I'm rarely one for completely rational discourse on subjects I have loads of passion about. However, seeing things heat up so drastically on Twitter and through the news media around the topic of Health Care Reform, I've had to take a step back and learn some hard lessons about what the best approach to reform is. Before the internet, revolutions happened in a manner that seemed drastic with a large, engaged public. Now there is so much information mixed in with mis-information mixed in with opinions mixed in with emotionally charged argument that it's difficult to tell where we are at, who stands for what and where we are going with this. So, after watching people like Kristie Wells converse on a more rational and compassionate level, I've compiled a list of lessons that I am still learning in order to be a more effective agent of change. Here are the new NEW rules for revolutionaries:
- Change happens slowly
MUCH slower than we want it to...and it quite often happens in bits and bobs rather than all at once. People are change-averse in general. Often the best way to make big changes is to start with something smaller with a measurable outcome. When you can prove that the changes you are making are leading to more positive outcomes, you can start to implement the bigger stuff. Of course, sometimes the change you need to make is more fundamental and less actionable. That's gonna require loads of chipping away...
- Change happens before a majority of people are ready for it.
Some changes are going to happen before everyone feels comfortable with it. Legalizing gay marriage, for instance. That's one that is happening before everyone feels okay with it. The same went for inter-racial marriage years ago. Funny things happen after the dust settles, though. The people who were dead-set against the change realize it doesn't have the negative outcomes they fretted and yelled over. That's what happened in Canada post-gay marriage legalization. It's a non-issue now. Just realize you can't convince anyone of how they will think in the future.
- Change has both positive and negative consequences.
Change comes with consequences, both positive and negative, most of the time. Of course when we are arguing our for and against opinions, we don't want to acknowledge it (and sometimes we can't see it). Perhaps recognizing the upsides and downsides will be what helps us see more eye-to-eye?
- My opinions are formed by my experience. So are yours.
Speaking of seeing eye-to-eye, I've learnt more from debates where I've asked where someone's opinion comes from than asking what their opinion is. Experience molds our opinions. I had a great discussion with Aaron Brazell when I found out that his living in DC for many years had given him seriously unique insight into the current partisan politics. I also found out that Aaron and I agreed on more than I originally thought, which leads me to my next rule...
- Never assume.
I think this may be one of the hardest points of all. Things seem to be so black and white these days that if I hear someone believes in X, that must mean they believe in Y and Z, too. Not the case, really. And probably what leads to us getting our backs up so often. Ask first. And then go back to that 'what is your experience that led you to this outcome' question. I'm still learning this.
- Having 'no opinion' doesn't mean you don't have an opinion.
Maybe you don't feel educated enough on an issue to say anything? Or maybe you disagree with your friends and don't want to fight? Or perhaps you just don't fit neatly into one 'side' or another. No biggie. You still have an opinion and it's okay to have one. Screw Miss Manners for telling us that expressing our opinion is uncouth - it's the way we express them (disagree without being disagreeable) that is couth or uncouth. If more people like you expressed their opinions rationally and openly (I'm looking at Mack Collier), we'd have a better discourse, IMO. Not forcing anyone, just saying I like hearing from people who are still ruminating.
- Listening is the best strategy of all.
This is pretty self-evident, methinks. It's especially important when we: disagree, are from very different backgrounds and/or don't really understand the issues.
- Compromise is the wrong metaphor. Empathy gets closer.
Compromising usually results in some sort of solution where nobody is entirely happy. But getting a feel for and truly understanding the concerns from other points of view may help create better outcomes...or at least be able to explain why you cannot integrate changes. Sometimes people just want to be listened to.
- Extreme anger (and what we deem irrational) comes from a highly emotional place.
Responding from an equally emotional place won't solve anything, but empathizing with those emotions might. And I'm not talking, "I hear how you feel, but...". When you empathize, you really take the time to understand where someone is coming from and how they feel. When we can connect emotionally, and then speak rationally, we will probably see more progress.
- Most people really just do want the best outcome for all, we just differ on the route to get there.
I know this is difficult to believe, especially with some of the really heated things flying around (calling people names, etc.). But at the end of the day, the experience that has led to an opinion and the emotion behind the name-calling usually comes from a real place of terror. Sometimes that terror has been created by those whose interests aren't pure, but it also comes from facing a change to the unknown. People can go to dark places when they get into survival/protection mode. I've learnt that there are FUNDAMENTAL differences in the way that people see the world. It's hard to paint either as good or bad because one approach works well for some people while the opposite approach works well for others. The issue is where we have to agree on a law or a bill that will effect us all. This is a tricky one and where perhaps we need to go back to empathy rather than compromise.
Human societies are evolving...really...even though sometimes we may look around and go WTF? In those evolving societies, communication tools allow us to express our opinions and share our experiences more widely. And as we explore more, we notice that we don't all think the same, live the same or believe in the same solutions. This is fine as long as we understand that we've evolved to beyond black and white and we are now in a more nuanced world. Perhaps our next evolution will be to realize that we need to also evolve our tolerance to differing opinions and unique experiences, to the non-zero sum thinking that Robert Wright discusses in Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (highly recommended). And perhaps the first step is for us revolutionaries to embrace la difference and empathize with those whom with we disagree. Yes, even those we think are 'crazy'.