Let’s have an awkward conversation. Come on. What else do you have to do?
Or How To Talk To Someone Who Is Different From You
Here’s the only prologue point you need to know: I’m not picking a side….unless the side is free speech.
I’m really, really, really tired of some things. I’m sort of over wearing a face mask, but I’ll do it because I care about others. I’m confused as to why I have to stop at a red light when there is no traffic; thank you, Unabomber. I really don’t get why I have to wear a bra in public. But of all the things that have just worn my behind out, this is the one: the silencing effect of Cancel Culture.
I happen to think that people should have strong, educated opinions. I like people who are unafraid to tell me what they think, and then can back it up. I could talk to those people all day long – even when I don’t agree with them. Educated, passionate people are interesting. Spend time with someone who has no opinion on anything, and you’ll be bored to tears. You’d be more entertained going to the dentist.
We Americans are super good at making our opinions known. The advent of social media has made us bolder, but unfortunately, it has also made us less civil. We will unabashedly type things to people – even people we’ve included in a group we call “friends” – that we would never say to their face. This form of cowardice is unbecoming. Honestly, I didn’t think this new, acceptable form of bullying could get any worse. That just shows how little I know.
We’ve upped the ante.
The silencing of our culture works like this: 1) Make a declaration of your personal opinion, belief or ideology. 2) Know in your heart that this belief is accurate, credible and morally righteous. 3) Avoid all counter opinions with the following statement: “If you don’t agree with me, unfriend me.”
Does anyone else see the problem with this or is it just me?
While on the face of it, this passionate statement seems to declare your moral superiority as well as your willingness to make sacrifices in defending it, but what is being sacrificed isn’t actually yours at all. What you are sacrificing is someone else.
This statement says a number of other things as well. For instance, it says: “I don’t value you enough to allow you to also share your opinion.”
It says: “I don’t love you enough to accept you even when you are wrong.”
It may even say: “I’m not confident enough in my ability to defend my position to allow anyone – even people I claim to love and respect – to question it.”
It’s an alienating statement – for you as well as anyone who disagrees with you. You’ve cut off the willingness of others to engage in open conversation with you, and if they are truly your friend to begin with, I’d assume that their conversation would also be well-meaning. But to be fair, many of us have forgotten how to exercise that particular muscle. We forget that we are arguing about ideas, not the actual value of our opponent as a human being.
The phrase “I don’t want to talk about it” has long ended any conversation we did not want to have. Adding “just don’t be my friend anymore” takes it to a whole new level. This goes beyond the idea that a particular conversation makes you uncomfortable, triggers you or just makes you see red. This says that even the other person’s attempt to consider having a conversation about it renders them unacceptable to be in a relationship with you.
In an unofficial poll on my own social networking, I was surprised by how many of my friends no longer try to discuss or debate anything anymore. It isn’t worth the energy, the hassle, the insults or the aggravation. The conflict adverse may think this is a positive outcome, but NOT talking actually limits our understanding, empathy and growth as individuals.
Yesterday, while on a short road trip with a friend, we played a game called: “Unpopular Literary Opinions”. You’d think that couldn’t even be a game much less one where heated discussions could be birthed, but I’m telling you right now, you are wrong. (But you can still be my friend! See how that works?)
Utter the phrase: “I never thought Jo and Laurie should be together anyway” or “I never really liked ‘Wuthering Heights’” and watch the fireworks go. But you know what? It’s also fun! Can you defend your position? Can you sway your opponent? Who knows? But it makes a road trip a heck of a lot more interesting.
I don’t want to have pretend relationships. I want the “friends” in my life to love me enough to engage in awkward conversations. And I’ll go one giant step forward: I want them to love me enough to still accept me even when I am wildly wrong. I don’t want them to give up on me. I want them to keep at, persist and work steadfastly to make me a better human. Unfriending sounds like hell.
Even if you think unfriending only hurts the person you disagree with, I have a huge surprise for you. As your circle grows ever smaller, as people drop out of your life because they dared not to agree with you completely, there is a very strong likelihood that you’ll end up alone….or even worse, you’ll be left with people exactly like you. When I think of living a life where everyone thinks like me, talks like me, likes what I like and hates what I hate, THAT sounds like hell. Diversity of thought is what gives life flavor, interest and surprise. I mean who doesn’t like “Wuthering Heights”?!?!? That’s a truly shocking idea!
The thing to remember is NONE of us agree on EVERYTHING, but if it’s important to you, I want to hear about it….even if I don’t agree with you.
If you can’t engage in civil discourse, how will you ever change anyone’s mind? Is that your goal? Or do you just want to eliminate them? That’s actually a serious question. In the real world, you cannot silence your opposition. You can’t reject or hide their comments. You can’t unfollow them. You can’t shut them up – not legally, at least, not yet anyway. You have to be able to withstand the onslaught of unpopular and even repugnant opinions. You can debate or walk away.
So what kind of world do you want to live in? Do you want to live in the world where we sometimes disagree – even vehemently? Do you want to argue over books, ideas, politicians, society? Or do you want someone to control what you are allowed to think or to say or to post? Imagine that person is the person in this world you most admire….imagine they aren’t.
Americans have long been fiery, impassioned, opinionated and ready to brawl….it’s in our DNA. I personally love a good debate over an idea, but I don’t want to shoot you over one. Even my friends who seem to be different in every conceivable way from me – sexuality, gender, religion, political affiliation – are STILL MY FRIENDS. I love them. I want good things for them. I want to talk with them, laugh with them, dance with them and occasionally have a good fight with them. And my assumptions are that most strangers are also good people….who could potentially turn into friends….so why would I treat them any worse?
I’ll tell you the secret of a good fight: you only win when you keep the relationship. That’s far more valuable than whatever you are fighting about anyway.