RESPECTFUL CONVERSATIONS

SMALL LIGHTS FRIDAY

Happy Friday, everyone! And – of course – Happy Small Lights Friday! I hope you’ve all been kind to each other and, if not, I hope it was for deserved revenge and it went smoothly for you. 

I thought for today it would be a good idea to get back to the very basics of what a Small Light is. We want to introduce positivity into the world; we want to infuse a glimmer of hope into our fellow humans, through our words and actions.

Helping a stranger carry their too-many groceries (don’t help me, though, I can DO this!), complimenting someone’s sweater, all of those little things that might turn someone’s mood around.

The latest Senate Judiciary Report dropped earlier this week, along with the news that Trump is actively obstructing the investigation. I know, I know – I am just as shocked as you are. Who could guess? Well, we’re not going to be talking about the report today. We all watched the insurrection live on TV, and I haven’t finished reading the report yet. (Okay, I’ll confess: I got to page 4, realized I already knew the information, and went back to reading The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule).

I want to talk about the ripples we are going to see from this among our friends and family. I want to talk about how we can talk to each other civilly, respectfully, and without insulting the person we are debating with. I want to talk about how we can guide the misguided. I fear we may be entering another period of stress and constant agitation, both from the news and from our neighbors. I am expecting another circus. Perhaps, if we do our best, we can get ahead of the hate.

AIN’T NO DEBATE

Let’s be clear: We are not entertaining conspiracy theories here. There is no debate that Joe Biden won the election, or that Covid-19 is real. No one is coming to take anyone’s guns, and Christianity is not under attack. In fact, I fully expect to be able to say “Merry Christmas” without being persecuted, despite popular belief. I’ll keep you posted on my findings. 

While the majority of Americans know these facts to be true, there is a pocket of America that has fallen victim to misinformation, disinformation, and plain old conspiracy theories. It is important to note that these people are not stupid; they are misinformed. I ask you to remember the word sonder, the word that defines that feeling we get when we realize everyone around us has as much of an intricate life as we do. Hopes, dreams, fears – these help define our humanity. We all have all three, don’t we? 

The conspiracy theorist in your life has hopes, dreams, and fears. Do not mock them. In 2021, we are faced with a world of deep fakes, “alternative facts,” and online social microphones whose impact has been uncovered too late. Do not forget these are people you love. You’ve purchased them Christmas presents, you’ve laughed with them, drank strong drinks with them. We are all just regular people who happen to be faced with the new world of social media and, congruently, international outreach. What was once whispered among friends at the bar is now circulating the globe, garnishing likes and retweets, fueled by rage and fear. It has been proven that lies spread far faster than truth. But do not give up hope just yet. 

ARGUE WITH CARE

So, what can we do? Scientific American has some ideas. There is a lot of great information in this article, and I encourage you to read it, but my interest was most piqued at one particular strategy: Creating a shared objective. I have found this method to be the most helpful tool in having a respectful conversation without indulging conspiracy theories and feeding the flame in my own personal relationships.

Instead of completely dismissing their ideals and beliefs, focus on the problem. Let’s use Covid-19 as an example. 

Of course, the shared objective with the pandemic is reaching some form of normalcy. It is important to remember that the person you are talking to ultimately wants the same thing. They are just taking a different, more perilous avenue.

“Covid-19 is a hoax. You know masks make you sicker, right?”

“I wish we could just stop wearing masks, too. I just want to get back to normal.”

From here, try to guide them. 

BE IN A POSITION TO LISTEN

Have your words ever been ignored? Perhaps you have found yourself once, at a Thanksgiving dinner, attempting fruitlessly to shout your opinion over the ever-oscillating stuffing and sweet potatoes, only to remain unheard. It does not feel great. Remember, when you are talking to a conspiracy theorist, they too want to be heard as much as you do. They too are bound to the social contract that dictates we listen to one another. Once you dismiss them, you are part of the conspiracy and the argument is over.

From The Guardian:

“The first step is to establish empathy.”

The Guardian

We must approach these issues with understanding, lest we lose the entire conversation. Keep in mind, Watergate was real, Project Paperclip was real. The fact that there have been several conspiracy theories proven true does make it more difficult to direct your friend away from mistruths. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them what they think, what their conclusions are. Essentially: Treat them as human beings.

“When describing theories, they may have already noticed some of the contradictions and holes in the logic. If not, you will at least be in a more informed position to start a constructive discussion.” 

Once empathy has been established, an effective conversation can be held. I know this from experience. I remember last year, a dear friend expressed to me their concern about defunding the police. This conversation happened last year, so please keep in mind I am paraphrasing.

“It’s incredible what the democrats are doing. They want to take away all the police. It’s unbelievable. They want this [the protests] to continue.”

“You’re totally right – we do need police. That’s why I think the phrase “defund the police” was a critical error in their rhetoric – it gives off the wrong vibe.” 

“Right, so who are you going to call when you’re in trouble? No one is going to help you.” 

“It’s so irresponsible how democrats are phrasing this. When they are saying, ‘defund the police,’ they mean diverting funds that are used to purchase military grade weapons and transferring it to mental health services. So I mean, the money is just being allocated to services better suited to the situation.” 

“Oh, really? Well, I mean, that makes sense.”

“Right? I wish they had chosen a better slogan.” 

“Seriously. That sounds like the right idea!”

I did not make this conversation up. This truly was the outcome of displaying empathy and listening. 

A WORLD DIVIDED IS NOT LOST

Trump’s supporters were stoked and incited by their own fears, blasted through mics that echoed through packed stadiums. Yes, the fears were – and are – unfounded. And yes, for a good chunk of these supporters, these fears are based in racism. I truly believe many people with racist ideals can be liberated from those ideals. I think back to the piece I wrote for a different Small Lights Friday, where I discussed my journey in becoming actively anti-racist. I had to come to terms with the fact that I have been benefiting from White Supremacy and, while I certainly was never consciously racist, I had to grapple with the social ladder I finally learned I was standing on. It was hard. It was not impossible. 

Now that we know Facebook benefits from us getting angry, let’s keep that in the back of our minds. If you’re browsing your feed and you see something that makes your blood boil, turn off the app and take five deep breaths. Or, if you can, try going outside. 

I did not write this article to advise that all racists should be forgiven. That is patently untrue. There are some people, however few, that may just hold hate in their hearts. Perhaps they have been completely lost to hate, gobbled up through Facebook memes and Project Veritas videos. Perhaps it has always been within them. It is true that there are some people who cannot be saved from this. It is a tragic loss. However, we must focus on the people who are willing to be saved – the people who are afraid after being fed misinformation.

In 2021, there is so much to fear. So much to fear, in fact, that I will never understand the stoking of these conspiracy theories; reality is tough enough. I do hope these coming weeks and months go smoothly for you. The House investigation is picking up speed right in time for Thanksgiving – the holiday that, for whatever reason, has been designated the Politics Holiday.

Remember to listen, and to empathize. Guide your loved ones to the truth without insulting them. If they are unwilling to learn, do not fight. Walk away. Look at the transformation October weather brings, rife with opportunity. 

We are standing on a precipice. Do not falter.

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