How to Respectfully Disagree ~ the Mindful Advocate

So I’m making this concerted effort to be a mindful advocate, to respectfully disagree whenever I run into a difference of opinion… especially on the Internet… and especially around politics. There’s so much digital yelling out there, it’s unmindful, and the more I see the less I want to be a part of it.

But then I also know passions are high and these decisions are vital. We should all stand our ground in the fight against injustice and inequality. It’s important, so it’s easy to get caught up in it.

What I’m searching for is a balance — being an advocate for progress but also toning down the rhetoric, turning up the kindness, and maybe using the simple act of a respect to actually sway people to your cause.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so the saying goes. This is true in pretty much all aspects of life, but it especially applies to political persuasion. Who in their right mind is going to change their right mind when you unmindfully toss insults?

Let’s be clear though, taking a mindful approach to politics doesn’t require silence in the face of injustice. While it’s true that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, sometimes those flies are total douchebags and need to be swatted away.

When someone is contemptuous, when their stance harms you or your people, when they resort to cruelty, when they throw all ration out the window, when they support a level of ignorance that could lead to the destruction of our species (like climate science deniers), by all means call them out. Don’t stand for it. Don’t ever kowtow to hate, bigotry, corrupt ideology, or downright treacherous zealotry.

But when you call them out, don’t stoop to their level and be a douchebag in return.

If you really want to advocate for your cause, it’s time to stop the irrational anger. Stealing a few cues from mindfulness, here are some suggestions to help us all get there.

  1. Breathe. It sounds so basic, but it’s still something I forget on the regular. Just today someone lobbed an insult at me in response to what I felt was a fairly reasonable comment on a political post. I got so angry my fingers shook as I attempted to respond. But I quickly realized that no response I made in that anger would live up to my mindful advocate standards. I put the phone down, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. Breathing is like a reset button, a clearing of the cache, a metaphorical New Years Day — it’s a chance to start over and do better.
  2. Open your mind. There will always be a diversity of opinion out there. My immediate thought when someone disagrees with me is that it must be ignorance or a lack of education. But consider for a moment that they are indeed a caring, interested person, who loves their friends and family just like you, but their background and life experience have led them to view things in a different light. We should make an effort to open our minds and accept everyone for who they are, not to filter them through the sieve of our own exerpience.
  3. Drop the ego. Far too often in this election cycle I’ve encountered some seriously self-assured and self-righteous posts and comments. In politics, it’s easy to get passionately wrapped up in our cause — we’re so right, we can’t be swayed, we can’t take criticism, and we dig our heals in. But there’s always another way of thinking about any issue (see #2). When we put on the blinders of ego, the temptation to go negative and lash out can be overwhelming. Rants and insults don’t do you or your cause any favors. Be confident in your opinion, your cause, and your candidate, but don’t be overconfident.
  4. Pause before posting. Too often on social media we’re encouraged to have an instant response. In today’s digital society, if you don’t have a clever take on the latest news item then clearly you’re not with it. But that instant reaction is usually one dimensional, and that instantly angry reaction to something you disagree with usually leads to a similarly angry response. When we give ourselves a break, take a few breaths, open our mind a smidge, and let go of ego (see #1, #2, & #3), we’ll usually come out on the other side with a more thoughtful and convincing response.
  5. Drop knowledge, not bombs. This is a big. Many political posts on social media are filled with opinion and innuendo, conspiracy theories and inconspicuous copypastas. When we respectfully disagree, we stick to facts. We provide evidence to support our cause, we don’t repeat baseless and unprovable claims. Remember, you’re trying to convince people that your cause is righteous, and you don’t prove anything with a meme or a biased article.

Every time we respond to someone who disagrees with us we have a choice: come at them with the force of a thousand poo emojis, or respectfully disagree. That choice is the difference between our sanity and high blood pressure. It’s the difference between a sleepless night and warm fuzzy dream. It’s the difference between entrenched opinions and persuasive arguments.

I know this isn’t easy, I get angry over political differences too. But next time you start to fume, take a mindfulness break. Step away from the laptop or your phone, take a deep breath, and think about what you are about to say in return. Does it foster a positive debate? Will it educate and inform? Will it encourage people to reconsider their opinion? Or are you responding to their douchebaggery by becoming a douchebag yourself?

Don’t be a douchebag, respectfully disagree.


Originally published at www.getmindfulnow.com.