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Backfire Effect And How Not To Be A Dick

By Ursula Scully | Think Pieces | May 6, 2017 |

By Ursula Scully | Think Pieces | May 6, 2017 |

On Tuesday The Oatmeal published a new comic about the Backfire Effect. It’s an amazing comic and I know you’ve read it because you’re good Pajibans, but just in case you were busy calling your representatives to tell them to vote No for Trumpcare, here is the link so you can catch up. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait. It’s not like I have better things to do while our country and world falls apart around us hahaha, oh my god we’re all going to die.

Ahem. Did you pay attention to your emotional reactions when you read the various facts? I admit that my emotional barometer remained mostly unchanged, probably because I am a heathen. (Although I was surprised about the Roe v. Wade justices info.)

With that in mind, I want to chat about something I read that made my emotional barometer shoot up so quickly and with such force that if my brain parts were filled with mercury, the poisonous chemical would be spewing all the over the Capitol Building by now. One of my favorite advice sites, Ask A Manager, recently ran a letter from a reader who wanted advice after she called her boss’ daughter a whore. Yes, you read that correctly. Part of her letter:

One day a couple weeks ago, my boss was talking as usual about how his daughter is very attractive and wants to start dating. Then he paused, looked at me, and said “I bet you had that problem!” Without thinking, I instinctively responded, “Actually, I didn’t, because my parents didn’t raise a whore.” I was raised in a devoutly Christian home in which provocative clothing and behavior was forbidden, and dating wasn’t even a consideration.

What did your emotional barometer look like when you read that paragraph? Shock? Rage? Disgust? Like Pajiba, Ask A Manager has a decent comment section. Truly. Their community is made up of reasonable and kind people. I know! Shocking. You Tube and Daily Mail is really doing god’s work for keeping the commenting monsters corralled. Even so, the responses at Ask A Manager were what you’d expect after reading the initial letter. But this is where the story gets interesting. Go ahead and yell PLOT TWIST. The original letter writer wrote in an update. And it’s not at all what I expected:

The comments were very eye-opening. I thought the word was normal and commonly used, because that’s how it was at home (the exact quote I blurted out was screamed at me countless times at home and I was called a whore several times a day by my teachers). To this day, I hear the word used at least weekly outside of work. But now I see that it is beyond the pale.


Also, I just wanted to say, I did not feel attacked at all by the comments. I deserved to be attacked, but I was not. It appears some commenters think criticism of Christianity is an “attack” or “bashing,” but this is not so. Criticism of beliefs is alright, and in this case it was much needed. Thank you. There is nothing wrong with a little judgment. If you hadn’t judged me, I wouldn’t have learned.

If that’s not turning the other cheek, I don’t know what is. As I sat there reading her response, I felt mostly ashamed. Ashamed that my initial emotional reaction was so negative and feverish and lacking in compassion. When I consider my initial … passionate response, I picture Pixar’s five core emotions experiencing a full-fledged mob rule battle inside my skull.

I pride myself on my atheism. I pride myself that I do not require a moral compass steered by religion. That I do not need the carrot of the utopian heaven promise to keep me in line during my time on this planet. Does this make me a smug asshole? Without a doubt. But I do at least try to keep that reined in. But this letter-writer’s response humbles me in a hundred different ways. It makes me feel shame, but is also makes me want to do better. Michelle Obama said “when they go low, we go high” except that I find myself going low too often. How do we train our brains against the Backfire Effect? I’m reading through the Dartmouth study, and listening to the You Are Not So Smart podcast, but I’m looking for solutions as well. How do we stop reacting with our lizard brain? I’m truly curious to know if you’ve found books, guides, podcasts, techniques, anything really, that helps with this. Let’s have a chat below.

Ursula lives in Chicago and likes potatoes very much. You can follow her here.

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Ursula is a Staff Contributor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.