Different people come from different backgrounds. My life experience has been different from yours. This is a simple concept, but I feel the vital sub-points of it get missed all too frequently in common human interaction.
One vital sub-point being this: My entire belief system and moral compass have been shaped by the summation of my experiences; my actions and the world’s reactions to them, the people I have kept or found around me, my family, my education (or lack thereof) . . .the list goes on and on. Your beliefs and morality have been likewise shaped. So when you and I collide in the world, as people often do, and find ourselves with beliefs antithesis to one another, we have a choice: We can engage in conversation, and share the reasoning behind our beliefs. I can learn of yours and vice versa, and we can each test the stability of our convictions to see whether they hold up in the light of day.
Or we can call each other ass hats.
A certain bearded grappler prominent in the Australian BJJ community (we’ll call him Beardy McBearderson. . .B McB for short) recently posted a hazing video in which boys were ‘being boys’: In it, one gym member gets railed with yoga balls for posting a selfie of a chick he’d been ‘friend-zoned’ by. It was all apparently in good fun, and posted as such, albeit publicly.
One female BJJ practitioner (we’ll call her Alice, because. . .that’s the first name that came to mind) took offence and posted this inflammatory comment:
. . . .Gas can, meet bonfire.
Alice may not have stepped delicately into the exchange but reading the (many) comments that followed was truly disheartening, for several reasons. One is being forced to face the stark reality that there are people in the world that think ‘So. . .when do we rape her?’ is a reasonable thing to say in a public forum (fuck, in any forum), but the second is watching, yet again, that same old hate-feuled divide of ‘us vs them’. It’s particularly infuriating to witness the glee associated with it, ala ‘We totally won the internets! Each it, bitch!’.
Whether you have utterly devastated this woman or just strengthened her resolve is totally irrelevant: where and what did you win? Did you collect a larger gathering of peer support? Were your comments and photo memes deemed more clever by virtue of like count? Did you curl up into bed that evening with a smug smile on your face, assured of the rightness of your position? Were the lols mighty?
Explain this to me, please: Where does humiliating or degrading another human being, however aggressively they come across, get fun?
Whether it’s indignant feminist fury vs misogyny operating under the guise of alpha male ‘fun’, hardcore vegans vs lifelong sport hunters or religious fundamentalists vs intractable atheists, too many people enter exchanges with ‘the other side’ as though it is a battle. Entering as such, it of course becomes one.
It doesn’t have to.
We live in incredible times. We have the internet, and it is AWESOME. One of the many ways in which it is awesome, is that we can at, at any given moment, have a conversation with, like, anyone.
In a conversation, there is a give and take, an exchange of ideas. And there is respect. Because why wouldn’t you respect a fellow human being? Man, woman, christian, muslim, gay, straight. . . .I don’t have to agree with you, or even like you, to respect you.
Which hits on something I see a lot of: This idea that being respectful to someone else – yes, even when they’re being an ass hat – is granting their opinion weight. That apologizing for them taking offence at something you have said or done is an admission that what you did was inherently wrong.
Apologizing isn’t a declaration of weakness and considering someone else’s humanity is not a forfeit of your manliness. Explaining your standpoint patiently and listening to the other side in full is not an admission of defeat. You do not get brownie points for talking more, or more loudly and ‘who can be meaner’ was a dumb game when we were five, let alone when we’re old enough to be paying taxes.
But people, as a generality, don’t seem so interested in conversation. They want to WIN. At what is still unclear to me. But the fact remains: When faced with a statement in opposition of their belief system, the most common reaction is not “Wow, that is very different to what I believe. Why do you think that?” but “Well fuck you.”
This is why we have war.
No, really. Not exaggeration. This is the exact mentality that has one religion slinging missiles at another: My side is so much more right than your side that it is not even worthy of attempting debate. Because, sadly, being in power doesn’t stop you from acting like you’re twelve.
There is no space for understanding in ‘fuck you’ and there is no possibility of resolution in ‘I hate you and everyone like you.’
It tends to go down like this: So you’re right. You are 100% assured of your rightness. You have read all the books, and researched all the things, and have had many peers that share your opinion agree that yes, absolutely, you’re totally right and they’re right alongside there with you.
So why can’t the other side see that? Jesus, it’s so obvious! How can they possibly not see how right you all are??
Answer: Because their experience in this world has differed from yours and they are 100% assured of their rightness.
And so both sides rally their troops and wave their opposing flags of rightness and rage at the other side for being the cause of all evils in the world.
Could be one of you actually has the moral high ground in. . .whatever you’re debating. But if you’ve been taught A+B=C your entire life while they’ve been taught A+B=X, screaming ‘CCCCC! C GODDAMIT!’ at them isn’t doing anything to change their mind. You need to show them your formulae.
And that takes patience. And kindness. And respect. (Other useful emotional items to have on hand are a genuine willingness to try and understand, as well as a readiness to admit you may actually be wrong.)
So when Alice swept in with her intial fury, a totally reasonable reply might have been something along the lines of:
“Hey, whoa whoa. This was all done in good fun. I don’t understand what you are upset about? Will you tell me?”
And she could explain her wound. Could possibly link to some article (On the topic of rape jokes, I’m a big fan of this very readable and very concise break-down) that eloquently makes her point for her.
And, upon receiving this new information, it is also totally acceptable to say:
“I see your point, but I still feel like you are taking this too seriously. Nothing of this sort was intended by the video. So, while I’m sorry you’re offended by it, I can’t live my life tip-toeing around other people’s sensitivities.”
From here they can continue with the conversation, or simply agree to disagree. Totally respectable exchange.
What is not a reasonable reply:
We can’t expect everyone to agree with us all the time. We rarely have the time to fully engage in the kind of ongoing conversation that epic mind-changing – in the, to quote Sam Harris, rare supernova moments a mind is actually changed during a debate – requires. And, even with all the time in the world, many topics are far too grey to reach any sort of global moral consensus on. But what we can do is approach even drive-by conflicts with kindness, and compassion. I stress, once again, that exhibiting those qualities is not a weakness.
(As a side note, I just got to throw this in: Being so insecure about your masculinity that you are terrified of ever being perceived by anyone as exhibiting a potentially feminine quality? That’s fucking weakness. True alpha males aren’t afraid to wear pink. And they look fucking rocking doing it.)
The reality certainly remains that no matter how eloquently and convincingly you present an argument, the reply you receive in return may be but a sharp, barbed four-letter word. You will rarely change minds. But you can plant seeds. Seeds of thought that will bounce off and bind to the other moments in this person’s still ongoing experience in which other people who share your view approach them with the same kindness. Seeds of thought that other people will see. Maybe the dude you’re conversing with won’t read your link. . .but someone else might. It might start some wheels turning in his head. And he might share those wheel turning thoughts with another mate of his.
If you are so assured of the rightness of your opinion, put it out there in full. Good ideas are infectious, they spread exponentially. That shit’s been scientifically proven.
Do not disrespect your good ideas by forcing them to take the back seat to your indignant rage and prideful wit.
Do not rob yourself of worthy self growth for fear of being percieved as weak.
And please stop the mindless hating. It’s getting society nowhere fast.
Out. – K
Great points Krys and beautifully written. Most people would never say to someone’s face what they’d type to them online.
Thanks, Eryn. And totally true; Louis Ck did a great bit on. . .the Tonight Show, I think(?) in which he said he doesn’t let his kids have cell phones for that very reason: Being able to sling hate around without a human response to it (which then creates the emotional response of guilt in you in turn) breeds bad habits for social interaction.
You are super rad.
Ever so well said.
Thanks, hon. Appreciated.