I had a partner in the FBI who was a brilliant agent. Jack* had the ability to survey a complex set of facts and glean exactly what was necessary to make a prosecutable case. He could focus on what mattered and not get distracted by all the rest.
That alone would have been enough to win the admiration of his peers. But the other thing was, Jack was unfailingly respectful to everyone, even those suspected of egregious crimes.
One day we showed up unannounced (not uncommon in the FBI) to talk to a guy who really did not want to answer our questions (also not uncommon in the FBI). The man we were interviewing resorted to insulting us to try and make us angry so we would leave. He called us every vulgar name in the book and cast aspersions on the moral character of every one of our ancestors. That’s putting it nicely.
Jack, in his inimitable style, looked him in the eye and with a smile said, “All that may be true, sir, but at least we’re not rude.” I’m not kidding when I tell you, the guy got visibly smaller in that moment.
I see a lot of people powering up like that guy who didn’t want to be interviewed. People bully others verbally, on-line, even at holiday gatherings, over the most ridiculous things. If you don’t agree with them, they’re threatened. They get louder and perhaps more profane; they insult and belittle in an effort to make you “go away”. They can only win by making you lose.
When you encounter someone like this, are you tempted to lash out in response (clearly not productive but oh-so-appealing)? Or just write them off forever (always a go-to passive/aggressive response of mine, to be honest)? How is that not rude, too?
And how about less direct forms of conflict – the jabs and criticisms people level at each other on the Internet through Facebook rants and blog posts; the anonymous comments and the troll tweets. Isn’t that just small?
What about those whose opinions we don’t agree with? Pundits on TV, politicians, editorials in the paper, the ultra conservative or ultra liberal neighbor. Do we just click off the channel, turn the page, or go back indoors? Or is there another approach?
Obviously, there’s something to be said for not engaging with a bully, if at all possible. It’s hard to have a tug-of-war when one person refuses to pick up the rope. Pick it up and there’s a good chance you’re both going be covered in mud (or someone’s going to get hurt) before it’s all over. Isn’t that how all tug-of-wars end? And as for trolls, they’re just mean. Why bother?
But as to the people we don’t agree with, the ones who approach life and love differently, who see the world through a different lens: Is it possible there’s any part of their viewpoint that might have value? Are you willing to even consider it?
I don’t know about you, but I get discouraged at the undercurrent of sheer meanness in society and the contempt that seems to taint so many of our interactions. Some of that is within our control.
It seems to me it would lend civility to a lot of conversations if we embraced a little humility, if we paused before reacting and asked ourselves, “Could I be the one who’s wrong here? Is it possible they might have a point?”
- Could we loosen the death grip on our own opinions (not regarding our deeply held convictions or in matters of personal safety) without fearing we are somehow losing ourselves?
- Could we entertain the notion that someone else, even if we find them offensive, might have something of value to add?
If the answer is no, maybe we can at least smile and be respectful. It almost always worked for Jack.
*not his real name
(If you’d like to get new posts by email, please click here to go to my home page and subscribe!)
- Maybe This Will Help - February 10, 2017
- I’m Firing Olivia Pope - January 24, 2017
- I’m crossing some things off my list this year - January 11, 2017
- I learned a new word - November 30, 2016
- The best question I’m asking myself these days - July 18, 2016
- A tragic story with a tender twist - May 17, 2016
- Gosh, people are a mess - May 12, 2016
- I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition - May 2, 2016
- The surprising thing about “weakness” - April 20, 2016
- The holiness of a four-way stop - April 13, 2016