We can’t let passion blind us to reason, and we can’t let fear do that either. We can’t let those things get control of us and allow us to treat others in ways we’ve fought against our whole lives. All that does is make enemies out of potential allies…
Disclaimer: The following discussion is not a political opinion piece. While the conversations observed and dissected do revolve around politics, my focus is specifically on behavior and strategy. Please be aware that I am not promoting a particular political agenda or view in this article – my goal is to illuminate what I believe to be ineffective means of political and cultural discourse (within the guidelines of Compassion), and to offer suggestions on how to better them. That these were the conversations I observed is entirely coincidental.
A Traitor To Your Own Kind
An old high school friend of mine, whom I truly respect, is a lesbian. Recently she posted on her Facebook that her perception is that Trump is entirely anti-homosexual and, thus, if you vote for Trump, you also must be anti-homosexual and, more specifically, anti-her as well. She said to please consider that if you vote for Trump in November, you very clearly must not care about her nor homosexuals.
To her, (and several other responders’) surprise, more than one of her friends stated that not only were they themselves gay, but that they voted for Trump last time, and they’d do it again.
While my friend merely responded with measured concern about this, several of her other Facebook connections piled on to the dissenters. How could you be gay and vote for Trump? Clearly you aren’t gay enough. Obviously you’re uneducated. Anyone who’s gay and votes for Trump is voting against their own rights. If you’re gay and vote for Trump, you’re a moron. You’re a traitor to your own kind.
I’m not kidding. This is what was said.
Some of the dissenters tried to argue that there were plenty of reasons they supported Trump. One gave a few specific reasons for this which had nothing to do with her being gay. The others simply stated that it wasn’t fair of my friend to speak for all homosexuals when clearly not all homosexuals thought the way she did.
Not surprisingly, all this did was make things worse.
And I watched all of this occur with something akin to horror. How did they all not see what was happening here?
First, my high school friend initially drew a line in the sand stating that anyone who didn’t agree with her was her enemy (to a certain degree understandable if she does in fact perceive Trump and Trump supporters as working against her and her rights). She also sought to define other people by only one of their many characteristics (one that, reasonably, she identified most with). But when several of her own Facebook connections – now defined by that one characteristic – expressed an opinion that didn’t fit her definition, they were verbally attacked, undermined, and diminished.
Let me repeat that in a different way:
When her gay friends didn’t behave the way everyone else thought gays should behave, they were marginalized, ridiculed, bullied, called names, and had their intelligence insulted. Not only that, but they were treated as if being gay was the only part of their character worth acknowledging. As if there was nothing else important about them.
Is that not the same behavior – that specific treatment of homosexuals – that they are against? Do they not see that they just treated a group of homosexuals the same way they feel they have been treated, merely because they didn’t come to the same conclusion they did?
Sure, they’re passionate! There’s nothing wrong with that. But their passion and their experience (all legitimate by the way) blinded them to their own hypocrisy.
And it made enemies out of people who could be allies.
About the time that the COVID outbreak had really started to take hold in America, areas of Tennessee went on something akin to a lockdown. In my neck of the woods, the recommendation was that you should wear a mask in public and not gather more than the size of a small family – somewhere around two to five people. This wasn’t a law, it was a recommendation. A strong one. At the very early stages of the pandemic – when no one knew what the heck was going on or who was in danger – this seemed rather reasonable.
But it didn’t stop one family from gathering what was allegedly over ten people in the park for a good ol’ barbecue.
And I only know about this because a friend of mine posted about it.
Along with that post outing these folks came several more from many of my other connections:
“Call the cops on them – scare them off!”
“These people are obviously selfish and don’t care about anyone else. I hope they all get sick.”
“It’s a shame they can’t handle a little inconvenience.”
I’m not kidding. This is what was said.
When I spoke up and suggested that this isn’t who we should be – people who call the cops on other people out of nothing more than fear and suspicion, I was soundly ridiculed. (This is also why I rarely get involved in these conversations, by the way).
But here’s the thing… they weren’t breaking the law. Did my Facebook friends not see that calling the cops on a group of people merely out of fear and suspicion was not all dissimilar from what Germans did to Jews; what racist whites have done to blacks; what many did to Muslims after 9/11? On the surface, it may seem innocuous, but this is exactly how that kind of behavior starts – fear (and fear in the name of good citizenship, at that). Left unchecked it becomes a slippery slope.
And, by the way, it also tells us a lot about how good people with good intentions can slip into dangerous behaviors. It’s also a clue into how those behaviors can very quickly get out of control.
Let me be clear about this too – this isn’t a judgment of my Facebook friends. These were people with compromised immune systems, young children and older family members. They had every right to be afraid. They weren’t wrong for being afraid. They weren’t wrong for wanting to protect their loved ones.
But just like we can’t let passion blind us to reason, we can’t let fear do that either. We can’t let those things get control of us and allow us to treat others in ways we’ve fought against our whole lives.
We can’t give fear that permission.
How would anyone know that this large barbecuing family was selfish? Did anyone go speak to any of them? Sure, on the surface it seems as though they didn’t care about the recommendations, or the health and safety of others – they only cared about themselves. Maybe, in the end, that’s actually true. But did anyone do the work of going ahead and finding that out, or did they just judge them because that’s way easier to do? Heck, it even “proves” how inconsiderate the “other side” is doesn’t it?
(Before you think I’m getting all holier than thou, I’m super guilty of this too).
How does anyone know that this family couldn’t be inconvenienced? What if it turned out that having to come out to the grill at the park as an entire family was the inconvenience for them? What if it turned out this was the only way they could properly support each other during this trying time? What if it turned out they were taking a huge risk, and knew it, and still did it because they couldn’t do it any other way?
Sound ridiculous? Did anyone bother to ask?
Another quick “by the way” – be careful with that word “inconvenience.” Using that word implies – if not outright states – that you think you’re better than those other people who don’t want to be inconvenienced. That’s Pride talking.
Pride is your enemy. Your biggest enemy. Bigger than big business, government, or pizza.
Arguing The Other Side
When my wife was a high school teacher, one of her favorite units was a project whereby each student had to write a paper that countered their own beliefs or passions.
To do this, she’d first have them write a quick one-pager detailing something they were passionate about. Then, using the insight gleaned from these entries, she would assign each student to write a research paper supporting its opposing argument.
But sometimes the topics were a bit heavier.
One of her students had written about how passionate he was regarding transgender rights, which made sense because he was transgendered himself. He was specifically passionate about the right for a transgender person to use the other bathroom.
My wife therefore assigned him the task of writing a paper arguing the pro-bathrooms-stay-the-way-they-are point of view.
He didn’t like that. And of course he didn’t – would you?
In fact, he all but refused to do the paper. But my wife pursued him, promising that if he did this and took it seriously he was going to get something of great value from it.
I genuinely don’t know how she got him to cave. But, cave he did.
As it turns out, he was glad he did.
He said that when it was over, he had learned so much about the opposition that he actually understood them. He could see that some of their arguments were reasonable. Most of them didn’t come from a place of bigotry or fear.
But it didn’t change his position. And it wasn’t meant to.
The whole point of the assignment was to learn about the other side. What did they want? Why did they want it? And by contrasting those wants with your own, how can you not only better strengthen your own position (through knowledge of someone else’s) but how can you more effectively argue it?
My wife’s student told her that not only did he indeed get something of great value from this assignment – it was one of his favorite assignments throughout all of high school.
If my friend from the first story above was truly that terrified of Trump and what Trump might want to do with four more years as president, wouldn’t it make more sense to formulate an argument in order to convince detractors to join her side? Doesn’t that make more strategic sense? Because marginalizing and ostracizing the people who disagreed with her is only going to strengthen their resolve to vote for the person she’s convinced is going to take her rights away.
(Also, as an aside, if you’re that convinced that someone being of a certain type of character suggests that they should behave a certain way, but it turns out they don’t… isn’t that interesting? It means there’s something about them other than that characteristic that has made them come to a conclusion you weren’t expecting. That’s a mystery to solve! Mysteries are fun! Why are we so afraid of that?!)
In a world so evenly divided politically, how are you going to win if you don’t convince others to join you? The margins of majority are so razor thin that the only way forward is to Compromise.
Pride, Prejudice, Compromise and Compassion
As my wife’s student learned, real Compromise takes Compassion. It takes being willing to get to know the other side, what it wants, and why it wants it.
And, as I always say, that kind of knowledge is going to lead to at least a little bit of Love. Don’t be afraid of that. Compromise, Compassion and Love are not the same thing as Agreement. You can Love and still disagree.
In fact it’s that Love that makes Compromise easy. At a certain point, you want for the opposing side. That’s how Compromise works.
It isn’t your morals that are keeping you from this kind of Compassion. It isn’t your steadfast resolve to defeat the enemy.
It’s Pride. Pride is why you’ve got the enemy all wrong.
Pride is the enemy.
Pride is why you keep removing friends from your Facebook. Pride is why you cut off the people who Love you.
Pride is what causes you to surround yourself only with people who agree with you. If you only surround yourself with people who agree with you, eventually you’ll find yourself in a room full of people who wouldn’t jump up to stop you from choking.
But no one is better than anyone else.
God doesn’t Love you more because you’re willing to be inconvenienced. God doesn’t Love that other person less because they aren’t.
God doesn’t care about politics. He cares about people.
Everyone is equal. Everyone is equal because God Loves everyone equally.
If there is no other truth, there’s that one. We’re all equal because God Loves equally. (And unconditionally).
The only thing we have to do is treat each other like it.
When have you seen behaviors similar to my above stories where pride and narcissism have gotten in the way of reasonable and fair discourse? When have you seen where a focus on one characteristic or personality trait has undermined or compromised an entire interaction with another person? Has this happened specifically to you? When have you felt misjudged or misunderstood based solely on one of your characteristics or personality traits? What happened? How did you handle it? In these situations, what could you do differently? Can you see where it’s possible that by purposefully interacting with Compassion, interactions such as these could be much more fair and constructive? Share your thoughts and experiences below.
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