One of the first blogs I ever ran was hyper political and extremely opinionated. It was the era of George W. Bush, who at the time was my least favourite American president ever, and I was only too happy to share exactly what I thought of his administration and its policies. I had a whole lot to say, and I didn’t mince words. This resulted in debates, angry words, and even a flame war or two along the way.
Eventually though, I arrived in a place mentally that I really, really didn’t like. I spent my days perpetually angry, looking for reasons to be outraged, and spoiling for debate on even the most trivial of topics. Not only was I unpleasant to be around, let alone live with, I felt positively horrible inside.
After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to retire that blog and completely change the way I approached controversial topics. I realised that, instead of making a difference in the world, my tirades were only serving to sew further discord, and foster even more tribalism. I had joined the echo chambers I was trying to break down, and in the end it seemed totally counterproductive.
The loudest, most outrageous people get the most attention, regardless of their location on the spectrum of opinion. However, this doesn’t mean people actually listen. It becomes more about spectacle and less about substance. If I wanted people to actually listen, I had to stop being divisive, and start being inclusive.
This didn’t mean abandoning my opinions, but it did absolutely mean cease viewing those with differing views as the enemy. My stance on Us vs Them had to go.
The most important epiphany I had was brought on by a growing interest in Buddhism, and the idea that everyone wants to be happy and avoid suffering. People have reasons for believing the things they do, and more than likely it isn’t because they’re trying to be cruel or difficult. People act with their own best interests in mind.
When we assume people act with good intentions, it utterly changes the way we see adversity and differences of opinion. Rather than an enemy to defeat, or a battle to win, they become just another human being we can try to understand. And when people feel that someone else is sincerely trying to understand them, they’re that much more likely to respond in kind.
When respect and understanding are present, even those with the most diametrically opposed viewpoints can engage in a healthy, productive dialogue. And that’s precisely where I choose to be these days.