We're seeing our share of verbal fistfights in the pro-Romney/pro-Obama supporters right now.
Nasty commercials. (On both sides.)
Even nastier accusations. (Again - both sides.)
And there we are -- right in the middle.
It's not just them, either. I've had to fight my way through other people - groups and organizations - who disagree with each other. It's worst when members of the same group -- people you normally respect and admire -- go to arguing, then insulting, then move on to downright enmity.
What usually happens? A huge fight that proves nothing. A church split right down the middle. A group that accomplishes little, because it's so busy putting its energy into drawing battle lines.
Nothing good comes of it, either. The opposing group doesn't change its mind. (You certainly wouldn't!) Hurt feelings, harsh accusations and a generally bad taste in the mouth.
I recently came across this comment from Randy Cohen's book, Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.
Cohen wrote a column called "The Ethicist" twelve years for the
Washington Post. "Readers will endure - will welcome - views unlike
their own if those ideas are expressed without contempt," he says. "I
tried to make the column a place where people could argue amiably, could
disagree without discourtesy."
"For the first few years of
the column, I tended to respond in-kind to angry e-mail. (I suspect
many of us have a tendency to treat others as they treat us, for good or
ill.) When I received a particularly hateful screed, insulting, ad
hominem, SHOUTING AT ME IN ALL CAPS, I would think, You call that
vicious? It's amateur work. I am a trained professional; I can compose
something a hundred times more venomous. And I would.
sent one of my tormenters a savage response, I felt great. It is a
pleasure to thrash a bully. (And by "bully," I mean anyone who is unkind
to me.) But it is an ineffectual pleasure, one that solidifies
disagreement, makes enduring enemies, changes nobody's thinking, garners
no dinner invitations. And so eventually I forsook the pleasures of the
punch-up for another strategy: a soft answer turneth away wrath. [Yes, he's quoting Proverbs in the Bible. No, he's not religious.]
Turns out, it doth.
I began ignoring the tone of even the angriest e-mails and responding
courteously to the sense of it. Just as an experiment. Often, even the
author of a barbarous e-mail would then reply politely. Sometimes he'd
apologize for his initial intemperance. My first, unworthy, though, I'd
hit upon a cunning way to make my tormenter feel guilty while I seized
the moral high ground. Brilliant!
What if all the sides actually agreed to work with each other, even if they disagreed?
We might actually get something accomplished.
In a few days, it will be better. Really.
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