I know what you’re thinking: arguing on the Internet is the greatest exercise in futility since Sisyphus rolled his boulder.
We all know about the infamous echo chambers created by the greatest information sharing invention in human history. Unfortunately, it can often be a realm where confirmation bias runs rampant. It’s easier than ever to find data that backs up your beliefs.
Unfortunately, this has also made it easier to think that people with different opinions are idiots and unworthy of your respect. The Internet, once predicted to be the harbinger of a new age of human cooperation, can also be a tool that creates bitter division.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can still communicate in a civil, constructive manner. What we need to do is shut up and listen to each other again.
Agree to Disagree, But Don’t Label
So, as I said above, someone disagreed with me on the Internet. They responded to my article about mass shootings, taking issue with the statement that “we are all responsible.” I replied to them to reinforce my point: I wasn’t saying we are all responsible for causing such violence. However, we should all consider what we do in the aftermath of mass shootings. I recommended that we, the bystanders, should take action and do our part to seek ways to minimize the occurrence of such tragedies.
As members of society, we are all “responsible” for the smooth function of our society. We must always strive to work together during and after crises to promote hope and seek solutions instead of degenerating into cynicism.
Here’s the thing: I “argued” with the person who disagreed with me, but not in the way you think. I didn’t attack them personally. I didn’t assume they were some demonic being that I needed to banish.
Rather, I did what we’re supposed to do in the grand tradition of civil discourse: I calmly replied to clarify what I had intended to say. I also suggested they may have missed the point of my article (if, in fact, they read it at all) and recommended they read it again if they wanted to discuss further.
I stood my ground, but in a way respectful of the other person. There’s no need to try and destroy someone else when they disagree with you.
Was I a little angry that they jumped to a conclusion and missed my point because of possible knee-jerk assumptions? Sure, that’s a natural reaction. But we can work to control our anger before we let it run through our fingers into the keyboard.
Specifically, I was angry because the person used the word “liberal.” Nothing bothers me more than labels. Labels are a boil on the backside of human existence. They’re artificial dividing lines between people that we often forget we’ve created ourselves, like people blindly following a tradition created so long ago no one living can remember why it was created.
If I must be labeled at all, let me be labeled as a humanist. I believe we need to drill down past all the stupid labels we put on ourselves and others in order to access the fundamental humanity we all share. This transcends politics, religion, and any other arbitrary affiliations.
All of the things we invent to categorize human beings are just ways to separate us into petty gangs. We need to remember it’s better to be part of the human tribe, instead. Gangs exist only to cause chaos. A tribe works together to benefit all.
In the end, my ideological opponent and I in the example above agreed to disagree, and that particular Internet-based conversation became quite cordial. I know, that’s like seeing a unicorn, right?
We both said “fair enough.” Sometimes, that’s as far as you’ll get. But in words like “agree to disagree” and “fair enough” are the ground rules for civil conversation, based on respect for our mutual humanity. We need more of that these days!
Heroes Go First
Okay, enough backstory! Here’s how heroism can help reestablish civil discourse. Let’s break it down logically:
- Heroes are leaders and trailblazers.
- Someone needs to be the first to seek civility and mutual humanity in any discussion. This is part of the discipline of non-violent communication.
- By definition, heroes are willing to go where many others will not. This may mean giving someone the benefit of the doubt before they give it to you.
- Therefore, you can be the one to listen and communicate heroically, setting the example for the other person.
Yes, there is every possibility the other person will take advantage of your kindness and refuse to be civil in return. Yes, that sucks. But at least you made the attempt. And don’t forget, you took the hero’s path and sought mutual respect.
Don’t let them walk all over you, though. Extricate yourself from a lopsided conversation with someone who’s being narrow-minded, for sure. Don’t waste your time. You’re never going to change another person’s mindset directly. They need to do that themselves. You can only give them the suggestion of being more open-minded, and show them a better way by example.
As I said, someone needs to be first. Someone needs to be the one to extend the olive branch. Be prepared for confusion and suspicion. Many people have forgotten what it’s like to have a calm conversation. You have to wait for their knee-jerk defensiveness to dissipate!
Keep trying to bridge divides, and you’ll be rewarded, maybe even surprised, by the people with which you’re trying to communicate.
A version of this article was originally published at livethehero.com
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