“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” (Maya Angelou)
[In part one, we looked at the epidemic of incivility that surrounds us and promises to get worse in the weeks ahead. We talked about the need for kindness and the courage it takes to be a kind person. In part two, we looked at how to exercise that ferocious kindness in service to the world. In this final part, we look at some of the biggest challenges to our commitment and the pledge we must make daily if we are to change the world. Here’s part three.]
There are people who are deliberately unkind and intentionally provocative. They are fueled by name-calling and inciting conflict. Often, they make outrageous claims—denying the Holocaust, saying Sandy Hook was a hoax, claiming masks only spread COVID-19. Engaging with such people just fuels them. You’re not going to change their minds with reason, data, or facts. Their minds are closed.
Do yourself and the world a favor and don’t engage with them. Don’t argue, don’t debate, and don’t give them a moment of your attention. Withholding interaction is like removing oxygen from a fire. It will sputter out and die. Just as oxygen feeds fire, attention is fuel for bigots, bullies, and fanatics. If enough of us withhold our attention, those people will lose any power they may have. They will wither and be seen only for the pathetic creatures they are.
What about the people I simply cannot avoid?
There are people we can’t escape. They may be family members, a close friend’s irritating spouse, or one of your company’s top clients. If the person is rational and open to civil discourse, see if you can engage thoughtfully, preferably by employing your curiosity:
“Hmmm, that hasn’t been my experience at all. Why do you think that?”
“I wonder how solid that evidence is. Here’s what my research has shown….”
Focus less on changing their views as on understanding them. If it’s clear that you can’t have a respectful conversation, look for a safe subject: “Let’s talk about something else. Did you see the [weather report, latest epic movie, basketball game…]? If you can’t avoid a truly disagreeable person, look for some common ground that you can share whenever you have to be in their company. Puppies are always good, so is vegetable gardening. When all else fails, silence can be golden.