Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Compassionate Conflict (aka "You're an Idiot, but you already know that, don't you?")

Someone said something recently in public conversation that was so stupid it made me wonder whether this poor soul had anyone who loved her to tell her that she should stop saying it.  But alas, it would appear not because she said it again.

I was like the others in our small group.  I sat and listened.  I thought her the fool.  It was really inconsiderate of me on a couple levels.  First, to let her make a fool of herself, and second to allow her foolish notion to stand as fact-substitute in this conversation, and presumably more conversations to follow.  I felt like I was watching a Gubernatorial debate in my home state of South Carolina:  a fact-free battle of wits between unarmed participants.

But what is an appropriate response to idiocy taken as fact?  The world is 4,000 years old is absolutely a fine belief to have, but to turn it into fact is clearly problematic, what with all the evidence and all.  It's not the only thing:  there is no such thing as global warming, victims of "real" rape can't become pregnant, Asian kids are smarter...you know the list, its extensive.  I have so often wanted to say something, but I stop myself.  In the process of stopping to think of something not-ugly to say, the moment passes I end up saying nothing.

But saying nothing is socially irresponsible and it gives the upper hand to the idiots (gosh, that's not a nice term, but its all I can come up with right now). The answer is compassionate conflict.  This seems to many to be a contradiction in terms, but it really is not.  Start by putting yourself in their shoes.  If you do, I think you'll find that many people who take stands with no basis actual fact usually have some things in common.  Amongst other things, they believe that:

1.  Nobody is actually listening or cares.
2.  Nobody will dare to challenge their statement.
3.  Nobody believes that they actually believe what they're saying. They are clearly just saying it to win a point that they presume to be won already and are just being gracious by bothering to have the discussion in the first place.

Compassionate conflict, in real life, it looks like this:

"Oh heavens.  You and I both know you don't believe that."

Try it on the next idiotic, fact-creating comment you hear.  Try it with compassion, not with accusation, out of concern for the idiot (sorry again), not out of concern for the topic.  Empower them to see what you see...that nobody believes they could possibly be that stupid.  

Says she:  You know and I know that if we pass gay marriage, its a slippery slope to people marrying sheep and goats.

Say I:  Oh heavens.  You and I both know you don't believe that.  You're just upset about gay marriage.  [NB:  What I would have said before would have been unhelpful.  Probably something like:  "Yes, and bulls and rattlesnakes."]

Says she:  Well, ah.  Er.  Well, it could happen.

Say I:  Sure, it could.  But if you live like that, you'd never go outside because you could be struck by lightning or get skin cancer from being in the sun.

Says she:  That's different.

Say I:  Is it, though?  You're talking about protecting against the highly improbable by denying access to something that's right there and free for the taking.

Says she:  They already have rights.  The same rights I have.

Say I:  Oh heavens.  You and I both know that you don't believe that. But you're clearly upset that this is somehow going to change your life.  I'm sorry you're so bothered.  Can you say more about that?

....and so forth.

It has worked for me, it can work for you!

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