The Way We Fight

People:

We get in way too many stupid, selfish, semantic, angry, ranting fights with each other. It’s ridiculous. It distracts us from doing real things out there!

Okay, with that out of the way, I’m going to talk about a recent stupid, selfish, angry fight that I got into. I’m not proud of it. In fact, I can’t help but blame myself for it a bit, knowing that the person on the other side has anger and verbal abuse issues that I have found myself on the wrong side of on many occasions. All this, despite being another generally liberal and progressive person who shares most of the big-picture values I do.

I don’t want to talk about the nature of the argument, but I want to talk about the way we fight. And the way we talk about those with whom we disagree. To be clear: I don’t think it’s OK to give fascists, nationalists, or antisemites equal airtime to spew angry, vile hate speech. I don’t believe in “tolerating the intolerant.” I don’t believe that we should pander to morally reprehensible viewpoints by re-tweeting them — it only gives them power. However, I do believe in giving the people that say any of these things a pot to piss in.

I’m talking about a literal pot in which to pee. In a jail cell, or whatever.

And if one is maybe fringing on these abhorrent belief systems, maybe because of ignorance, misinformation, moral failure, or any other reason, I think that is all the more reason to give them that pot. Let them go to the bathroom, slow down, push out a few turds, think it through.

De-escalate.

With respect, listen. With compassion, challenge. With kindness, disagree. Because hurting people hurt people. Broken people are bound to break other people. And unhealthily anger-filled people enact their rage. Insults, elitism and ego do not change minds. “Better arguments” don’t win anywhere outside of debate class.

At least, unless they come with better behavior.

I feel like we’re seeing this time and again. People want to be heard. When they feel listened to, they can lay down their weapons of aggressiveness and hatred. It doesn’t mean we should accept their behavior, or give them a public platform. But it does mean that there is private, personal, community work to be done, for all of us, to disagree with compassion. Which is super, super HARD.

This applies equally, doubly, triply to people we disagree with who don’t have morally reprehensible, but simply disparate, views. Listen. Stay calm. Keep in mind that the engagement of subjective beings may result in a plurality of viewpoints surrounding the same idea.

Kindness matters.

Of course a compassionate, calm response does not guarantee “results.” It doesn’t disarm all hatred. It cannot always stop violence. That’s a scary thing. And a dispiriting, demoralizing thing.

Should I give up on this thing called radical compassion, though?

I hope not.