Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on social media that say things like:
“If you disagree, go ahead and unfriend me.”
“Tell me you support this candidate, and I’ll block you.”
“If you know people who seriously believe in this stuff, cut them out of your life right now. You don’t need to be around that.”
Amid the staggering amount of scary and alarming posts we’ve all been seeing on our feeds these last few months, I find this kind to be perhaps most scary and alarming of all. Because this sentiment indicates a dangerous trend in the way we relate to each other as human beings — or rather, how we fail to relate.
There seems to be this impression that people are like ponds in winter, and that some of those ponds have become iced over with a thick layer of stubborn ignorance. But if you can just chip away at that icy sheet with the blunt instrument of your “undeniably logical” argument, eventually it will crack and you’ll break through to the refreshing waters of sanity beneath.
Sometimes that works. Sometimes you blare your truth out through your megaphone and everybody agrees and we all live happily ever after. But let’s be real: most times, that doesn’t happen. The reality is a lot harder and a lot more complex.
Most people aren’t lakes, they’re icebergs.
What they think and believe — a huge part of who they feel they are as a person — has amassed over the course of their lives so far into this huge, seemingly impenetrable mountain. Hack away at it with your blunt instruments all you want, but this colossus will withstand you. Shout at it. Rage and claw and pummel away. It will remain unmoved.
You know these people. I know these people. They are our friends, our family members, our coworkers. Sometimes I even see one looking back at me in the mirror. So convinced that we are in the right about [insert issue here] that we soldier on, unyielding. And unfortunately, more yelling or name-calling or “impassioned reasoning” may only serve to harden another layer of icy defiance.
But the thing about icebergs is… they melt. It takes time, and a change in the climate. Small, incremental, seemingly insignificant shifts, wearing away little by little until true progress is achieved. Long years of silence followed by the rumbling, roaring craaaaaackkkk as massive sheets of ice break loose and crash into the sea below.
When you choose the nuclear option — to unfriend people, block people, cut people out of your life — you are basically saying, “Since I failed to hack this iceberg up with my blunt instrument, I’m just going to turn my back on it and pretend it isn’t there.” In essence all you’re doing is ignoring a problem instead of doing something to help fix it.
The real work of changing hearts and minds takes time, patience, and a willingness to try to understand people even when you completely disagree with them. It will involve having conversations with idiots who annoy the hell out of you, and will require that you at least attempt to be tactful (i.e. don’t call them idiots) even when they say some pretty infuriating things.
But why should we bother with these idiots at all?
There are some people who will always be icebergs. Even if hellfire rains down from the skies, and the seas boil, and the earth burns — they’ll still be frozen solid. They are never ever ever going to change.
But there are some people who, when they express or act on certain beliefs (i.e. “gay marriage is wrong because that’s what my religion teaches me”), are saying or doing such things based on what they’ve always known. Their intent is not necessarily to harm (though that is not to say they aren’t harmful), but they are generally well-meaning people trying to make sense of the world from an extremely limited perspective.
This second group are the kind of people worth talking to. It would be beneficial for them and for you to spend time exchanging ideas and discussing issues. These are the kinds of people who might eventually listen, and change.
I know, because I was once one of them.
It took time and a lot of patience, but eventually I began to question things I’d always been taught, to think for myself, to seek out different viewpoints and to consider the experiences of others to be just as important as my own. Layer after layer, the iceberg melted away. And I’m learning (and melting) still.
If you want to give up on people, fine. I can’t stop you. You might not have the temperament or the inclination to try to reach out to them in the way I’ve described. But I hope for everyone’s sake that you won’t turn your back on the problem. We need to get through to each other. We need to try to understand. To not just yell our arguments back and forth, but to actually communicate.
There’s way too much at stake.