Even the air seems hot these days. It’s as if 2017 came electrified along political lines pushing people further apart from one another. Following is a recount of three situations I experienced that make me give pause while thinking about these as communication failures and the hope that things can be different if we work to improve things.
I have a high school friend who was one of the forward thinking alternative straight guys who befriended me in our home town. Our friendship was pivotal to me as a young teen desperate to find some bits of self-respect as I was struggling to come out. He of course “dated” every one of my female friends, and broke a lot of hearts along the way, but he was who he was.
We parted ways as our lives unfolded only to reconnect when his mom passed away in 2016. It was then that I discovered that he had become xenophobic, somewhat racist and disturbingly conspiracy theorist. As the months during the 2016 election cycle ground along wearing everyone’s nerves raw and shredded I noticed that he had a habit of doing what looked like internet trolling. Now it should be said that I had a failure of character here as well. I struck up a private conversation with him after Trump was elected. I was somewhat unhinged along with much of the left leaning Nation. My tone could have been more reserved to say the least. I apologized of course.
Still, as the weeks and months went on he became more and more troll like on social media with me. Some public threads topping 30 plus interactions. These were not just on my feeds but on other folks feeds as well. It was as if he was looking for a platform to speak from across many places to spread some sort of personal dictate that he was right and all others were wrong. Most of them leaving me dumbfounded with how pro-gun, anti-Muslim and Hispanic, conspiracy theorist and so on… I can’t remember what the thread was but there was one point where I had had enough. I blocked him.
Another friend of mine was someone who was close to us for a while in the late 90’s and early part of the 01’s. We both knew he was kind of a bully but he had a good heart… and happens to be handsome which has its own sort of magnetism I guess. We had treated he and mutual friend out to a night at the movies a month or so after my heart attack in 2015. I was eager to get back to normal life, while at the same time, just beginning to realize that I was about to go through the stages of grief. I can’t remember the movie but I do remember him driving us in his SUV at break neck speeds while shouting at other drivers and smoking, after I asked him not to for my own health reasons. It was one of those rides you were just happy to get out of the car safely afterwards.
We went back to our loft after the show and had a couple beers which ended up being a very bad idea. As our guest proselytized about the weakness of the poor and disadvantaged the conversation turned personal. My cardiac anger is quite possibly what triggered a non-characteristic moment where I put on my verbal boxing gloves and brought up a parallel situation to what he was arguing with my in laws. They worked hard all their lives. They were an exemplary role model for what a good and caring family should be as part of one of Columbus’ best families who were involved in charity work and high profile religious affiliations.
They eventually retired and enjoyed a brief moment of being well off. At least in the sense that they could enjoy going out on the town with their adult children and their spouses. Treating us to some of the things they enjoyed most. A good time together. Laughter, cocktails, food and stories. Unfortunately, those days came to a careening halt when the Dot Com bubble burst. They didn’t have the luxury of a good financial adviser. It devastated their retirement funds.
While my guest was railing against people who make bad choices and how they are personally responsible for the consequences I saw, and still do, an opportunity for compassion. These are real people. Not the abstract, and imaginary construct of the “welfare mom.” These were my in laws. The homeless guy I spoke to on the AHA Support Network who is struggling with heart disease. The mother whose husband suffered a stroke and she suddenly found her income chopped by 2 two thirds while becoming his caregiver.
So my dander was up and I let him have it. Like my earlier conversation with my hometown friend it was not particularly graceful and all he ended up taking away from this was that I was the one being unreasonable for “not respecting his opinion.”
It was many months later that I responded to a meme he had posted decrying the “hypocrisy” of feminists who support Muslims. I think I made some offhanded comment expressing how amazed I was that he was the type of person that would, on the one hand, write off an entire culture while at the same time not truly support the idea of feminism. Unfortunately it pissed him off so much that he blocked me mid conversation about this and our tiff over “welfare mom’s” and “personal responsibility.”
Lastly there was a guy who I used to hang out with who resurfaced on my social feed with climate denialist propaganda. He posted this as credible info that I should consider. When I presented to him the fact that the source was already a known Koch brothers paid for initiative to discredit actual scientific information unanimously accepted by real professionals well… he ignored it as if I had said something in another language. That it was me that had been “indoctrinated” by credible media. Whereupon he provided more sources like conspiracy theory web sites, pod casts and Breitbart style “media” outlets. In a moment where I just didn’t want to expose myself to his dangerous and backwards ideologies… I blocked him.
All this blocking. Turning people off like channels on a TV. It makes me worry, I mean seriously ponder here, the consequences of when celebrities like Trump publicly attack our government watchdog of the press to the US Court System, the third pillar of our government, as inaccurate, or worse, “the enemy of the people.” If we continue to find ourselves listening to a polarized set of information, we will continue to live in a culture and climate where no one compromises, listens, understands or feels empathy.
That’s just it too. Most of us feel passionate about our core beliefs. So where and how do we meet again in the middle? I am reminded by a recent post by Collin Wright titled “Thoughts on Conflict.” Mr. Wright points out the difference between informed and uniformed opinions, that social issues are more akin to marathons than sprints and to take note of how the other person feels.
So I’m searching for a better way to communicate with my climate denialist friend, the conspiracy theorists, the personally offensive folks who are anti Muslim, Hispanic or African American. I can hold my own in an argument but I continue to wish for better outcomes that don’t end communication in conflict. I’d much rather we’d found common ground instead and tried, actually tried, to help one another come to a better understanding. One less hateful, ugly and closed off than what the current American mood has to offer the World.
Collin Wright said “if you want to build a better world, you have to focus on winning in the right way. I think most people would agree that even if one side isn’t completely wiped from the planet, there’s still no real winner in a nuclear war.” His words definitely struck a chord within me given my three failed interactions above. I’m still looking for that conversation where two people meet halfway and do something good. Like he says, we have to constantly look ahead. All that is required is a little hope, kindness and patience to be present and mindful while we push ahead against the backward motion we are experiencing Nationally.