You’re sitting or standing there, and from their mouth comes an outpouring of every painful thing that has become endorsed by our government, our media, and our people. They’re saying something that stings, something about you or the people you love, something that you know is wrong.
I know you’re angry. I know you feel frustrated, tired by the idea of having to explain that everyone deserves freedom and respect. You don’t understand what is so fundamentally wrong with this person that they could think that taking away someone’s basic human rights is acceptable. You want to walk away, to escape those words. You want to scream.
If you scream, if you yell, if you walk away, you have provided that person with an excuse to dismiss everyone like you. If you give up, you make it easy for that person to construct their life in an echo chamber of their own opinion, repeated over and over and over again. We know this is true. We have learnt from pundits, in the form of polls and op-ed pieces, that everyone has begun to coddle themselves ideologically. We all began to read from the same news sources (whether fake or not), we all began to ignore people who don’t have the same political alignments as us, we all began to live and speak and breathe in communities that are populated by versions of ourselves.
Our America became divided, our world became divided because we grew tired of explaining, because we grew tired of seeing difference. So when they sit there with their outpouring of stereotypes, misplaced faith, and fantastical opinions - pause.
Pause for the people you love, pause for America, pause for the world. Remind yourself that ignorance does not diminish an individual’s humanity. Do not think of them as an enemy, do not imagine yourself in an intellectual boxing ring. Pause to remind yourself that people have different backgrounds, memories, families, and educations. They have been shaped by different factors, no matter how slight.
After you have paused and when you begin to speak, do not raise your voice. Speak with a voice that is calm, calm like the CNN commentators calling out post-factual information from a Trump pollster. Keep your integrity, dignity, and self-respect. Ask them, “Why would you say that? Why do you think that?”
This is your time to engage in conversation, the time for you to ask them to justify what they believe. They will tell you that your reality is unsubstantiated, that it is fantastical. Remember that you feel the same way about them. Take the opportunity to explain what you believe and why. Use history, statistics, use facts to show them and explain to them why you believe what you believe. Do not force them, do not use harsh rhetoric. Be passionate but not angry.
If they do not listen, find a way to explain anyway. They may not agree, and they may never agree. They may grow angry. Do not respond with anger. You cannot fight ignorance with ignorance, cannot fight anger with anger. Be calm and allow them to collect themselves, but know when someone is angry and is not in the right space to accept. Realize that this will happen and that it is okay.
If they do not agree, if they do not want to listen, let them know that despite your differences that you respect them. Whether explicitly or implicitly, remind them that all you and the people you want is respect as well. Because the reality is that the issue is not in particular racism, gender, sexuality, or socio-economic status. The issue is respect. If you respect someone, you hear their side of the story. If you respect someone, you believe they have a right to the same opportunities and quality of life. If you respect someone, you let them live their truth.
Even if you do not speak of the particular issue that you were hoping to, talk to them about respect. The basis of our struggle now as a nation is one of respect. It is now, more than ever before, easier to disrespect someone who has different opinions. It is now, more than ever before, easier to lay the groundwork for those people to further disrespect you. It is now, more than ever before, easier to create a nation of distrust, of anger, of resentment. And it is not, more than ever before, harder to slow down, remember our humanity, listen to, and respect one another.