There are only two kinds of people. I have been both of them at different times. I suspect you have too if you’ve been around a little while.
In my 20’s I loved using the word fag. I threw it around in online gaming forums like free candy. Someone got the better of me and I got fragged. Then my mic went on. “You’re a fag.” Yep. That was my brain to mouth without filters in action. I don’t do that these days. Doing didn’t make me a better competitor. It just pissed off the person on the receiving end.
In my 20’s I loved to argue about everything and I would never back down an inch. I knew what freedom was. I knew all my rights. I knew how to fix every social ill that plagues our planet and our species. I knew that I had a high IQ and I thought that entitled me to being heard and respected.
I wanted other people to hear me. I thought I deserved it. The problem was that I didn’t want to hear them. I wanted other people to learn from me. I didn’t want to learn from them. I already knew everything. I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.
In my 20’s I was condescending. I was arrogant. I loved to argue. I’m in my 40’s now.
I’m still condescending and arrogant inside but the rough edges have been sandpapered. I’ve walked through some storms that I managed to survive somehow. Storms that I elected to walk into of my own free will. I still love to argue but I approach if from a completely different place. I might think you’re a whiny little bitch, or that there’s a double standard about the use of the word nigger depending on what color your skin, eyes and hair are. I might think a thousand different things are unfair, unjust or nonsensical. I might find you utterly boring. It won’t come out of my mouth anymore. Why? Because you don’t ever prove a point by crushing someone or turning up the volume to a point that no one hears any of the words anymore.
Annihilation tactics never turn an enemy into a friend. Escalation doesn’t solve problems unless you’re willing to bomb those arrayed against your point of view or stance into non-existence. That isn’t my go to place. I’m not a sociopath or a psychopath.
So somewhere between shouting out “fag” and creating a bunch of unneeded bad feelings arguing about everything under the sun I had an epiphany. Or a thousand. Here’s one of the most important ones.
I learned that enemies can become friends. To make that a possibility I needed to stop blurting things out and start paying attention to what the enemy was doing and saying. That guy who fragged me all the time knew something I didn’t. He had tactics I could have learned from. He wasn’t a fag. He was a better player than me. If I had been paying attention to what he knew back then instead of flailing around feeling angry about losing I might have combined what he knew with what I knew to improve my gaming experience. Which, at that time, was pretty much the world I lived in and cared about. Priorities change. What you care about changes. What you believe in changes. People usually don’t change. Until they start listening and stop talking.
That’s a lesson it took me nearly 20 years to absorb. You don’t become better at anything by pissing people off. Unless your ultimate goal is to be a world champion douche bag. If you want to be heard you have to shape the message in a way the doesn’t immediately incense your audience or potential audience. I eventually stopped using the word fag. I have used other expletives in the past in attempts to win arguments or save face. Now I just avoid the argument in the first place. I don’t care about saving face anymore because I’m focused on learning from failures as much as I learn from successes.
If you believe that Jesus Christ is the one true path to an eternal reward I’m not going to convince you otherwise until you are ready to consider other possibilities. If you think the CIA introduced crack into American ghettos to keep the black man down then one white guy isn’t going to change your mind no matter how eloquently he speaks. If you believe the moon landing was faked, 9/11 was an inside job or the Tea Party will save us from the downfall of America (whatever that is), I’m not going to change your mind before you decide that other possibilities should be weighed. You have to be ready to hear the message.
What’s the point of writing all this? It’s a message to all the really smart, high IQ, outside the box people who are struggling to be heard. You probably have important things to say. We all have a soapbox that we would like to have an audience for. If you want people to hear how great atheism is here’s a hint: don’t start off by telling them how stupid their current theology is. It doesn’t work. I know from personal experience.
Starting a conversation with “you’re wrong and here’s why” is like trying to pickup a woman in a bar by telling her that you are repulsed by her saggy breasts and the hairy mole on her face. Unless she’s an emotional masochist that approach isn’t going to work. You have a soapbox. You have an agenda. You have priorities. So does everyone else. Take the time to hear them and you might have a chance of convincing them to hear you. If they raise the volume try lowering yours. You’d be amazed how effective it can be to simply wait and listen without taking offense. I don’t take anything personally anymore until someone starts trying to punch me.
I never won arguments in my 20s. I spent too much time getting angry. I sometimes won video gaming contests but my blood pressure and my belly both increased when measured over a period of time. Shouting out “fag” or “nigger” or “I’ll kill you mother fucker” never helped me make a point about anything. It didn’t help me win. It did ensure a few people hated my guts in more than one online forum or gaming den. I’ve learned from those ineffectual years. I’m still learning. Here’s where I’m at in this moment.
Want to convince people of something? Try these tactics:
- Endless patience. Be ready to wait a lifetime for them to be ready to hear you. Don’t get invested in changing their mind until they are invested in new possibilities. Which brings us to…
- Understand why you believe what you do. If you don’t know why you hold a certain viewpoint no one else is going to be convinced either. It’s always been that way. The status quo doesn’t mean there isn’t a viable or superior set of choices. Fail. My parents told me so. No parent knows everything. No parent is infallible. Fail. It’s the law. Total fail. It used to be the law that you could own human slaves. The law is a dumb, blind animal enforced by mostly unimaginative people who carry guns to enforce rules passed by more mostly unimaginative people. Which brings us to…
- Explain your belief/stance/solution/viewpoint from a humble place. Realize that you haven’t walked in the same shoes as your potential friend and convert. They have a different experience of the world and they look through different lenses. That’s OK as long as they are willing to listen to you and you’re willing to listen to them. Never ever start with “you’re wrong and here’s why.” For fuck’s sake you just used up some of that endless patience above waiting for an unlikely moment when they were contemplative enough to hear you. Which brings us to…
- The point is not to win. The point is to plant seeds. They might grow into something later. They might not. But for most people epiphanies don’t happen in an instant. Most people have to connect a lot of dots before they see the big picture. You on your soapbox on any given day or in any given moment are only one of the dots in that person’s life. Finally we come to the most important part of being alive…
- It isn’t about you. It’s about wisdom. Wisdom is bigger than any one person. Somehow, through a series of unfortunate mishaps and close calls, I came the conclusion that there are only two kinds of people. The ones I can learn from and the ones I can learn from. I learn things that I want to incorporate into my own life and journey from the first kind. I learn things that I don’t want to incorporate into my journey from the second kind. That means everyone has something to teach me. You cannot be a good teacher until you’re a good student. Spend a lot of time talking with the first kind of people you can learn from. Identify and observe the second kind of people you can learn from. Try to avoid close engagements as they are likely to result in hostility and bad feelings no matter how endlessly patient you think you are. By engaging the first and watching the second kind of people I have improved myself. I believe you can too.
In my 20’s I was the kind of person who taught people how not to be and what not to emulate. In my 40’s I’m trying to be the kind of person who listens enough to be worth being heard. It’s not a science. It’s an art form. It’s not a static thing. It evolves. That is the nature of being human. You aren’t supposed to form a set of viewpoints and then spend your life telling other people how great they are.
There are only two kinds of people. The ones who are evolving and learning and the ones who have to be dragged along on the trip kicking and screaming. I’ve mostly stopped kicking and screaming at this point. I’ve started paying attention to my traveling companions. I’ve realized that some of them are magnificent, beautiful souls. I’m starting to understand just how amazing the journey is. I’m less scared of being alive than I have ever been. I see the stars and I want to go there with you.