I realized something the other day. Something really, really big, in fact, that can apply to life in general and writing in particular.
Unless you’re in a full-out war – and often even then – you can much better influence people by showing them courtesy and respect. This is true even when you’re dealing with extremely hot-button topics.
Like, say, how accurate our understanding of the Holocaust is.
For that matter, the only way to effectively deal with hot-button topics like how accurate our understanding of the Holocaust is – or historical interpretations of other events. Or present-day politics. Or anything else – is with courtesy and respect.
I know that goes against the current “punch a Nazi in the face” preference. But what does that accomplish if he didn’t physically punch you first?
It might make the non-Nazi feel better in the moment. But chances are astronomically high that the bleeding or bruised individual in question didn’t change his mind by being attacked.
And isn’t that the ultimate goal? To leave the world Nazi free?
If so, there’s a much better way to go about it.
Everyone has a hot-button topic that tends to make them want to punch someone in the face. For me, it’s abject, self-righteous hypocrisy.
When someone holds himself up as a paragon of virtue while committing the same exact sins he accuses others of… it makes me want to tear him down emotionally and psychologically. I want to make him feel just as inferior as he’s allowed himself to be.
It’s an understandable reaction, if I do say so myself. But that doesn’t make it a helpful one.
For starters, by belittling him, I’m not making myself a better person. And that’s the more important consideration involved.
Moreover, there’s the very good chance that I’d only make him feel bad enough to go find some easy target to belittle as well.
I realized that the other day while speaking to someone who doesn’t believe the Holocaust happened as told today. She believes it did happen, mind you, but that there was an intense amount of Russian propaganda involved to skew the numbers and the facts.
That opinion took me aback, I’ll admit. I’d never met a Holocaust down-player before. But something told me not to go with my immediate reaction for once, whether with words or attitude.
Something told me to listen instead.
Considering how I was going to see this person again and the subject was bound to come up again, I took it a step further than listening. I’m sure I’m on some government watchlist now based on the internet searches I did.
But I think it might have been worthwhile, if only to understand another perspective.
That isn’t to say I now agree with the Holocaust down-player position. I don’t. But I do see why an intelligent, kindhearted, ethical individual could disagree.
Words are powerful things. Very, very, very powerful, regardless of whether they’re written or spoken. And the written words I found were well-arranged. They had just the right level of subtle condescension to make the opposing view look maliciously conspiratorial at worst and utterly ignorant at best.
They were belittling.
However, here’s the thing: When I went to look for opposing arguments – arguments to support my side – I found the same exact presentation. It was contemptuous.
I’m not saying I don’t understand that tone. I’m saying it wasn’t useful. I couldn’t point the Holocaust down-player to it as a useful and convincing resource. She would have just gotten defensive.
Which would have also been understandable. Because not a single one of us likes being told we’re stupid.
We should all keep that in mind the next time we’re writing opinion pieces. Are we trying to convince anyone of anything?
Or are we just trying to preach to those who already agree with us?
If the latter, then we can use whatever language we like. If the former though – if we want to make an actual, long-lasting, positive difference – then we really should show some respect.
It’s either that or waste our time.