I love words.
Did you ever pause to think about what an incredible miracle it is that our species developed the ability to use language, that we could come up with these complex series of symbols, that when conveyed to another in our species, can literally alter the neural pathways in the other person’s brain?
The pen truly is mightier than the sword, which is why I find it so sad that so many limit themselves with their communication, even so much as to do harm to the causes that they are so passionate about.
This morning, while perusing the headlines, I made a post on social media that I knew would get people talking.
What I posted would be a distraction from our discussion here, but I made a point to phrase it in a way that was open ended and did not divulge my own view on the subject, while at the same time, pushing my readers buttons enough to know that they would want to chime in.
I promised myself that I would play the devil’s advocate and do my best to argue anyone who attacked my stance in an aggressive manner.
Well for one, it’s a great way to learn.
When two people are at odds with each other, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn.
“I think the sky is blue”
“Oh yeah! Well I think it’s black!”
“Tell me why you think it’s black.”
“Because I’m looking out my window right now and I can see it plainly, you f+cking moron!!”
“Where are you at?”
“Oh. I’m in Indiana. It’s blue here.”
“Well I’m blocking you anyway!! I hate people who disagree with me!!”
The above facetious conversation actually went better than many political discussions I have these days.
Often people just tell me that they are blocking me and insult my intelligence.
It doesn’t exactly hurt my feelings, but it does make me sad.
It saddens me that another human being, so blessed with this amazing ability to communicate and change my mind would rather alienate me and disregard me as a human being.
Seems like an awful waste of an amazing gift.
But learning other people’s point of view was not my only reason for making the controversial post.
I also wanted to see what kind of people I have following me, before we launch our new show, Resist/Revolt.
I want an army of activists, because an army of activists all communicating can change the world and to be honest, knee-jerk reactionaries actually do more harm than good to our cause.
When someone who supposedly represents our value system attacks someone else, it makes it that much harder for anyone else to ever reach them.
The greatest hindrance to Progressives isn’t right wing opposition, it’s those self-proclaimed Progressives that lash out at others and make the rest of us look bad.
Why do I even care?
Isn’t popularity all that matters?
After all, isn’t it just better to have more viewers than to alienate some potential viewers by having an unpopular opinion?
I wholeheartedly reject this notion.
I seek to revolutionize thinking by turning this concept completely upside down.
In fact, I believe that this idea that popularity is king, has completely turned America into a sideshow, where buffoons who know how to walk the line and appeal to the largest demographic are rewarded, while the most brilliant members of our culture are marginalized.
America has become an intellectual wasteland where being “right” means having the most number of people agree with you and THAT is a recipe for fabulous disaster.
When we live in a world of fake news, authenticity becomes a rare commodity.
In fact, while attempting to play devil’s advocate and argue with a few hundred people simultaneously this morning, someone said…
“Why don’t you give up? Can’t you see everyone disagrees with you?”
What a scary thought, that a few hundred people could all be in agreement on something, even if they were misinformed and somehow, as if by magic, a new fact is created out of thin air.
That’s the world we currently live in.
If you want to have lasting change, you must first change the culture.
In order to change the culture, we must first change ourselves.
But be warned. Making actual change is challenging. It’s actually a lot harder than just telling everyone who disagrees with you that they are stupid.
“But wait, Michael, didn’t you just say that you trolled your own readers to illicit a reaction?! Where’s the authenticity in that?!”
First off, trolling, in a limited and friendly context is an effective tool to start a conversation.
I might jokingly say to my Republican friend something like…
“I have a an idea. Why don’t we just have all the GOP members of Congress wear white hoods so they will be easier to identify?”
My friend might look at me sideways and say something like..
“Do you really believe that all Republicans are racist?”
Now we have the makings of a good conversation and as long as there is mutual respect, we can both learn from each other and about each other.
But that’s where it all falls apart, right?
Because when these opportunities present themselves, most people don’t respond like my rhetorical friend did. Most of the time people just attack, which is counterproductive and let’s be clear about something very important…
Right now America is engaged in a cultural war and there is only one way to win it.
YOU have to get out of your comfort zone and actually engage those people who think differently than you do.
Ours is a battle for hearts and minds.
Somehow we ended up with a buffoon in the White House even though only 1 in 5 Americans voted for him.
While there are a million articles written about how this happened, I am more concerned with the story that the “news” isn’t telling.
I don’t want to talk about Clinton’s crappy campaigning or how Wikileaks exposed the corruption in the “Democratic” Party.
Those points have been talked to death.
I am concerned about the deeper why.
I am talking about the elitist attitude that allows someone to think that they are superior to others and the anonymity of The Internet that allows them to freely tell anyone who disagrees with their viewpoint to f+ck right off.
This type of behavior is the death rattle of civilization and I request that you rise above it, before it is too late.
To put it simply, I am asking you to become the type of person who can actually affect real change in the minds of others.
How do we go about doing that?
The first step is easy.
Remember when your mom told you that you had two eyes and two ears but only one mouth and that this was Mother Nature’s way of trying to tell you something?
The first step in “winning” an argument is to let go of the idea of winning.
To call upon another platitude, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
When you are actively listening to someone, you are passively teaching them about yourself.
People are already bracing themselves to be attacked as they are stating their point of view. In fact, they are probably so used to defending their opinion that they will be caught completely off balance by the simple act of listening.
I am not telling you to pretend to listen. I’m asking for you to genuinely listen.
If you are in a battle and you know where all the enemies troops are stationed then you have a huge advantage right?
If you know their exact plan of attack then you are almost guaranteed to come up with a successful counter.
When you find someone whom you disagree with, have the courage to listen.
Become so intimate with their point of view that you can recite it back to them and then actually recite it back to them and don’t add your own input until two things have been accomplished.
- You intimately understand their position.
- You find a point of agreement.
Here’s an imaginary example.
Trump Supporter: Donald Trump is the greatest President this country has ever had.
You: Oh yeah? You feel like he’s proven that in just one month?
TS: He kept his campaign promises, unlike Obama (don’t get sidetracked here).
You: I agree with you completely that keeping your campaign promises is incredibly important. What else do you like about him?
TS: He’s going to keep out the damned illegals!! They are taking all the American jobs!! (don’t get sidetracked here either)
You: We are in agreement again! I am glad that Trump opposed TPP. I am completely against these disastrous trade agreements that continue to outsource America’s factory jobs to China and Mexico. What else do you like about Trump? (learn their position. Without it you are powerless. Arguing without knowing what you are arguing against is counterproductive).
TS: Well he’s going to stop Isis by keeping the damned Muslims out.
You: You and I seem to agree on a lot. Isis is a big problem. Neither of us want to see another 9/11. What else makes you feel that Trump is so amazing?
TS: What else do you need? (most people feel like they have more answers than they actually do and will run out fairly quickly when pressed).
You: I just want to make sure I understand your position. You think Trump is the “best President ever” because he is going to keep his campaign promises, keep jobs in America, instead of outsourcing them and stop Isis? Did I understand you correctly?
TS: That about sums it up. Are you going to try some libtard psychology on me now? Don’t bother. I’ve seen it all.
Before we continue on, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT that you remember that your goal can NEVER be to change someone’s mind. That’s simply not how this works. Your secondary goal is to OPEN someone’s mind. Do you remember your primary goal? It’s to understand the other person’s position, which they will willingly give to you if you take a few minutes to actively listen. Now that you have it, you can counter it, all the while remembering that the more the person respects you, the more they are willing to listen.
You: While I agree with you that keeping your campaign promises is important and I also agree that keeping jobs in America is important, I am skeptical that someone who has filed bankruptcy repeatedly at the expense of the hardworking American tax payer really cares about working class folks like us (inclusion – common ground). Trump inherited 3.2 billion dollars from his father. He’s never gotten his hands dirty like you and I do on a daily basis. He attended private schools that you and I couldn’t even begin to send our children to. He also exports jobs to China from his own businesses. Don’t you think that is hypocritical?
I’m not going to have an entire imaginary conversation, but you get the idea.
Once you understand the other person’s position, you can use facts to gradually chip away at the areas in which they are misinformed.
Don’t get caught up trying to “win”. You win by keeping your cool and by caring about another human being. It is particularly difficult to care for those whom we passionately disagree with, but it is the path to enlightenment for both you and your new friend.
This approach is infinitely more productive than name-calling and character assassination.
You probably won’t “win the argument”, but you may shed some light into a previously dark area of the person’s mind.
Even if all they learn is that “not all libs are idiots.” then you have already accomplished something amazing.
Many will not take this high-road, because it requires them to be patient and learned.
Many are so caught up in the gratification of their own egos that they use The Internet to fill in some deep desire that they have to feel superior to others.
Don’t be like that and don’t encourage those that are this way.
When you see someone doing this, simply say…
“I’m sorry that (person’s name) is having a hard time using their words today. Not all of us are like that. So you believe that…” and sum up the person’s position and make sure you understand them.
When someone who confesses to represent the values that you represent is blasting people who think differently, they are alienating that person from new information and hurting your cause.
Don’t be afraid to step in and bring some compassion and intelligence to the conversation.
Your goal should be to make friends with those who think differently than you and break down the walls of your echo-chamber.
If you are trying to build an environment where you surround yourself with those who see everything the way that you do, then you are being weak and cowardly.
If you are engaging in this type of asinine and elitist behavior then please don’t call yourself a revolutionary or an activist, because what you are doing is making it harder for the rest of us who seek to bridge the gap with those who see things differently than we do.
The real battle is with the 1% wealthy elite who control every aspect of our lives.
It is NOT with our neighbors.
Break your lazy embarrassing habits.
Change your strategy.
Change your goals.
Change your country.