Today I got in an argument. It was over before I even realized one of us was fighting with the other. A man almost 3X my age sent me a link to a news story titled “This is the New Face of the Democrat Party: Charlie Kirk & Candace Owens Ambushed by Liberal Protesters”
The article was from Fox&Friends and I think that’s important because to me, I would have known that Fox&Friends tends to alienate readers and viewers by altering their language in their segments. But more importantly I noted it was of value because I was not engaging with someone who shared that viewpoint with me. So I couldn’t simply say “oh dude, that’s from Fox&Friends, of course it’s one-sided”. Instead I simply said “the atrocities of the few do not outweigh or speak for the successes of the many”. I followed up by saying that it would be unfair for me to say that white supremacists were the new face of the Republican party (which is an exaggerated comparison but one that should highlight how ridiculous it is to say that people protesting without violence are the new face of Democrats). My point was missed and just like that I was dismissed from an argument I wasn’t even aware I was having.
He then called me a silly girl and said that all of this was bullshit (referring to the white supremacist comment).
I’ve thought a lot about this exchange. I thought about all the other times a man or woman in my life has told me that my ideas and view on the world are “silly”. I’ve been called naive and misinformed. At the time when these insults were thrown at me I felt embarrassed or even upset. Looking back I can recognize that I felt that way because I didn’t know how to respond when someone shrugged off my perspective so blatantly.
In college I used to love confrontation. I used to love turning a battle of wits into a semantic word play. I thought I was doing it because I love language and the effect it can have on people. How a sentence that seemingly gets the same point across can use such different words. It’s probably why I repeat myself in my writing; I like to find new ways of saying the same thing. But I wasn’t doing it in a way that harbored understanding. I was doing it in a way that made people feel embarrassed or upset. I was acting this way because without being able to use words in my own life experiences to combat conversation bullies, I was becoming a reflection of the people who had hurt me. Instead of having a fruitful debate based in logic, I was forcing my adversaries to rely on emotion. It didn’t help either one of us understand the other.
When I started canvassing to get fracking banned in Maryland last year (which we did!!! YEYAH) I learned early on that not everyone wanted to have the conversation and even fewer people had the same opinion as I did on the issue. I talked with my field manager about this issue I was running into and she very bluntly said “it’s not your job to change their mind, opinion or voice, it’s your job to let them know that their voice matters and can be heard if they’re willing to take action.” I’m paraphrasing but that’s essentially it, right Madeline? So I took out “conflict words” from my opening statement at the door. Words like “Trump, EPA, global warming”. Not because those words didn’t have value but because those words drew boundaries around each of our understandings that made it unlikely that we could even have a shared shaded spot in a Venn Diagram. I didn’t take those words out because I was worried about having a Trump supporter get angry at me, I was taking them out because I recognized an opportunity for common ground that would not exist if I brought a name into our conversation that didn’t belong there. Look, Trump is our president. But how we treat the Earth is bigger than him and it’s certainly bigger than me. And do you know what I heard when I took those “trigger” words out of my rhetoric? I heard global warming deniers recognize the effect fracking would have on the Chesapeake Bay, a place that taught them how to fish. I heard Trump supporters apologize for his environmental policies while they signed my petition. I heard libertarians admit that if there was one thing worth rallying behind, it was protecting our planet and source of life.
So this man called me a silly girl and asked me, and I quote, “What makes you so dam smart? what have you done in this world in the short time you’ve been here besides judging others?”
And it got me thinking, I spend so many of my conversations working toward finding common ground with the other person that I was completely dumbfounded by this question (the second question because “what makes you so dam smart” can just be answered with: damn.).
So I wanted to take a little moment to write down the ways in which I’ve impacted the world around me.
Don’t lose your cool. See the opportunity for common ground in every conversation you have. And most importantly, know your perspective, your experiences, and your life have immeasurable value.