On Glenn Beck, Empathy, and Black Lives Matter

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Glenn Beck is a prominent voice among conservative commentators. He has hosted his own talk show, created his own media source, and been on countless news programs voicing his strong conservative beliefs. Those beliefs are sometimes extreme and sometimes reflect a lack of groundedness. However, it seems as though Glenn Beck may be turning a relational corner. The evidence? His surprisingly “evolved” response to Black Lives Matter, as covered by The New York Times. In fact, his response sort of captures a lot of what ORANS advocates for in Being Relational. How so? Read on!

The ORANS Perspective: Changing the Interaction and Being Relational

The journalistic mission of ORANS is to comment on situations where changing the interaction between people can create better outcomes for everyone.  When people interact in a relational way, we believe better outcomes will emerge.  ORANS wants to provide skills and ways to help you: find solutions to difficult problems, deal with difficult people, handle a bully, stop stonewalling, avoid triangling, use non-violent methods to resolve conflict, become a negotiator, become a master communicator, create lasting change, engage in quality dialogue, stay centered and mindful, control personal reactivity, become more self-aware of personality differences, live in the now, use no labels, be more grounded, be more generous, be more humble, and be more kind.

The ORANS Perspective in this Situation: Being Grounded Means Being Open to Other Perspectives

Beck was speaking to a group of conservatives when he made “what [he] thought was a relatively uncontroversial point about the commonalities between Trump supporters and the Black Lives Matter activists.” But this response to the Black Lives Matter movement turned out to be controversial than he expected. First of all, it was out of character for him. And secondly, it was also a message that his audience was not used to hearing. The backlash from conservatives “was immediate and sharp.” The criticism all seemed to echo one, transactional question: “How dare [Beck] try to understand the ‘other side’”?

Let’s let look harder at that. In many ways, trying to understand the other side is really what being grounded is all about. It’s what lies at the center of the “maybe, maybe not” principle that is so central to being grounded. Maybe, maybe not helps you to see that other realities are possible if you can relax your attachment to the one you have seized upon. In this case, the seized upon reality would be a simple classification. Trump supporters: good. Black Lives Matter Activists: bad. Commonalities between them: impossible.

Perhaps Beck himself may have once attached each group to a label and stopped there. Labels are used as shorthand for identifying large groups to make it appear as if they are homogenous, monolithic, stripping people of their individualism, lumping them all together as mere members of the group. Beck admits that he “[has] often been guilty of conflating the individual with the whole.”   His Op-Ed, however, indicates he has become self-aware enough to recognize these tendencies and habits of mind. Being grounded means being aware of your tendencies when they assert themselves in your thinking, recognizing when they are leading you to behavior that is not relational, learning to relax them when they are in excess, and acting deliberately instead of reacting based upon your habits. These attitudes have lead Beck to his “evolved” perspective on Black Lives Matter. The vehicle for inspiring these attitudes? Empathy.

Beck writes that “I believe that the greatness of our country lies in our founder’s creation of a system that allows and encourages all voices to be heard. The only way for our society to work is for each of us to respect the lives of others, and even try to empathize with one another.” Being grounded is very important for the creation of empathy, because it’s pretty hard to see where someone’s coming from if you’re irreversibly attached to the idea that someone is a bad person. To have empathy you need to be willing to use your relational skills, put your personal reactivity on the back burner, and really listen to what the other has to say.

The opportunity to do this was provided to Beck when, after the shooting of police officers in Dallas earlier this year, he “had the opportunity to watch an interview with the parents of the sniper, conducted by Lawrence Jones, a contributor at the Blaze, of which [Beck] is the founder. [He] was able to see their heartache and sorrow as parents, as Americans, and as human beings.” He did not see “bad” people. He saw people who were shaken by the same tragic event that he was.

So Beck went a step further, and challenged his own perspectives and biases. He  said, “I invited several Black Lives Matter believers on my show. I got to know them as people – on and off air – and invited them back again. I found that these people are decent, hardworking, patriotic Americans […]   and I refuse to define each of them based on the worst among them.” Rather than stay safely cushioned in his assumptions, Beck made the brave choice to be relational and learn more.

The result is a realization that cannot be emphasized enough. Part of what is necessary to increase wellbeing and create lasting positive change for ourselves, for our families, and for our planet, is that, to quote Beck, “we need to listen to one another, as human beings, and try to understand one another’s pain. Empathy is not acknowledging or conceding that the pain and anger others feel is justified. Empathy is acknowledging someone else’s pain and anger while feeling for them as human beings – even, and maybe especially, when we don’t necessarily agree or understand them.” By focusing on the quality of our interactions, even with those we strongly dislike or think of as evil, we can discover new perspectives that advance our ability to maximize well being for ourselves and others.



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