?

Log in

No account? Create an account
[personal] On communicating with people you disagree with - Lakeshore — LiveJournal
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2010-06-14 05:59
Subject: [personal] On communicating with people you disagree with
Security: Public
Tags:personal, politics
I experienced a major insight this weekend.

As I said recently in another context, "Any cause that requires mockery and abuse to advance itself isn't one I need to engage with, regardless of my basic beliefs or agreement with the underlying goals." I have too much respect for myself and others to bend before such pressure.

Here's where the insight comes in. I listened to my own words. As much as I resist being hectored, I realized this weekend that my approach for years to conservative causes has been in part through a similar hectoring, mockery and abuse of their positions. I have failed in my respect for people I disagree with, who if they are bothering to pay attention to me, doubtless resist my approach as much as I have resisted being treated that way myself. Nothing closes even receptive minds faster than harassment for their viewpoint.

To expand on what I said above, anyone who feels compelled to assert their cause through mockery and harassment instead of engaging on the merits of their position either has a weak position or a weak understanding of their position. Any strength or virtue they may possess is eradicated by their choice of vitriol over persuasion. That description applies just as much to my often-aggressive explication of my liberal-progressive political stances as it does to the usual Internet slapfights. (Admittedly, I generally omit the ad hominem attacks and abusive obscenity so beloved of Internet "debates", but the principle is certainly the same.)

If I want to be listened to by anyone other than those who already strongly agree with me, I need to find ways to temper my rhetoric. Otherwise I'm just stroking myself. When I'm the one being addressed, I find that I significantly prefer engagement to attempts at humiliation. My own experience has shown me how flawed my approach can be to addressing others I disagree with, and how much I owe those others precisely the same courtesy that has been so notably absent with respect to me.

Such a strange, humbling way to learn a lesson. Given the high priority I place on both kindness and engagement, it's quite surprising to see how wrong I've been. Not about my beliefs, but about my tactics.

As for my conservative friends, I won't stop tilting at you as strongly as I can, but please accept my apologies for attacking you over and over. It's not supposed to be personal. I hope that I'll find much better ways to speak across the divides than what I've been lately been shown about myself.

Post A Comment | 45 Comments | | Link






Eposia
User: eposia
Date: 2010-06-14 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Another friggin' opportunity for personal growth, wheee! Seriously, it's awesome that you can turn your analytic tendencies back on your own processes, that's a skill sadly lacking these days (and, I suspect, any days other than these, as well).
Reply | Thread | Link



Autopope
User: autopope
Date: 2010-06-14 13:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can't help thinking, however, that you're missing a fundamental point. "Do unto others as you would be done by" is a two-way street, and if mocking liberals isn't a central pillar of contemporary conservative discourse, then what's eating Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck?
Reply | Thread | Link



cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-06-14 13:25 (UTC)
Subject: [personal] On communicating with people you disagree with
I think you missed his point, autopope. Maybe have another read?

interesting thoughts, jay. It inspires me to think about whether I can improve my communication with others.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-06-14 13:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good for you.

/bemusedoutsider/
Reply | Thread | Link



(no subject) - (Anonymous)
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
User: matociquala
Date: 2010-06-14 14:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, this.

*shares cottage cheese and tiny organic strawberries*
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link | Expand



(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-06-14 14:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I dunno. Working on that. Because yes, there's a significant difference between flat counterfactuals (say, vaccine denial, to pick a slightly more widespread one than Flat Earthers; or better, Birtherism) and misguided opinion. Don't worry, you haven't lost me there.

Maybe what I'm trying to say is that some opinions don't deserve respect, but the people who hold them still do, simply as people? To reframe that, as someone else (I think daveraines maybe) said to me a while back about hard core Evangelicals, they're real, they're here and they vote, so whatever you think of them, you have to engage with them if you want to deal with the political process.

:: tries that on for size ::

Edited at 2010-06-14 02:26 pm (UTC)
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link | Expand



(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
e_bourne
User: e_bourne
Date: 2010-06-14 14:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Most people (I may not include Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh here, I hope others will understand) regardless of their beliefs, are decent.

While I consider myself to be a feminist (femi-nazi on good days), my political views can otherwise wander all over the map so I'm not keen on labeling. I don't like its divisiveness. I know. What's the fun in that?

I think there's a lot of real pain and frustration that expresses itself politically. The emotions behind it are valid and come from places, that while I don't always understand them, I know that they are real.

Honest discourse can be hard to come by. Emotions, cross purposes, and an unwillingness to understand that really, we all have more in common than we sometimes realize, keep us from talking as open-heartedly as we should.

Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-06-14 14:20 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For whatever it's worth, my casual opinion of Limbaugh is that he's an opportunist who's always known what he's doing, and given the profits he's seen from his spewings simply doesn't care about the consequences of his rhetoric, while Beck actually seems to believe what he's saying with a sort of twisted sincerity that makes him all the more convincing to people open to his message. Sort of like the difference between Rove and Bush, really.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



it's a great life, if you don't weaken
User: matociquala
Date: 2010-06-14 14:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Good on you, man.
Reply | Thread | Link



thistle333
User: thistle333
Date: 2010-06-14 15:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I hear ya. This is why I intensely dislike the phrase "the American sheeple" -- which gets used by both the right and the left. How are you going to convince anyone of the rightness of your cause when you begin with "Wake up, sheeple!"
Reply | Thread | Link



Clint Harris
User: wendigomountain
Date: 2010-06-14 15:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've had several of these moments in the last few months, Jay. Granted, most of it has been from the other side of many of these arguments, but I'd like to think that mature individuals can have the capacity to agree or disagree and still remain open to each other's opinions and understand that people have strong (and often differing) feelings about things. Or, in the immortal words of Walt, "Fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling."
Reply | Thread | Link



Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-06-14 16:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree wholeheartedly. I was trying to articulate something like this in another thread a few months back, but I wasn't successful then.

I do believe that approaching people who have opposing viewpoints with respect is crucial if change and cooperation will ever happen. I actually see it as one facet of self-respect: "The absurdity of your position, and your vitriol, cannot change me and my fundamentally even-handed approach to dialog. I am stronger than that."

I think it's worth examining why different people use verbal abuse and poop-slinging, because I think there are different motivations in different situations. I think when Fox News does it, they're trying to lead their audience into dismissing opposing viewpoints by suggesting they're not even worth understanding. It's sort of like parents dismissing a child's fear of monsters by ridiculing the monsters to make the child feel stronger and safer, with a bit of "Don't you worry your pretty little head" thrown in.

However, I think when I've done it (and I try not to, but I succumb now and then), it's out of frustration and fear of what crazy people are doing to my country, my rights, and my neighbors. It's an emotional response, not a calculated strategy. Still not how I want to be in the world.

I'm alarmed and troubled by how coarse and vulgar the political discourse in this country has become. (Suddenly I feel like a 78-year-old librarian with a neat gray bun and half-moon glasses.) I'm concerned about how dismissive the discourse has become, not just of ideas, but of the concept of the rational examination of ideas. Any movement to listen, think, evaluate, and respectfully counter can only help.

To build on what Elizabeth said above, I believe that most people are decent most of the time. Knowing this means we have far more opportunities for cooperation than we're currently using, which means we could be wasting less energy and less time.

One last thing: I have found that dealing with medical crises sometimes comes out sideways as anger at people and things unrelated to the crisis itself. (A year after the fact, I realized I dumped a bunch of bile on my manager at work for something he didn't deserve; luckily, he's a smart guy and was very patient with me.) Maybe you get a little slack just now? You probably don't like playing the cancer card often, but sometimes, it's appropriate.
Reply | Thread | Link



torreybird
User: torreybird
Date: 2010-06-14 17:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For quite a while, I've been impressed by the courage and strength you've brought to your fight against cancer.

Congratulations for having the courage and strength to change your own mind, which I find to be a much more difficult task.
Reply | Thread | Link



shaolingrrl
User: shaolingrrl
Date: 2010-06-14 18:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You're right, of course, but for the choir the sermons are probably going to get a little less fun. :-)
Reply | Thread | Link



cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2010-06-14 19:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm really glad to see the problem of incivility gaining more prominence in the blogosphere and in the media. More than global warming, endlessly gushing oil wells, nuclear holocaust, economic collapse or any other political boogeyman, I fear the breakdown of civility and respect in the public sphere. There has always been incivility in politics, but I feel a real difference in the past ten years, with people feeling an absolute entitlement to vent their basest emotions in the public sphere, and to attack, belittle, and demonize those who don't disagree with them. It appalls and frightens me. (That part I'll get to in a minute.) I sometimes find myself losing sympathy with those that I should agree with, with whom I share fundamental beliefs, because I can see they are not being fair to the opposing viewpoint. I find myself unable to get wholeheartedly behind the message, because the messenger is so violently repugnant to me. So there is risk in using extreme rhetoric that you will fail to rally even the already-converted, but only a fraction of them--the ones that agree with your tone.

There is a real dark side to this. A couple of years ago I read a life-changing book called Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Imaculee Ilibagiza. It's a remarkable book that describes people that I could understand and relate to, and the terrible, catastrophic divisions that led one group to start killing another. What she manages to show you, by the end of the book, is how the aggressors in her life, the Hutu thugs who killed nearly everyone she knew, are also human, and how very common human failings led them to become murderers. The theme behind her book is forgiveness, and she acknowledges the very hard truth that one person has to be the first to reach out, and to offer forgiveness, and also that this is the only way to heal the damage of such a horrible conflict.

There is some research indicating that a driver of genocide is not a fundamental conflict of beliefs. Rather, it grows out of a basic disgust and lack of respect for the other. When I witness the culture wars happening around me, it reminds me strongly of many descriptions from Ilibagiza's book of the tensions prior to the genocide. The division between "red" and "blue" in our culture is just as arbitrary and ethereal as betweeen Hutu and Tutsi, but many people become heavily invested in this imaginary division, to the point that they express profound contempt, disgust, and lack of respect for the person on the other side. This is what so deeply scares me about the culture wars, and why I am always glad to see discussions such as this.
Reply | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-06-16 04:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"So there is risk in using extreme rhetoric that you will fail to rally even the already-converted, but only a fraction of them--the ones that agree with your tone."

And some may rally to the side of the target, as protest against your tone.


/bemusedoutsider/
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2010-06-14 21:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I disagree, Jay.

Pomposity can only be deflated with barbs and needles.

When you agree to engage civilly with someone, you are automatically giving weight to their ideas; you are agreeing to take their ideas seriously. You may ultimately reject the ideas, but you are implicitly saying that the ideas are at least worth considering.

That gives false gravitas to idiots who milk your respect for their own ends, and return none likewise to you.

Respect is for those who argue and debate in good faith. It is not deserved by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other such blowhards who appear on Faux News.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-06-14 22:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I understand (and basically agree) with what you're saying, and have two lines of response that may or may not be tangential.

One, it depends on what one is trying to accomplish with respect to discourse. Ie, preaching to the choir is a perfectly reasonable activity if that's the goal.

Two, I'm working on the notion of respecting people even when their opinions/positions/behaviors are ridiculous or harmful. Even to me that sounds a bit like the Evangelical cop-out of "love the sinner, hate the sin", but I don't know where I'm going to come out on the other end.

As often the case with me, a work in progress.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



miki garrison: cupcake love
User: mikigarrison
Date: 2010-06-15 00:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:cupcake love
Yes, this.

There are times when I still find myself suddenly in vicious attack mode, but I really do make a point to keep pulling myself back to rational, respectful discourse. For all the reasons you list above, plus one more.

I've realized that there are a large number of people in the world -- perhaps even the majority -- whose opinions and beliefs are shaped not by participating in debates themselves, but by observing them from the shadows. And so while I may be aware in some cases that my comment has zero chance of getting actually *through* to the person I'm responding to, I do try and think about the silent lurkers in the background. Is my response going to challenge them to think in different ways, or is it going to further alienate them? Because while the loud, aggressive voices may seem to carry the day in the media, the silent lurkers play an incredibly large role in how issues play out both in daily life and in the voting booth.
Reply | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances