I have many friends posting online about issues I *think* they care about. Net neutrality, police brutality, domestic violence, feminism. I give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a great place to get conversation started, but what’s appalling to me is how the supposedly open-minded bully anyone that dares to disagree.
Often it seems, that if someone disagrees with the statement or article, they are publicly shouted down by others, or more likely, a sea of likes for a clever retort intended to humiliate and annihilate, rather than have a civilized conversation. I know there are situations where a dissenter says something foul or disturbing. I am often there shaking my head with you, wondering how someone could have such a complete dearth of empathy.
But we can be better than that. While getting defensive is a perfectly normal human reaction to values and beliefs being challenged, it’s often just serving the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves. If all we care about is winning a conversation, it looks like we don’t really care at all. Great, maybe we made someone less likely to vocalize their opinion online, but it doesn’t change how they feel about anything. It looks like we are shrouding our self interests in social issues for a upstanding public image. That’s really negative of me to say, but I believe there’s some truth in that.
Here are some alternative options. I encourage you to share more if you have them.
- Instead of attacking someone’s beliefs, seek to understand them. Restate what you think they are trying to say in your own words and ask them if that’s what they meant. This shows you are making an effort to listen to them and makes it far more likely that a productive discussion ensues. You may also find out there are many things you do agree upon.
- Remember your intention. I think that most people mean well and would like the result of them speaking out be that things actually change. They just have an ineffective approach.
- Don’t shame. It’s perhaps one of the worst ways to evoke change. If it was any good, we’d barely have any obesity or environmental problems. If your intention is to create positive change, ask whether there are more persuasive ways.
- Ask yourself what others really care about. Not everyone is going to care about things for the same reasons you do. If someone just cares about making money, don’t pitch them about about being greener for Gaia. Are there economic reasons why they should care? Focus on what matters to them. There are often great reasons for any person (however different) to get behind a cause.
- Avoid should-ing. Should is so preachy that it often has the opposite effect. Here’s an example. Instead of saying that all men should be feminists, one could explain how they define the word and why you might want to (there’s lots of reasons).
- Take some action. If you really care, you’ll find a way, however small. It’s okay to not be able to rectify all the world’s problems, but you aren’t doing much behind the screen.
I’m a fan of having these conversations in person whenever possible. Maybe they are happening in your social circles (and just not mine), but I feel like we’re only having these debates online. My friends constantly posting never talk about these issues in my company. Maybe they just don’t want to be a buzzkill or get too serious in social settings, but really, it’s okay. I like to hear about anything good friends are passionate about. Face time is really important because you can pick up on so many cues through tone, eye contact and body language. In my experience people are less likely to go bat shit crazy and we communicate in a much more meaningful, lasting way. Wouldn’t you say it’s worth a shot? What we’re doing right now isn’t working very well.