Press Pause on the Argument
It is unlikely that you or I will change any laws through our social media posts.
We might….might….change someone’s mind, but even that is probably a long shot.
So, as I watch my social media feeds heat up with important debates about laws and rights and lives, I can understand both the compulsion to share and advocate and the futility of trying to persuade in this forum.
But I wonder if you would consider playing a different role in the debate. If your strongly held moral certainty, regardless of how deftly conveyed, is unlikely to persuade but stands a significant risk of hurting or alienating, perhaps you could offer something different…..even if you are 100% “right” in whatever it is you believe.
A wise and brave young friend of mine recently shared her disappointment at the lack of safe space to bring her full self when she is in pain. And it could be tempting to dismiss this concern by simply observing that social media is not going to be safe and should not be used to show vulnerability.
But that would simply mean there is one more important avenue of expression that will be self-censored and make connection and authenticity even more difficult in a world where it is already so hard.
So, consider this. How about instead of hammering your own beliefs or attacking the positions taken by your “friends” and contacts on social media, you instead focused on treating people with dignity and respect and humility and we tried to mold ourselves into people that could see and safely help to carry other people’s pain?
To be clear, this would mean you would lose out on the feeling that you had won the argument. And you would have to prioritize people over positions…even when they seem inextricably linked. But I think it could be worth it, especially given how many lives and minds are changed for the better in the course of the current dialogue. To be clear, I am not advocating you stop holding or taking strong positions. We need thought leaders and people willing to stand up and fight for their beliefs. But, that’s not all we need. And even in that context our efforts of character will be of little consequence if our wake is mostly the wounds we have caused on our way to progress.
Let’s say, for example, you are a deeply convicted opponent of abortion (or you can flip the argument and get to the same place) and are at least relived that there will now be places in this country where that is illegal. Now let’s say some of your friends are women who may feel all sorts of different ways about abortion and the recent change in law. Might you be able to both hold onto your convictions and still care about the women in your life who are hurting? Said another way, might you be able to prioritize how they feel in this moment, over your need to argue your position in this forum?
Is their pain less real because it stems from something with which you disagree? Is their fear or anxiety about the future or their mistrust of men or government any less important if you believe it to be unjustified? Has anyone in pain ever received comfort from being told their feelings are wrong? Or the basis for their pain is wrong? Has that ever comforted you?
Instead, what if you stopped arguing for a moment. Not forever. Not always. Just a moment. What if you took your certainty and put it on a shelf in your psyche and left it alone there just for a few minutes while you attend to the humans around you. If my child breaks their leg and are in agony as a result, I’m not going to first lecture them on safety. First, I’m going to try to help them with their wound. Why would it be different with emotional or spiritual pain. Someday, I might circle back and talk to them about how to be safe, but only after the pain is a memory.
As it is with many things I write, this is for me to hear as much as it is for you. I use this space to lecture, argue and preach. I get caught up in my own self-righteousness all the time. So, I see the hypocrisy. But I also continue to learn when I listen to people like my brave, young friend mentioned above. Today she taught me that whatever power I might have to articulate and persuade could have far less impact than listening, withholding judgment, respecting the full experience of humanity, and exchanging my microphone for a hearing aid.
You may be right. You may feel justified. You may have power in your voice. But you may also never have more impact than offering someone the reassurance that it is ok for them to feel how they feel and that they can trust you to treat that with kindness and respect. You could be a protector of people rather than ideas and you might just find in doing so that you protect the most important ideas in the process.
Or, you can just keep telling people they’re wrong and celebrating when you believe you are right and see how that goes for you. Hasn’t done much for me. So, I thought I might consider an alternative.