I saw the movie Arrival last night. It's one of those movies, for me at least, where I was emotionally moved for most of it, but it wasn't until the credits started rolling that I actually cried. I don't know why this happens to me sometimes; it's sort of like I'm having too many emotions to fully handle, and then the movie ends and I feel like I've missed my chance to let it out, so it all comes tumbling out in a series of quick exhalations and attempts to stay quiet as tears roll down my face.
Arrival is a gorgeous movie—beautifully shot, a great script, and Amy Adams is wonderful. An exploration of language, cross-cultural understanding, and empathy, it tells the story of humans trying to figure out why aliens have landed ships across the planet.
And it feels so fucking relevant right now.
It's all about coming together to understand, to clarify, to empathize. Empathy and a desire to understand literally save the world. Nuance, careful interpretation, and patience are required. It feels so much like an allegory for our current political climate.
We all know our country is divided. Parties feel more polarized than ever. We are angry. Conversations (far too often taking place in Facebook comments) seem to devolve into calling names and placing blame without any real listening. No one—on either side—is open to being swayed.
And it's hard. We all have strong beliefs. I don't expect, or want, anyone to sway me on women's health and reproductive rights. I am not going to stand down in my defense of scientific facts, or facts in general, and the freedom of the press.
But I still want to find a way to listen to people. I know what the people at the high levels of government seem to want. I know which elected officials are acting in my interest and which are not. But what about my neighbors? When I vote for a candidate, I don't necessarily agree with every bullet point in their platform. So which bullet points are the people around me voting for or against? Where do we have shared interests? And how do we feel about elected officials and their policies after the election has happened and campaign promises have been left in the dust?
We have to shut up and listen. We have to want to hear all the grievances. Want to understand, want to help. Search for common ground. Offer assistance. Stay open to the thoughts of others.
It's not about giving up on my beliefs. It is about understanding instead of demonizing, about trying to come together for the bigger picture.
And really, shouldn't the ultimate goal be the bigger picture? I want to leave the world better than I found it. And I can't do that if I've only got my understanding, my perspective, my personal ideas on how to improve. Empathy and connection with other people can make a difference.
We should take a tip from Amy Adams (and, really, writer Ted Chiang). In order to keep from destroying ourselves, we need to slow down and work to find a common language and understanding. We need to collaborate with each other on a grand scale, and look toward the future together. Easier said than done, by a long shot, but how can we save the world if we don't aim high?