You’ll always offend someone: But try to express yourself kindly
Do the kindest thing. Sounds pretty obvious to anyone vaguely a bipedal grumpy ape in a diverse, grumpy tribe, but I’m alarmed at how few of us seem to consider it when having a debate. (Including me.)
Anger, bitterness and jaw dropping ad hominem (attacking your opponent’s identity) seem to take front stage in disagreements or disputes. Cruel things are said. Gatekeepers are established. Borders are drawn up.
You’re too left, you’re too far right, you’re wrong, you’re right, you need to be silent, you need to speak out: we are very keen to leap on the things that hurt us rather than taking a step back and thinking about whether what we are doing helps.
Most People Will Not Listen when they feel you are out to hurt them. This can (and often is) pretty petty; someone really should be able to keep a lid on their emotions for a broader discussion on gender or racial equality. But it is still not okay to purposefully cause harm. It’s still on you not to be cruel or hurtful. And ultimately, it only hurts you.
When people feel that all those who disagree with them on an issue are a monolith of angry insults, extreme dogma or totalitarian gate keeping, they will associate your argument with that. Whether you are morally right about it is totally irrelevant. The minute you start using slurs or bullying language, they shut you off. To them, you are one more nasty, bloodthirsty woman/gay person/remainer. And I say that as a gay woman remainer.
I get that being confronted with a ducking banker who is baffled by the concept of women’s rights can be a teeny, tiny bit, ever so slightly rage enducing. You may even thin your lips at their presence.
But if you want to win them over, think about how you can make them feel ‘safe' or at least not totally humiliated in a discussion. Take it off the thread, be friendly, and explain your view calmly and in a positive way. Don’t call them thick, bigots, fascist or anything else that will send the ‘defend self' bells ringing.
If you can, don’t attack them in front of other people (online post, twitter thread, blog). Message them privately. This takes away the ‘I’m humiliated and now I’m going to defend my reputation' problem. If they really, really disagree with you, let it go. Its annoying, but some people will have had different experiences and different things told to them. And they aren’t going to think about what you said.
Secondly, try and think about whether your attack helps. Will it help them feel more at ease discussing issues with people like you? Are you doing it out of anger and resentment, or a genuine desire to help them understand you and your perspective?
And if you do it right, calmly and fairly, they might actually come around. I certainly have. But when I remember the pain, sadness and fear I have felt from people who didn’t do that, I usually feel less inclined to ally myself to them. Calling me a ‘regressive lefty' or a ‘dumb fucking bitch' doesn’t make me want to listen.
It makes me want to disengage. Which sucks for you, because it means you can’t encourage more people to thinking about things like you do.
You can dismiss this as stupid petty whining from a silly feminist, or see it for what it is: a genuine attempt to try and introduce genuine empathy back into debate.
What’s the point of arguing to silence and hurt when you could resolve or heal?