• Terri

How just showing some empathy turned an enemy into an ally.

Bijgewerkt: sep 14

I've been spending more time on twitter than I used to, mainly as part of my efforts to learn about issues like cultural appropriation, the things black lives matter stand for, and the different point of views people have.


I try not to put my two cents on every comment I see, but when I see someone spewing insults, I can't help myself. I believe you must call out someone if they're personally insulting someone, but do so the right way. - Don't make it personal; just point out why they shouldn't say it. - Don't devalue their message, there's always a reason why someone is so angry. The second point became apparent, when the answer I got back was very human. The person didn't redirect their ammo at me, instead said: "How come it's okay if other people insult me?" I said that it's not, and that if I see someone insult him, I'd speak up again. Still, he was upset with me, yelled at me, and the storm of anger that followed told the tale of how badly he had been hurt over the years, the hurt that fuelled his retaliation. He told me how, whenever he makes racist comments, other people tell him those comments are the reason why people are racist. He pointed out that he's only saying those things, cause it's been said to him. He told me how he can't go a day with someone commenting on his skin. He wasn't really angry at me, he was just angry. What I did next is, I believe, the key to changing our dynamic on the internet. Whether or not I thought retaliation was good or bad, I acknowledged what he said, sympathised, and affirmed with him that his experience of the world, was awful. You'd think it's easy to sympathise with someone's story of racism, but how often do I see people respond to these stories with "Okay, but..." and then a list of reasons why the perspective is wrong. Even though this may seem very straight forward, if you look at day to day debates and discussions we have on the internet, we are too busy defending our point, that we forget to listen. Sometimes, we forget it's not always about being right. Problems that we collectively face in this crazy world, can look completely different from someone else's point of view. Even though I myself don't see as much racism in my country, this person had been commented on who he is so many times, that he felt surrounded by the hate, pushed in a corner, unheard. It is no wonder people get angry. In those cases, a little empathy can change everything. The reason he told me so much, was that I wasn't there to tell him why he was wrong, I just let him talk. It opens the conversation to dialogue. After that he was willing to listen to my point of view, even if he didn't agree with what I said. There was respect. I'm sure there are a lot of things this person and I disagree about, if we were to go into the details. Other than with most discussions you see these days, I believe we would be able to have that discussion, disagree, but still respect each other's point of view. I think, once you validate someone's experience, being able to disagree becomes a lot easier. At the end of the discussion you'll come to realise that you're on the same team, that you want the same things, even if your ideas on how to get there, are different. And this type of allegiance creates a safe space to share the ideas, discover the flaws together and learn that ideas need to be polished. Ideas often aren't wrong, they're just rough. Again, this all seems so simple, but we don't do it anymore. We don't go on the internet to talk, but to tell. Next time you see a fiery debate about current events, and people are upset, or even aggressive: just metaphorically sit with them in the comments, and ask them to tell you more about their experience. Sometimes they won't want to, that's fine too, they don't have to. Then, validate it. Tell them how you feel about how it sounds, show them you understand what they're saying. Don't start your response with counter arguments, or reasons why you think they're wrong. Validate them, then share your own emotional experience. They'll be open to hearing your side, and when the perspectives are shared, then you can go into the facts, and find a rational solution. We've become hesitant to discuss these topics with our emotional point of view, because we feel we must prove our point with rock hard, statistical facts and scientifically proven phenomenons as we feel this is the only way to be taken seriously. Because if we don't have unbreakable facts, then someone will only comment on your experience to argue why you're wrong. Heck, these days you could give all the right facts, and someone will still contradict you. I know these days we are stuck in a vortex of extremely complicated and sensitive situations. If we can return some emotion in the conversation, and empathise with each other, I promise talking about things won't be so scary anymore.

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