I just finished an article by Bill Donahue that is….well….exactly what I want to say, what I have been trying to say. But the author said it so well, I thought about simply posting it and suggesting folks read it. Then I realized that those I would like to reach would not read it because it came from The Washington Post. So, I figured perhaps I would do my own analysis of the author’s story.
Words and Phrases
In my first read-through, what struck me was the plethora of phrases and words I keep hearing lately as I try to talk with folks about our country’s current climate. Just to be clear, I do not support either political pole. I support or don’t support issues in our country, but I don’t believe any one ideology has all the answers.
My journey started about a year ago when I posted an article saying I supported Black Lives Matter. A commenter asked how I could support a terrorist organization. First of all, I had never considered that some may call BLM a terrorist organization. Just didn’t enter my brain. But that created cognitive dissonance in me that has only grown more difficult to manage.
Over the past year, I have found myself in conversations with someone who supported the Qanon ideology. I didn’t want to be caught off guard again, so I began reading about Qanon. I learned more than I wanted to know, but I felt as if it was my responsibility to understand. I asked questions that never seemed to get an answer. He just invoked words and phrases that I’d already read as I researched.
I tried to get him to tell me in his own words. He wasn’t able to do that. He kept reciting the ideology and pointing me to “non-MSM” websites and chastising me because I read MSM. I was so tired of being called a “sheep.”
But the words I heard over and over from him, echoed in the author’s article as he tried to talk with those who thought differently.
“Those are the facts”
“Bent on destroying the American way of life”
“BLM is a Marxist organization”
“Black Lives Matter…is a ‘myopic’ organization that’s ‘fomenting violence’ to serve a globalist agenda.”
“There are some very powerful forces driving it,”
“Wall Street establishment types. Globalization works for them.”
[About face masks] “Simply, we are violating the rights of our people. This is not something we can tolerate now or in the future”
“Trained Marxists [are] running the Black Lives Matter movement”
[It’s] “All about their hatred for President Trump, eliminating America as we know it, and mob rule”
“Open your eyes…it’s happening all over the country…this is not up for debate. [Ed note: I really hate being told my eyes are closed]
“When they show up and destroy your property and drag you out of your home you may think differently”
“I don’t support mainstream media or news organizations that are corrupt.” (The speaker goes on to suggest that I [Donahue] “write an article about the corruption and Fraud that is occurring. Talk about the overwhelming evidence and demand this be investigated for the good of our country. I challenge you to stand up.” Intrigued, I write back, wondering whether he is referencing the presidential election or a “wider pattern of fraud and corruption.” “Please don’t insult my intelligence,” he replies. “Have a good day.”)
“Look, white privilege exists only if you let it exist.”
And it isn’t only those on the right. These days, just about anything can be deemed by “the other side” as negative, as Donahue’s example shows:
“Days later, when I tell a couple of Portland friends about Cote and her warning shots, they’re horrified and suggest that, simply by communing with such a gunslinger, I’ve slipped over to the dark side.”
We keep piling it on, hawking fear, talking in generalities, and trying to scream loud enough that someone will change their mind and think like us.
That’s not me
I take issue with all of those words I have heard. I do not support terrorists, I do not want mob rule in my country, I do not want to destroy the American way of life.
If someone tries to tell me our government is corrupt, I may rephrase the statement into: “I think our elected officials are more concerned with power than with our country.”
If someone tries to tell me Blue Lives Matter, I will say, “You betcha!”
If someone calls me a Marxist because I support Black Lives Matter, I will say, “Please help me understand what part of Marxist ideology you are referring to, because his ideology was multi-faceted.”
Assume Positive Intent
In the article, Donahue spoke of his conversation with a neighbor….
“Our luncheon chat is doing what dialogue should do: It’s making me see my opponent as complex and human.”
Every one of us is complex, made who we are by our culture, our experience, our size, our abilities, our gender, our race, how our parents treated us, how we learn……
When we put labels on people we take away their humanity and put them in a box. That serves no purpose other than to alienate.
When I work with clients, I introduce a new phrase intended to help leaders communicate. We talk about “Assume Positive Intent.”
Communications go south when assumptions are made. We are complex and every word and every phrase we utter can be taken well or badly.
By starting with a commitment to Assume Positive Intent on another’s part, we minimize the risk of disagreement and maximize the possibility of finding common ground.
Getting Beneath the Rhetoric
Donahue ended his article with the following:
“Great conversations are rooted in courage and trust. We need them to keep our nation civil and stable, and during the past few weeks, I’ve seen just how difficult it is to make them happen. Over and over, I’ve been stonewalled and reminded that a lot of people would rather say cruel things online than talk in person.”
That is sad, to me.
Call me naïve, I think we can do better. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Take a deep breath before responding either in person or (especially) online. Right now, online is about all we have.
- Commit to assuming that, behind what the other person is saying even if it goes against your beliefs, has value.
- Ask questions rather than rush to make your own statement. Look for the value in the other opinion. One of my favorite questions is, “Can you tell me a bit more about why you feel that way?”
- Don’t allow ourselves to be wooed by someone else’s ideology or rhetoric. That person is not you; you deserve your own thoughts.
- Break down labels into smaller parts. What is it about conservativism that you support? What is it about liberalism that you support? Talk about things that can actually move us forward, not just the ideological label.
- Read stuff. Not just what supports your own views, but things that contrast. You just might learn something.
Please don’t take this article as me saying I have all the answers or that I practice what I preach consistently. I’ve made conversations go south with the best of ‘em, getting defensive and blocking out what “they” are saying as I try to construct my debate.
But can you imagine where we could take our country if we were to intentionally foster the courage and trust that Donahue references?
And now, if I’ve tweaked your interest enough, read Donahue’s article. It is a good one.