Yesterday I got into an argument on Facebook. Which is never a promising way to start any sentence. This particular argument was related to the current election and I wasn’t the only one engaging with our adversary, but I was the only one to call this person an idiot.
This is something that I am neither proud of nor ashamed of. This person was in fact, being an idiot – they disregarded facts, did not listen to or acknowledge any points based on facts, and effectively said that EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey did not represent an abusive relationship because it was a best seller. There are many people I know who would say I was perfectly within my right to call this person an idiot. And I must say, it felt good.
But as good as it felt, if there’s one thing I think we call all agree on as a species, it’s that getting called stupid or an idiot or whatever really sucks. Instead of making us look at our life and look at our choices, being called an idiot usually makes us retreat further into our schools of thought, making us stew in self-righteous anger, being all moody and misunderstood.
No matter my feelings in the moment, I should probably have spent more time imagining this person complexly. Who knows exactly how they came to their way of thinking, but that doesn’t really matter. They are perfectly entitled to their opinion. And if I truly believe that they are fundamentally wrong, there are better ways to change people’s minds.
One of the most interesting pieces I read in 2015 was an article in The New Yorker about a women, Megan Phelps-Roper, who was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church and ran social media for the church, and how that lead to her questioning her beliefs and everything Westboro stands. While she spent her time tweeting things that made people cringe, she eventually came in contact with a Jewish web-developer named David Abitbol, who goes by the twitter handle @jewlicious. Though they would spend hours debating online, they enjoyed their back and forth, Roper-Phelps even admitting she liked that he was friendly.
Abitbol says in the article that he learned that relating to hateful people on a human level was the best way to deal with them. As Roper-Phelps continued to tweet her views, Abitbol politely countered her them, making himself as approachable as possible in order to humanize himself to her. His plan worked and he eventually changed her mind on some of Westboro’s most important doctrines. Her interactions with him led to her meeting others online who challenged her ways of thinking and eventually she left the church.
Now this of course took years. Roper-Phelps wasn’t convinced her previous way of thinking was wrong after just one interaction online. She had to chip away at it and she had to be open enough to believe there were other people out there that were good and held different opinions than hers. But without the compassion that some of her adversaries had for her, she may never have changed her mind.
I’m not saying that there was ever a way I could’ve reasoned with this person, especially on Facebook. And not everyone can change their minds. But it was a good reminder that change starts at the bottom, and it starts with us treating each other as people. Maybe not good people…but people nonetheless. It’s what this election is all about; the complexity of our systems and the complexity of ourselves.
So on November 8th, no matter what you think or believe, you should vote. Because people died to give you the right to vote and that goes for all of us idiots too.
If you’re interested in reading the article I mentioned, you can find it here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/23/conversion-via-twitter-westboro-baptist-church-megan-phelps-roper
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/6262122778