What People Teach Us: Caitlyn Jenner, Her Community, And The Opposing Side

In a recent interview on WBUR’s Here and Now, Caitlyn Jenner spoke about her life, covering topics spanning from her early life, to winning Olympic decathlon gold as Bruce Jenner, up into her revelation of her lifelong identification as female. Jenner also covers these topics and more in her new book.

An interesting part of the conversation took place when it turned to politics.

At the time Jenner revealed her newfound life as a woman to Diane Sawyer on 20/20 in April 2015, she was asked how the Republican establishment would accept her.  Jenner was a known conservative whose newly-revealed identity clashed with the well-known traditional, conservative, and religious values of the Republican Party. At that time, she believed it would be a non-issue.

Since that interview, Donald Trump went on to win the Presidency, having run as a Republican, and is now working with a Republican majority in Congress.

So, now, in the face of such an overwhelming Republican presence at the top of government, how would things play out with regard to the transgender community, which has lately become a national political point of contention and debate?

Here’s the answer: Trump’s administration rescinded protections for transgender students.

Obviously, Jenner was disappointed in the reversal, as she clearly states in her interview. She notes that Trump was in the wrong, assuming he could have influenced a different outcome in the course of his dealings with Congress. She goes on to say, “…he’s the president, it’s on his shoulders.”

“In general, if we have the opportunity to have the tough discussions, we should try to take them whether our side understands it or not.”

What’s interesting is that in her next few sentences, she states that she had an opportunity to meet with him and, likely, pick his brain on the matter, while playing golf.

She mentions that the idea of accepting Trump’s previous offer to meet up for a game of golf prior to winning the presidency has been made much more difficult now, after the reversal in the legislation occurred, saying:

“‘Oh great,’ he wanted me to come down to play golf, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to spend some time with him. But now he’s toxic. I couldn’t do it. I mean, if I went down and played golf, I would get destroyed by the community. And my support is not for Republican issues. My support is not for Donald Trump. My support is with my community. So that’s where my loyalties lie, with my community.”

So does the opportunity to learn about and maybe influence the President stop at that point, because of what Jenner pointed out — Trump’s toxic perception in the transgender community?

What to Take Away…

This is an extreme example. So much in this case is in the national spotlight. The perception of Trump is very toxic.

But, whatever your politics, environment, or situation, when it comes to meeting with the opposite side, how far do you go to understand and possibly influence it?

This is a lesson we can all take away: Many of the issues today continue perpetuating themselves in their vicious cycles because people stop before having the conversation.

Yes, there may be the perception from the outside that Jenner solely might be doing it to have a good time with the President and nothing else — no convincing Trump’s outlook nor picking his brain. That’s one thing. And it’s up to her as to what she wants to do. But what if she used the opportunity to meet with him to discuss those issues, whether it’s over a game of golf or not.

In general, if we have the opportunity to have the tough discussions, we should try to take them whether our side understands it or not. If not, we’re only enabling that perpetuation that leaves us in a position of only observing and not understanding and influencing the other side.

Now, there are various instances where misperception of certain meetings is bad and just plain negligent, Bill Clinton.

In the Clinton case, there were more problematic transparency issues due to the investigations into Hillary Clinton’s campaign by the Justice Department.

In this Jenner case, however toxic Trump may be to some, there’s nothing wrong about meeting with him.

In these types of situations, why not state the reason you’re taking the time to meet with the other side — assuming you’re meeting with them to have the tough talk or to learn from each other, and not just to have a good time? Why not try to come out of that meeting having tried to move an agreement forward between the two sides?

It doesn’t have to be solved in one conversation but it reshapes the landscape of communication between opposing sides.

So, this is another example of where we can learn from someone’s inaction as much as their actions.

You can try and set the direction, no matter where your meeting takes place.

So where do you fall? Would you take that opportunity or not?

So…What About You?

  • Do you stop the discussion with the opposing side before it can even begin?
  • Do you have the talk and reassure your community, constituency, or stakeholders of your intentions to seek and influence a deeper truth?
  • In any area of disagreement, whether in transgender, racial, or political issues, how do you take the initiative to break past the perpetual cycle of disagreement, arguing, and merely debating, and start working toward influencing?

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