In my last post I described a few thoughts about discourse. Take emotion out (this is key). Attack the opinion, not the person. Look at every angle. Challenge assumptions. Be a devil’s advocate in order to smoke test a point of view and try to find cracks, no matter how small. Being logical to a fault can make you seem cold, pedantic, even heartless, but at this point in time it’s my favourite approach – although it can certainly make you unpopular.
An example. Once, during dinner with friends, someone mentioned Man Vs Food. A fun show, right? A classic slice of mainstream reality TV. I should point out that I’ve only seen part of one episode, but I have gleaned additional context from other sources.
It’s dinner. They are friends. It’s extremely light, fluffy conversation, and the generally accepted rule is that you nod and smile and eat and laugh. This time, for whatever reason, I didn’t. “It’s grotesque, though, right? People are starving all over the world, and he’s literally gorging himself. Eating way more than he needs, or wants, just for… what? Our entertainment? It’s like he’s actually mocking the poor and hungry.”
It was a mood killer. I was coming across like a douche, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be awkward to see if it made anyone change their mind. This may sound patronising, but my honest belief was that they had never really thought about it in those terms, and it might change their minds.
I don’t know if it did or not. The conversation moved on. There was no neat resolution. But it was certainly memorable for being one of the first times I ever thought “No, I don’t agree, and even though it will make things awkward I want to challenge this.”
Being awkward is valuable. But I should clarify that you don’t have to be a dick about it. Here’s an interesting article that I stumbled across as I was drafting this post.
One more example.
Not so long ago I tried to engage in a discussion about misogyny and related issues on Facebook. I knew one woman in the discussion, and one of the guys, but most of the other people were strangers to me. It boiled down to me and one or two guys asking how we could help improve the situation, but also relating stories of being angrily dismissed if we tried to enter into the conversation. It doesn’t affect us directly, therefore how could we possibly understand? We white straight educated first world males are the ones oozing privilege and luxury, after all. To go a step further, any attempt on our part to ask questions is, essentially, doubting the validity of their pain, fear, frustration, and anger. It’s an insult.
I really struggled with this. I have lots of women in my life who are important to me, and who I care about a great deal. While everyday sexism doesn’t affect me directly, it does affect them. It affects a staggering number of people. It horrifies me. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I’m certainly a bit sexist, as many people are, often without even realising.
So. I want to understand. I want very much to understand, but when I’m told that I can’t ask questions that feels like a brick wall that I simply can’t get around. I want to feel free to explore the subject fully and freely, but it’s incredibly emotionally charged subject, so… What now? The Facebook conversation ended with an acerbic lady very much treating me like part of the problem, not someone trying to be part of the solution, and I didn’t know how to convince her otherwise. It was incredibly frustrating to be met with disdain and sarcasm regardless of my good intentions. I know. Poor me, right? But still, any time I feel lumped in with ignorant, prejudiced, hateful, abusive men – even a little bit – I can’t help but try to fight my way out of that circle.
Maybe this is where the logical, or ‘awkward’ approach simply can’t work any more. But then what? It seemed, in this specific instance, that the women I was talking to needed me to agree with them without question. That made me really uncomfortable, but I think I would probably say the same in their position.
Are there some subjects on which it is simply impossible to be impassive? Should we instead use that righteous fury to fan the flames of change? Or should we always aspire to calm, objective, quasi-robotic discourse, no matter how incendiary the subject matter, and no matter how seriously it has affected us personally? How realistic is that when we are all, ultimately, only human?
I don’t know. There’s a lot I don’t know.
Maybe I’ll figure it out eventually.