ella maclaughlin | understanding radicalism through empathy

“During my exchange program preparation, we were told to keep our political views to ourselves,” Ella MacLaughlin recounts her experience studying abroad in Turkey “But after having been confronted with statements that violated the rights of the people I loved so much, I decided to give my honest opinion for the first time. I couldn’t help that my response was fueled by a strong disrespect for my Turkish friend’s opinion, and she responded offended instantly. I felt like I was failing to fight back to radical opinions. I began to wander when feeling upset is inevitable, what will we do when confronted with radical opinions?”



“When I first visited my host family, I noticed that in every room, there was a picture of a wolf howling with three full moons. This turned out to be the sign of a very national political party. On top of his support for this nationalist party, my host father was a police man. To say the least, I was a bit freaked out by the idea of protests in such a situation. But after a few weeks, I also noticed how my host father cared for his family, and how he brought me tea every day when I was sick. I became curious how someone who supports such cruel politics could be such a nice person. So, I changed my approach: I traded my hostility into curiosity; I developed more empathy for my host father. This taught me a vital lesson: radicalism can productively be approached with empathy. This empathy allows the holder to engage with different beliefs.”


Ella has an important lesson for the audience to take away: “I ask that the next time you encounter an opinion you don’t like, to not bite your tongue or yell, but to see them as what they are: a person. Someone that is vulnerable, and complicated. Making this choice allowed me to engage with my host father’s beliefs. And it has taught me that in individuals, social and political views are often paradoxical with their personalities. And that it would contribute greatly to humanity if we’d realize that more frequently.”