers complained loudly about. But, in your eyes, the road feels safe, and there are enough signs of progress, so you don’t pay much attention.
The driver tells you that there’s a pretty significant split in the road ahead. It’s still a fair distance away, so you’ve got plenty of time to make up your mind. He says that you should all pay attention to the signs leading up to the fork, those signs will help you decide which route is best.
You’re seated on the left side of the bus (it’s an aisle seat of course, being in the middle feels safer to you). For the past eight years on this bus, you’ve mostly talked to people on your side, but since you’re in the aisle seat, you’ve also talked to a few people on the right.
As the bus approaches the first batch of signs, your gaze is fixed. With your head turned toward the windows on your side, it is quite difficult to talk to anyone except the people on your side. Whenever you have something to say to your friends on the right, you just kind of shout it out so they can hear you, but you don’t want to miss the signs so you keep watching the road. Your friends on the right are doing the exact same thing.
The first signs come into view. You see a description of both roads ahead. The left road is described as being very similar to the road you’re already on. To you, that sounds pretty good. The current road has been satisfactory, so more of the same doesn’t scare you. The signs describe the road to the right as different, but without much more detail. It’s not encouraging, but not exactly a deterrent.
Miles roll by. The signs describing the left road don’t change. “More of the same”, “safe”, “familiar” - all the things that seem pretty OK in your mind. There’s a few things about “tight turns” and “steep hills”, but those are just minor problems in your mind. The words describing the road to the right become…. weird. They don’t exactly warn of danger, but they look less professional, and the words aren’t the kind of words you’d expect to see on a road sign.
You raise your voice to toss a few jokes across the aisle about how weird it is to see signs written that way. Not too many people reply, but you weren’t really listening because there’s more signs ahead.
More miles roll by, and the signs change. Now, there’s less information about the road to the left, just mostly more warning about the road to the right. These warnings sound dangerous. Reading things like “falling rocks”, “heavy construction” and “bridge out ahead” make you wonder why the entire road isn’t blocked off.
Everyone around you, at least the people on your side of the bus, are all talking about these signs. You’re reading them together, and you’re all seeing the same thing. Everyone agrees that the driver should stay left at the fork ahead, the road to the right is, at best, strange and not at all safe. Since your gaze is still locked on the signs, and everyone is talking at once, you raise your voice even louder as you try to communicate with the people across the aisle.
What they shout back isn’t at all what you expect.
The folks on the right are talking loudly about the road to the left. But it’s not new information. They’re talking about things we saw on signs 10 miles ago. They’re talking about how dangerous those tight turns and steep hills are gonna be. Stranger still, they don’t barely acknowledge the falling rocks, or heavy construction that, according to the signs you’ve read, lie on the road to the right. It’s as if they haven’t been even listening to you, or reading the signs at all.
You try to engage in a conversation as you stare out the left, and they stare out the right. It’s not a great way to talk, you both have to shout to be heard. You acknowledge that the road to the left isn’t perfect, but mostly you just point out but how much worse the road to the right is going to be. These conversations go nowhere, of course, but you hold out hope that these people will start paying closer attention.
During the last 10 mile stretch, the signs could not be more clear. There are very few words about the road to the left at all. Nearly everything on the signs is big bold red letters warning about the road to the right. The warnings are not simply concerning, they are terrifying.
“Warning - Cliff Ahead - Stay Left”.
When you, and all the other folks on the left read those words, you all panic. You yell loudly, then you scream. But the folks on the right keep yelling the same thing they’ve been yelling all along. “TIGHT TURNS” they yell. “STEEP HILLS” they cry out.
You lose your mind, and begin shouting.
“NOBODY CARES ABOUT THAT, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
Of course nobody REALLY knows what lies ahead on either side, but the signs have been very clear about which path is safer. That the folks on the right seem oblivious to this is making you lose your mind.
You start to question if these people are actually stupid enough to think the road to the left is dangerous. Even when you hear the occasional concern about the road to the right, it seems that they still plan on voting for that path anyway.
And you lose your mind a little more.
You’re in crazy town. Up is down, forward is backward. And the people you used to respect are seemingly right at home in this new bizarro world. They might as well be strangers.
You’re scared for your life, you’re scared for the lives of your friends. But mostly, you’re just angry. So you scream at them, you insult their intelligence. You accuse them of being complicit in the kind of ignorance that gets people killed.
And still they don’t listen. They chant “TIGHT TURNS” and “STEEP HILLS” as if they’re in some kind of cult.
Some of them, mostly those in aisle seats are not happy. They complain.
“What a terrible set of choices we have!” they say.
And you lose your mind a bit more. How can they compare the choices ahead? You’ve seen nothing about the road to the left would scare you enough to even consider the road to the right. But these people that you thought you knew seem hell bent on picking that road anyway.
You’re all still staring out the windows in a dead panic. You’re closest to the people on your side, so you stop shouting across the aisle for a bit, and talk with them. You take some comfort in the fact that it seems like more people want to go left than want to go right.
But you’re still angry that ANYBODY would take a chance on the road to the right. How could a person with an once of intelligence think that was responsible?
Angry as you are, but with the assurance of numbers on your side, you continue to yell and scream, if only to prove a point. If those idiots on the right side are going to vote right, you want them to know they’re going to pay for it. You want them to feel bad about their irresponsibility. You know they may never forgive you, but as long as you end up on the safe road to the left, you can deal with that.
Driving off a cliff with people who still like you is a far less desirable outcome than driving on a curvy road with people that don’t.
The fork approaches. You are nearly smug with certainty that most people on the bus will vote left, so you tighten your seatbelt and watch. The people on your side have already started cheering. As you get closer to the fork, the driver shifts to the right lane. Confused, you ask the driver why. He tells you that most people are asking him to head right.
You start freaking out. You wait for the inevitable shift back into the left lane, but it doesn’t happen…. and it doesn’t happen…. and suddenly, before you can shout a final warning, the bus passes the fork, heading down the road to the right. It’s too late. And the people on the bus you thought you knew, are now complete strangers.
You’re numb. You’re confused. Mostly, you’re very, very angry. It’s not a productive anger. It’s rage. Deep, unholy rage. You’re angry at all the people on the right who have played so carelessly with the lives of every single person on that bus. You’re angry that they didn’t listen to you as you screamed out the warnings from the signs you were reading.
And now, there is no going back.
Arguments ensue. Accusations fly. You can’t handle it, your emotions are shot, so you retreat into yourself for a few days.
As the numbness fades, you stop watching the window and look around the bus. For the first time in a long time you’re actually looking at people instead of words on a sign. You find some room in your heart to talk, instead of shouting.
You strike up conversations with people you’ve only been shouting warnings at. You make the difficult choice to ask and listen, rather than just telling and accusing.
As you listen, a simple truth becomes clear.
There is something you’ve been missing, something that could have changed everything if you’d known it 30 miles ago.
The signs were different.
From the moment the driver told you about the signs, you assumed that the signs on either side of the bus said the same thing, the same way. But the signs weren’t the same, not even a little bit.
The warnings you read were written in big bold red letters. But their signs had none of those warnings, at least not written that way. Instead, they were reading about the benefits of the road to the right, written in big bold green letters. Those warnings you saw in big red letters were only printed in small fine print at the bottom of their signs. The color of that fine print was so light it was very hard to read. Every time you shouted about what you were reading, they looked at that fine print and wondered why you were being so irrational.
Your signs were opposites. What you saw in warnings, they saw in fine print, and vice versa.
They didn’t understand how you could be so concerned about the fine print that was barely readable, yet completely unconcerned about warnings in big bold red letters. And you didn’t understand how they could be so concerned about the fine print that was barely readable, yet completely unconcerned about warnings in big bold red letters.
The mistake you made was telling people what you saw without asking them what they were seeing. You assumed that they saw the warnings that you did, which they did, but you also assumed they were seeing those warnings displayed in the same way, which they were not.
You told, shouted, and screamed, but you didn’t ask, listen and convince.
So now you’re all stuck on a bus heading down the road to the right of the fork. Just because the road hasn’t ended doesn’t mean that the warnings weren’t true. They might be, time will tell. But it also doesn’t mean that everyone who voted for this path was being careless in the way you thought they were.
Their signs were very different, and they saw no reason to panic as you did. That doesn’t make them right. But it does mean that all your screaming didn’t work. You were shouting what you were reading without asking what they were reading. You were accusing them of being careless without finding out why they weren’t scared.
The saddest part about it all is that if you had just been talking to people instead of shouting about what you read on the signs, you might have persuaded a few people.
But even if you didn’t convince a single person, at least you could have agreed on the fact that the signs were saying VERY different things. They would have understood your fear instead of thinking that you were being irrational. And you wouldn’t have questioned their sanity because you’d have realized why they weren’t scared, at least not as scared as you were.
One thing is for certain. You are all stuck on that bus, and you’re all going to bear the consequences of the choice that was made, albeit in different ways. But if and when the proverbial shit hits the fan, you’re gonna need more than the people on your side to get out of it.
So you’d better start talking with, and stop shouting at, the people you might need on your side if that day comes.