I think it is going to take a drastic reframing of our practice of argumentation. We should not attack our opponents. We do not have demolish or shoot down an argument.
I understand that there were problems with this before the pandemic started. It just seems worse because the mean spirited words are hurled, leaked, broadcast, muttered and tweeted online. And it's not just politicians who are the problem. The meanness is trickling down to every day discourse between ordinary people.
I witnessed a less than lovely exchange in a retail store. Two women were shopping with two small children in tow--one a young boy of about three and the other a baby girl. The little boy was standing stock-still, staring at a broken bottle of perfume at his feet. As an employee was moving in to clean things up, she saw the children's mom had placed the baby girl on one of the store's rolling stock carts.
The employee said, "Oh please don't do that--she might fall."
The older woman said, "She is not going to let her fall."
The employee said, "Yes, but that's dangerous--she can't be there."
The woman said more loudly this time (as the mother held her daughter on the cart with one hand and the little boy wandered off on his own) "She is not going to fall, her mom is watching her."
The employee tried again: "Yes, ma'am, but we can't have her up there for liability reasons."
Then came this angry retort: "You don't care about the baby. You just don't want to get sued. You think she can't watch her own baby."
When the young employee tried once more to politely explain herself, the older woman cut her short: "I know what you care about...and I don't want to hear another word from you. This conversation is over."
Oh my! Unfortunately, this is also what has happened over Facebook, Twitter, KakaoTalk, and other social media applications.
I know that sometimes we actually feel better when we have told someone exactly what we think. But at what cost?
The woman in the store could have been way more gracious to the young employee who was communicating a rule that the company she worked for wanted enforced. She seemd angry from the beginning of the exchange.
I can't change the world, the toxic climate in halls of power, or even the attitude of a single shopper. But in a world where meanness has become common, I can choose love instead.
I can choose gracious responses. Acts of kindness. A caring word. Eye contact. A smile. A listening ear. These I can do. And so can you.
Choose love even when you do not want to!