The New York Times recently had an article about a Smith College-class that addresses America’s burgeoning addiction to contempt.
The power of mindful conversation to change minds
The lecturer, reproductive justice-activist Loretta J. Ross, is highlighting the ills of call-out culture. Her class challenges the proclivity to persecute every presumed infringement against morality and represent the victim as somebody intolerable to decent society.
Ross doesn’t believe people should be publicly shamed for accidentally misgendering a classmate, for sending a stupid tweet they now regret; or for, say, admitting they once liked a piece of pop culture now viewed in a different light, such as “The Cosby Show.”
What I’m really impatient with is calling people out for something they said when they were a teenager when they’re now 55. I mean, we all at some point did some unbelievably stupid stuff as teenagers, right?
Call-out culture has taken conversations that could have once been learning opportunities and turned them into mud wrestling. “It really does alienate people, and makes them fearful of speaking up.”
The antidote to that outrage cycle, Professor Ross believes, is “calling in.” Calling in is like calling out, but done privately and with respect. “It’s a call out done with love,” she said. That may mean simply sending someone a private message, or even ringing them on the telephone to discuss the matter, or simply taking a breath before commenting, screen-shotting or demanding one “do better” without explaining how.
Calling out assumes the worst. Calling in involves conversation, compassion and context. It doesn’t mean a person should ignore harm, slight or damage, but nor should she, he or they exaggerate it. “Every time somebody disagrees with me it’s not ‘verbal violence.'”
Debate the issues, Avoid gratuitous name-calling
The recent election has underscored that we continue to be a deeply divided nation. Americans are ever more passionate about their beliefs and committed to their causes. Ideological affiliation is increasingly a matter of tribal identity. Presenting facts can sometimes backfire. In the narrow-minded pursuit of “goodness,” our society has manifested a disgraceful habit of dismissing people with differing attitudes as less than human, “deplorable,” and not worth consideration.
Differences of opinion are natural and healthy facets of any community. The various issues that we face are complicated, affecting different people in different ways. We must be able to express and accept our differences with civility.
- Listen to the other in interpersonal confrontations. Put yourself in the other’s shoes and mull over a perspective you hadn’t considered previously. There may be a well-founded concern that you weren’t aware of, and you could soften your position and, perhaps, lead you to different conclusions.
- Don’t approach debates as “take no prisoners” battles. Build bridges with your ideological opponents. If you never earnestly consider others’ opinions, your mind will shrink and become its own little echo chamber.
Idea for Impact: You can’t change minds by damning your opponents
Be civil and respectful of others’ views. As President Obama has reminded, the world is “messy” and full of “ambiguities,” and “if all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.”
Before trying to change others’ minds, consider how difficult it is to change your own.
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