Last week, I was having car trouble. Or, at least, I thought I was. I had tried, on several occasions over several days, to get into another lane, but no one would let me over. I live in a small southern city, not a place for aggressive drivers. So, I thought my turn signal light must be out. I pulled in front of my house and checked the light. Much to my disappointment, the light worked just fine. It wasn’t the light that was broken; it was society.
This week, I have been having writing trouble. I have been struggling because I realized that it really doesn’t matter what I say, or how I say it. The internet is filled with people saying things, citing statistics, taking stances. I knew that no matter what I say or how I say it, someone won’t like it. And someone would. And no one’s opinions would actually change. No one wants to hear statistics or facts. No one will be swayed by them. No one wants to hear an empathy-driven anecdote, either.
Growing up, we had to participate in class debates just about every year. We would pick a point and argue it. Sometimes we would choose which opponent “won” by who had the better argument. We even had a debate team. In college, we were often rewarded for who had the most interesting (read: controversial or inflammatory) comment in class. Now, people enjoy trolling each other online, just for the sheer joy of inciting controversy.
We had a debate team at my school but we never had a consensus team. It wasn’t deemed important that we were taught how to listen to each other, respect each other, or empathize with each other. Our entire culture has been structured around a fear-based, controversy-loving, team-choosing, “us-vs-them” rhetoric.
I’m not saying there isn’t value in statistics or in anecdotes meant to inspire empathy. I’ll admit, I’ve been sharing some of them myself, and I’ve re-posted enough “Snopes” articles on other people’s shared memes that I might as well start working for the website myself. I’ve gotten in my fair share of political debates too. I am just saying that everything we are trying isn’t working. So I came up with seven questions. And I challenge you, no, I DARE you, to write out what you view the answers to these seven questions to be. Write it out from multiple perspectives if that helps. They are as follows:
- What does the other side want, specifically?
- What is motivating them to support what they want?
- What do you fear would happen if they get what they want?
- What are they asking you to give up?
- What have they given up, or what would they be willing to give up?
- What would you be willing to give up?
- Is that thing worth giving up? Why or why not?
Now, I’m not saying that everything is worth giving up, or that there isn’t a reason to take a stance. I’m even questioning if it’s even right to not take my own stance in this post. I have chosen not to do so because I don’t feel it is constructive to the post itself, and because, like I said, it wasn’t working. Writing your answers out may make it clear whether those things are worth giving up or not. If you feel they are not worth giving up, thinking through these questions may still help you to form a more informed opinion. And, most importantly, it may help you to respect your fellow humans, even if you don’t agree with them.
If you don’t know the answer to any one of these questions, but you are posting memes and the like online, then shame on you. You need to stop right now, and do a little research for yourself. Better yet, find someone who has a viewpoint opposite of you and ask them to give their opinion. And actually listen and ask questions instead of thinking about your rebuttal. If you do know the answers and have thought about them a lot, and have really thought critically about your opponent’s point of view and have tried to empathize with them and truly respect them, then give yourself a pat on the back. And go eat a cookie, because you have probably had a very long week.
I’ll be honest. I have zero expectations that these seven questions will solve anything. But you know what? I’m a writer, and words are all I have to try to make a difference in the world. So I’ll leave it to you to prove me wrong.