Nick Laparra is a social impact consultant, a speaker, and a producer. He is also the founder of Let’s Give A Damn, a company that tells stories of people who give a damn and provides tools for people who want to give a damn. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.
Two weekends ago, Ellen DeGeneres attended a Dallas Cowboys football game and was seated next to her friend, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.
The next day, DeGeneres took to social media to explain why she sat next to a president whose policies she often opposed. As I read the replies to her post, I couldn’t help but notice that most conservatives applauded and praised the meeting between the former conservative president and the liberal talkshow host while most progressives denounced and condemned their friendship.
I get it. I do. As a progressive — and a Christian — I want to stand up to oppression and seek justice every chance I get. But when does righteous anger cross a line into something else altogether? Into something ugly and, well, decidedly regressive?
Progressive Christians ought to be able to extend love and kindness to the conservatives among us, be it online or in person. Why do I charge progressive Christians with this task? Simply put, I believe progressives can be more toxic than conservatives because we have a greater tendency to attack the other side. In fact, we attack our own with the same level of vitriol and vengeance.
Don’t believe me? Just hop on Twitter and join conversations happening around issues like LGBTQ rights, white privilege, abortion, gun control, or the latest thing President Trump has tweeted.
We progressives are so quick to pounce on anyone who doesn’t fully agree with our position, and we seem to possess an inability to conduct ourselves in a way that invites healthy dialogue. We appear to be addicted to showing the world just how progressive we are — the name for this is “virtue signaling” — rather than interested in our interlocutor.
A friend of mine recently tweeted (using slightly stronger language): “The right are arrogant jackasses and never care that they are. The left are arrogant jackasses and never know that they are.”
As a result, I believe we are driving away scores of conservatives who may be attracted to some progressive ideas but don’t know how to articulate their doubts or don’t know how to ask the right questions.
More times than I can count, conservative friends have engaged with me on social media, only to be scared away by a liberal friend who jumps into our conversations with guns blazing. Every word, idea and nuance my conservative friend shares is suddenly aggressively critiqued. The conversation comes to an abrupt halt. (Regrettably, there have also been times when I was the liberal friend who jumped into the conversation.)
In the spirit of progress, here are a few ways we can kindly and boldly engage with people with whom we disagree on the internet and in real life:
Stop being so angry all the time. There are plenty of reasons to be angry. And there is a time and a place for anger. But by and large, anger disrupts our work, alters our wellbeing, inhibits creativity and rarely leads to action. Anger keeps us from formulating ideas and seeking solutions.
Be a better listener. If you go into every conversation with your mind already made up, people who disagree with you will match your certainty. Instead, try to understand not only what they’re saying, but where they’re coming from. Listen for tone and context. Some people may be just trolling, but plenty of people will be genuine and open if they don’t feel attacked themselves.