This Wingnut Called Me an Idiot. Here’s What I Said Back.
(This was first posted to the Bullshit.ist, that awesome Medium publication.)
So I just got verbally abused online by someone I don’t know, who I’ve never met, and never will. Surprised, right? It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time.
I bet just about everyone reading this post has been attacked for some kind of political comment online, at some point. And I bet just about everyone’s blasted them right back.
Take a look at the country right now, and let me ask: How’s that working out?
Since we are all citizen-activists online, here’s what I’m asking you to do. Every time you come across a comment thread which has descended into attack-and-parry name-calling, jump in with a message of kind humility and find a way to connect. Yes, even when their point of view seems ridiculous. Yes, even when they’ve just called you something totally offensive.
I’m not saying this is easy.
Think of it this way. Everyone wants what’s best for the country. And everyone has been so subsumed by emotionally-driven propaganda they no longer see the other side as human. If you know your history, there is nothing about this situation that turns out well.
It’s not “them.” It’s you. It’s me. Even college-educated, smart, well-read liberals are just as easily manipulated by propaganda as the most passionate Trump voter. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
So, here’s how I handled it. First this guy insisted that all the marchers in DC were paid by George Soros. Later on, he called me “absurd” because I suggested the Woman’s March was about passionate people reacting to the direction Trump is taking the country, including an oil-driven foreign policy and attacks on a woman’s right to choose.
Then he said:
They’re against “oil” are they? How did they get to DC then? Did they walk? Defending “women’s rights” were they? And yet their candidate took payments from Saudi Arabia. Ridiculous hypocrisy as ever from the left. And as for “people power”, you won the popular vote because Obama gave the green light for illegals to vote. How can ANY country allow voting without ID? It is preposterous.
There was more. But that’s enough. I thought for a few minutes, and wrote something like this:
I hear your passion. Here’s the thing. I bet we agree on a lot more than you imagine. Why do we keep blasting each other? We need to figure this out. Me and you, we could figure this out. We compromise all the time in our lives, in our homes, with our families. It’s what the country was founded on. We don’t do it over politics anymore. It’s all “my way or no way.”
So, you’re worried about voter fraud. Well, you’re right, it’s a democracy, what’s more important than that? It’s true, I burn oil all day. I just wish we’d find a way to use less, our kids breathe that air. You see hypocrisy with Hillary Clinton and Saudi Arabia. If I’m honest with myself, you’re right about that, too. It is bullshit. It is hypocritical. Where I think you’re wrong is assuming “all” liberals think it’s okay. Maybe a lot do. A lot more might be open to think about it if they heard your message without being called absurd or preposterous.
Just like republicans might hear me if I stop calling them “idiot red staters.”
Did you ever consider that these so-called “sides” are created to get us pissed off and fighting each other, so that real changes or progress can’t happen? I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but I’m really starting to think there’s some truth to this.
Thanks for listening with an open mind.
I have no idea if this guy will really listen to me with an open mind. He could respond by totally slamming me. But there is zero chance that he’ll listen to me in any sort of serious way if I just call him a better name than the one he called me.
Admittedly, being “nicer online” won’t stop the big, appalling, even frightening policies (to me) that are coming down, seemingly on an hour-by-hour basis. Yes, we should make our representatives listen, we should march and organize. We should read, memorize, and implement the strategies in the Indivisible Guide. But diffusing anger, even with people who attack us, starts the process of building community, one comment at a time.
That’s what I think. What about you?
UPDATE: Well, I can share that my “adversary” responded to what I’d written him, and I’m happy to say the first sentence was this:
Eric, of course you’re right — the way the message is delivered makes a huge difference in the way it is received.
And then he reiterated his strong point of view. Okay, so I didn’t turn him into a Bernie Bro. We are still world’s apart. But we found something to agree with — me and this guy! And the attack festival ended up as an interesting debate.
In writing this and trying to have it embody all of my social media interactions, I’ve come to start thinking that kindness in the face of hatred is POWER. So I learned something here. Maybe he did too. I’ll call that a victory.