Resisting the urge to block someone

that difficult middle road

I have always considered myself a moderate.

I don’t go to extremes on issues, and I think most would agree that I tend to be reasonable and practical in my thinking, if viewed vs the general population. I grew up in North Carolina, a conservative leaning state, and I went to a private high school. By most of my classmates opinions, I was a hippy liberal. After college, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where folks thought of me as arch-conservative. I don’t think I really changed — I think I was the same person in both, but compared to my peers in different cities, the view of me changed.

I have long held the view that everyone you meet knows something you do not. The older I get, the more I realize how little I know, and how we have to rely on facts, and that we need to evaluate closely how those facts are gathered. This is one reason, in this heated world of online debates, I have never blocked anyone on Facebook.

If someone is really my friend, I don’t think political differences should cause us to not be friends. Everyone has as much right to their opinion as I do, and chances are, I will have to encounter and engage with people with different views than mine. I may even need their help or services at some point. I believe it is better to understand their position and figure out a way to coexist, rather than shut them off, even if the source of their information is questionable.

I won’t lie, at times, it’s been difficult. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the debate on gun control came up (again), I was really close to blocking several friends. One pro-gun rights proponent was a friend from high school. Both the poster (we’ll call him Adam) and his brother (Ben — not their real names) were both very bright students and rational people. They were one of the few Jewish families at my school; they tended to be more liberal and secular than most of our classmates. So I was surprised to read Adam being so against gun control.

I private messaged Adam, and asked him to help me understand his position. I didn’t say he was wrong, or crazy, or make any comments about his position. I only asked him to help me understand his position. Turns out his family was from Cuba (I had always assumed Spain). His mother and grandparents escaped after Castro took over. He and Ben were born in the US, but they had gone back on family visas (or whatever it was called), traveling with his parents and grandparents. The impact of overzealous government control in Cuba had a profound impact on him. It developed in him a mistrust of government, and a fear of the gradual erosion of individual rights, and fears of that happening in the US.

I didn’t agree — I saw too many differences between the US and post-revolutionary Cuba — but I now at least I understood his argument better. I didn’t block him.

Not everyone whom i friends with is as educated as Adam. I’m friends with a former administrative assistance, who is quite conservative and posts, frequently, from some alt-right websites, never checking on their veracity. I’ve wanted to block her, but still, I feel it is better to understand what those who are in opposition to me are feeling, even if the news they are posting isn’t accurate. In their mind it is true, and I think it is important to understand their perspective.

My “enlightened” approach all came to a crashing halt yesterday. Another conservative leaning friend posted this the other day:

The irony was the person posting this has been trying to tell others how to think, refuses to listen, and name calls. Constantly. He posts news from questionable news sites (according to AllSides.com), and he has exhibited irrational behavior, the type he derides, whenever he is challenged.

In my quest to understand all sides, a while back I watched the Netflix documentary “Beyond the Curve”. The most illuminating part for me was the discussion with Caltech Physicist Spiros Michalakis. As an educator, he felt a sense of responsibility for having so many people being left behind, in terms of education and understanding.

He also had a great test, that I have used. If you are confronted with someone with views that seem counter, or odd, he said ask them “what would it take for you to change your mind?” Put the onus on them to define the test or information that would prove their belief was wrong.

Spiros: taking a rational approach to dealing with irrationality

If they can’t come up with a test, or they reply, there is nothing that would change my mind, then you are dealing with an irrational person. They can not conceive of a situation where they could be wrong, so they are not listening to any opposing views. Best to ignore them and walk away; you won’t be able to convince them otherwise, at least not at this point in time.

Last year, when Greta Thunberg was gaining popularity in the news, the poster above denounced her as a tool and puppet. He didn’t like her views, and didn’t believe her, and he thoroughly denounced her. Many folks attacked him; he defended himself by saying why can’t he attack Greta, when folks attacked the teenager who mocked Native Americans.

who’s mocking who?

I disagreed with him, but I couldn’t seem to make sense of his rants, so I tried Spiros’ approach: what would it take for you to believe that Greta is not being used? His reply, there is nothing that could change my mind; he had been around too many people with Asperger, and he didn’t believe that someone could be fully in control of their actions.

That was all I needed to know.

With his latest post, the temptation to block him is even greater. Previously, it was on individual issues. Now, he is attacking folks for intolerance, something that he has been guilty of doing. It is gone beyond issues and accusing others of exactly what he has been doing. I don’t think its possible to have a rational discussion with him anymore, and I am to the point of breaking my rule, i’m going to have to block him.

I haven’t yet. I think about the second part to Spiros’ test: at this time. I’m going to hold out hope that at some point, I can have a rational discussion with him. I also have to do some self exploration: am I being the irrational one? I don’t think so, but do any of us really think this about themselves? I guess I’ll only know in time.

Navigating the world with manners & civility