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[personal] On communicating with people you disagree with

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.

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