Blooming Society Sunday

A bloom is a small idea of how to improve our world.
Tend the garden of humanity with me by blogging with your own idea on any Sunday.
If you do, feel free to pingback here so we can keep the conversation going.

7
Today’s Bloom: Let People Speak for Themselves

If you read my recent post, you know that I was discouraged by a study I learned about that turned out to be falsified. The study claimed that when people who opposed same-sex marriage spoke to queer canvassers about their lives and why they opposed marriage equality, their stance was likely to become more liberal and stay that way in the long term. Not only that, they were likely to change the minds of others they knew who shared their previous opinion. Furthermore, the personalized method was also said to be effective when canvassers who had an abortion spoke to anti-abortion voters.

The study was largely falsified and the stories behind the results were almost entirely fabricated. The study was a sham, but what about the idea behind it? Is the key to lasting empathetic change polite personal conversations between conservatives and the people whose rights they oppose? It’s so simple. It certainly can’t hurt, right?

I don’t know how large a change can be wrought from a short conversation between strangers. If a significant change of mind is experienced, I don’t know how long it might last. I do know that humans don’t like to be proven wrong. Even when facing direct evidence of our wrongness, we tend to dig in our heels twice as deep.

As someone looking to affect lasting social improvement, I am loathe to dismiss a possible solution, especially one so straight-forward. I do what I can to speak out and up — to improve the world by filtering my experiences and relating the lessons learned to others. Yet, speaking is only one part of the empathy equation. Listening is the other.

There have been many issues that I have wanted to speak about, but have held my tongue instead. I make this choice when I know others will speak better than I can. It is time to listen when others’ experiences are relevant and mine are lacking. Many times, I have no experiences to distill at all. I do a lot of listening, but I don’t think I have done enough to boost the signals of the voices I turn to.

This means more retweets and shares and reblogs, but it also means deferring to others more eloquently and regularly offline. Humans digest stories more readily than statistics. Co-opting narratives does little to help anyone. We must help each other be heard, rather than yearning to be the loudest.


12 thoughts on “Blooming Society Sunday

  1. There is a lot to be gained from direct contact. The “other” ceases to be “the other” when we experience them. Generals have known this since time immemorial, so dehumanising the “other” was as important as physical training. I’ve forgotten his name, but here was that GOP politician (Senator?) who came out in favour of gay marriage after learning his son was gay.

    1. Indeed. It brings to mind racists I’ve heard claim they aren’t racist because they have a friend that is a PoC while in the same breath calling them an exception to the rule, because most PoC aren’t decent like their friend. The road to humanism is a long road for some.

  2. I used to think that I was against homosexuality when I was a Christian, but I’ve come to realise that I probably really wasn’t. It was actually much worse than that. I wanted to fit in with the church that I was a part of at the time and therefore compromised any sense of decency I might have had towards my fellow human beings in the LGBT, and joined in on the hate chorus. While I never called anyone horrific names or sneered at them or even spoke ill of them, I was still causing much damage by being on the side that wanted to shame and demonise people for just being who they are.

    It was only as I began to spend more time with certain family members who are gay that my conscience began to eat at me. I couldn’t honestly say to these people that they were going to burn in hell because they loved who they loved. It’s as simple as that. I had to rethink my whole faith, even lose it if need be (and I eventually did), and stop compromising whatever tiny scrap of dignity I had left so that I could embrace the values that I really wanted to have. So that I could embrace them. So that I could hopefully learn to embrace everyone.

    So… that study may have been falsified, but I still think there’s truth in the idea that’s being put across. Education about the wonderful fluidity of sexuality in all its wonder will only get us part of the way there. What will get us across the finish line is… well, just spending time with those that challenge the way we think. Try to see life from their perspective if we can. Just try.

    1. We’re hardwired to go along with the chorus. The fact that you broke away from it says a lot about who you are. The whole episode that cited the study was about the rarity of changing our mind about something, anything really.

      The internet has enabled us to connect to more people and shatter mental blocks. But it seems that a lot of people are still using it just to connect with the same kind of people they would meet offline, ones with the same opinions that they hold. All we can do is keep telling our truth and listening to the truth of others.

  3. Yes Madalyn, we are most of us all too often guilty of an almost pathological aversion to listening, and rather instead we feel impelled to egoically self-identify in projecting our intellectual comfort zone out into the field of others. A moment’s reflection on this ought indicate that we are engaged in a largely futile exercise as a result. Perhaps we ought all say less and yet with a greater concentration of meaning and prior consideration if we are to capture the ears of others. The exception has to be the skilled polemicist of fearsome intellect, and who cannot be enthral to those few, even when we disagree or when they are contrarian just for the sake of it? You are missed greatly Chris Hitchens.

  4. Like you, I have not always spoken up when I should have but I have gotten better as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten to the point where I try to plant a seed of doubt in a person’s mind – just give them something to think of. I know I can’t force anyone to see the world the same way I do and I know I can’t force equality, love, peace, and acceptance. These things aren’t won by force but through collective thought. Change is hard won but I’m glad that it can still happen and that there are people out there fighting for it.

    1. I find it much easier to listen and to speak online. I often try the small seed approach in real life, where the stakes feel so much steeper. Listening has always been my strong suit there.

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