Over the past few years as our country’s divisions have become more and more amplified and visible, I’ve observed a heartbreaking trend among myself, my friends and strangers alike.
In an effort to be heard by a voice of dissent, we make an appeal of some kind. We let our opinions cave in on themselves just a little in order to make that other person let their guard down, to make them see our side.
It’s something so common. It’s something so counter-productive. It’s one of the reasons we’re where we are today.
We’ve all been trained by our parents, teachers, society in general that the way to have a discussion with any other human being is to find common ground. That both sides matter, are important and deserve equal weight and respect.
And here’s where that’s gotten us.
“Yes, I agree, violence and rioting are never OK. But…”
“You’re right—both sides can be too extreme. But…”
“I agree with you, ___ is extremely problematic and flawed, but…”
In an effort to respect the other person into seeing our side, in order to appeal to the common human thread that binds us, in order to be heard and seen no matter what, we devour our own arguments. And all that’s left is “you’re right” and “I agree.”
So the takeaway becomes this new common ground: we commiserate over the shared negative, even when we know it’s a false equivalency at best and at worst an outright lie to get the other person on our side at all costs, and *that* then becomes the strengthened point. Not what we were trying to get them to hear, not what we were truly trying to say.
The point we inadvertently give away, cower over and cast aside in favor of a preferred argument is the one that becomes the scapegoat, while the other point is lost to the wind.
The things we do “at all costs” become the cost.
So what do we do?
Well, luckily, that wage gap that still exists and isn’t going anywhere in the next four years is at least still here to provide us all some helpful tips that are usually exclusive to women trying to get ahead in “a man’s world.”
- Stop saying “just” and “sorry.” Don’t apologize for your opinion, and don’t subordinate yourself by justing yourself into nothingness.
- A professor once taught me to start opinion pieces with “In my opinion” or “I think” or “I believe.” And then when I’m done, go back and remove all of those phrases and let the opinion stand on its own. Let’s all do that, both with the above phrases and the portion of the reply that includes “I agree” or “you’re right.”
- Don’t pretend. I decided in my last years as a business professional to stop laughing at men’s jokes that weren’t funny. To hold firm in my stance. I’m not going to lie to you, that holding firm in my stance thing has not gone well. I’ve learned even men I love and respect might not give even the slightest inch, no matter how strongly or passionate I am about what I’m fighting for. So don’t pretend the person you’re talking to is justified in or correct about a belief that is in no way correct or justifiable.
Don’t give. Don’t budge. Not where it matters and not where it’s important. See a false equivalency? Don’t lend it credence by pretending there’s any validity to it. Don’t throw marginalized people under the bus by equating protests with anything terrible.
Want a small way to make your voice heard? Don’t soften that voice. Not with cushions, not with silence.