Stop Being Mean, Start Asking Questions

When did human decency get thrown out the window?

It seems as if everywhere you look, there’s a level of anger and umbrage we haven’t seen in a long time, especially in my lifetime. I asked my elders if there was another time in their history that held such high voltage divisiveness. They listed off a few of the usual suspects (Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, etc.), but ultimately, their answer was “no.” Our country is more divided then ever.

We’re hurting. All of us. We need something to point the finger at, if only to assign blame to start the healing process. You must identify before you can alleviate. The problem is, it seems that our emotions have gotten the best of us, and the expectation of “human decency” toward one another has simply gone out the window. It’s hard enough to be a human being, why must we be active in making it harder for another?

In the wake of the election, people are trying to figure out what really happened. Each side has their own opinion, often hinging on the buzzwords of “racists,” “ignorant,” and “out-of-touch.” When it comes to politics, we’ve removed the human element from each person, replacing them with these insensitive labels, as if people and their political affiliations are, and always will be, one and the same. Chris is a Liberal. Debbie is a Republican. If you voted for that candidate, you are vicariously required to represent and defend every opinion and platform that candidate ran on. “But he’s a racist.” “But she’s a liar.” This doesn’t make people uplifted and hopeful, it makes people defensive. It’s a vicious cycle of backing into corners, ready to swing.

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The only way we can get past this, is by asking questions. Engage using the Socratic method. While there may be gratification in calling people “idiots,” there’s more gratification in engaging with them, asking and challenging them to boil down their perspectives and opinions down to their purest, unadulterated form. It’s difficult for them to do, and it’s really hard to maintain an even keel while debating all of these closely-held beliefs, and most people won’t. They won’t, because they’re afraid.


People are afraid to engage their intellect. It’s not their fault. It’s the education system. It’s their lifestyle. Educating yourself is hard, it requires, at it’s base, the recognition that opinions can change without grand judgment of the individual. Changing your mind isn’t the same as changing everything about you. People are afraid of change, so they rely on their gut, because “no matter what you say, you can’t tell me that my gut is wrong.” And they’re right. But the problem is, you can cultivate your “gut feeling” through engaging your intellect. Rather than watching the nightly news and learning about the world around you, it’s easier, and less intellectually demanding, to let reality television wash over you. Passive and inactive.

 

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Nobody has ever won an argument with the closing line, “you’re an idiot.” I see your point now, thank you for debating with me. No. We need to ask questions, not only of others but most importantly, ourselves. First, why are we having these conversations in the first place? What are we trying to accomplish by engaging? Are we trying to change someone else’s mind for them, or for us? If we are trying to set people straight, and help them see the error in their ways, is their “conversion” to your side the ultimate goal? Before you engage, you must crystalize your goal and stick to it. There’s nothing more ineffective and pointless than a ceaselessly wandering argument. They inevitably deteriorate into petulance and more anger.

If you do find yourself in a civil debate with someone who holds diametrically opposite viewpoints, you should consider yourself lucky. But furthermore, your approach should be simple: ask questions and listen. Period. Don’t preach. Don’t belittle. Don’t respond with exasperated gasps or insulting memes. Instead, ask questions to get to the root of their beliefs. Why do you feel that way? What is the personal benefit do you believe you will receive from voting for him or her? What is the thing about my candidate you didn’t like most? Asking these kinds of questions will get them to confront their gut and engage their intellect. Do your best to remain calm, you never know what’s gonna come out.

Chances are, a majority of these incendiary attacks will come online. It’s nothing new to ascribe an unfounded confidence to digital anonymity. Hiding behind your Twitter avatar, the confrontations are seemingly “less real.” People say whatever they want because their opponent has no direct impact on the flesh and blood of their daily life. Unfortunately for them, those days are beginning to fade. The bold, the angry, the unhinged are taking their outrage out from behind their computers and into their communities. Violence is the ugly result.

If there’s any plea from this post, it’s that we stop the name calling and start getting involved on an individual level. We’re all human beings. We’re all Americans. We’re in this together. Unless you brush shoulders with the top 1% (I do, but I couldn’t be further from them economically), we’re pretty much all going to deal with repercussions of our collective choices. Pointing fingers and name-calling now is irrelevant. Doesn’t it make us “better people” to actively buoy the lives of those you vehemently agree with? When did “turn the other cheek” go out of style?

Since the election, it’s been amazing to see our communities energized. We’re taking to the streets, we’re starting groups with daily calls to action to protect our rights, we’re petitioning and calling our representatives. “We The People” are speaking up louder than ever, not only for ourselves, but for those that can’t, and those that need it most. If we organize, embrace empathy and individual rights, the country will become something we can all be proud to call the United States of America.

In the meantime, can we knock it off with the insulting memes?

BONUS: It’s not just on Facebook and Twitter we get bold and combative. I received this in the contact form of my website:

Name: Eat my ball skin
Email: Fuckyou@fuckyou.com
Website: http://stretchyBallSkin.com
Comment: No talent assclown with a fucking crappy website. Leave your shitty “art” and “photography” in California.  Good luck “consulting” when your art has been showcased at high schools and your yuppie university. Fuck outta here – I’ll pay you 7$ an hour to suck outta my ass wid a straw.  #anusmeat
Contact Number: 1-800-eat-shit
Where did you hear about Mystery Tin?: cockboy.net

To practice what I preach, I asked “Why?” when I received this last year. I know a thing or two about computers, so I tracked down the IP address attached to the form submission. It was located in the North East. Scanning my contacts in that part of the country, I was able to eliminate my fraternity brothers and a few other possibilities, until I narrowed it down to the culprit: some guy a long ago ex-girlfriend cheated on me with. A hater, plain and simple.

So why did he say all that? Aside from the obvious, it’s because he thought he was being an anonymous tough guy and I’d never figure out it was him. Better luck next time, DUDE.

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
The Wisdom of Shark Tank 
is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
Personal Fire Ecology is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

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