67. Awkward Conversations on Critical Topics
Good morning and welcome to your sixty-seventh mediation. Do you have any beliefs or values that seem to make others uncomfortable? We’re not talking about actual harmful beliefs like those based on misinformation or racist ideologies, but just the opposite. We’re talking about beliefs or values founded on an informed determination to make the world a better place for everyone. Indeed, an example could be a will to anti-racism. There is no place for racism in a schema where every life matters, in a world where humans measure our success based on the success of the collective. It is abundantly clear that we do not live in that world. Therefore, it is impossible to contest, with even an ounce of reason, that racism does not exist. And yet, people often behave in a way that wilfully ignores its existence. They are loath to talk about it. They see the very mention of it as an affront to their sense of themselves as a “good person”, to their sense of pride in their community or country, to their worldview. When people feel the fragility of principles so fundamental to their identity, they feel threatened. When they feel threatened, they get defensive. When they get defensive, sometimes they attack. Any attack needs a target, and that target is often the person who brought up the uncomfortable subject matter in the first place.
But we need to talk about racism. Just like we need to talk about climate change, and genocide, and human rights abuses, and all the other issues that exist alongside – and often within – our daily, individual struggles to live well, be good, and know happiness.
So how do we do it? How do we discuss these pressing issues that we know should be front of mind for everyone in a way that doesn’t simply result in antagonizing our interlocutors? This is a really difficult question, and opinions on how to answer it vary widely. But here are a couple things to consider: Firstly, everyone is just trying to make it work. Have respect for the fact that most people are trying to be good in whatever way they know how. Trying to engage reluctant individuals on a subject will rarely convince them to switch their thinking on it. Secondly, be demonstrative, not evangelical. This concept is related to the classic quote usually misattributed to Gandhi: “be the change you want to see in the world”. Do what you’d like to see others do rather than telling them to do it. You may be surprised how many minds you can change just by living righteously. Third, don’t overvalue the significance of changing the minds of individuals. With systemic issues, it’s the system itself that needs to change. So perhaps the time you spend trying to persuade your resistant friend or family member of your views would be better spent lobbying, protesting, boycotting, making art that supports or advocates for your cause, or setting up programs that help to educate your community and actively engage with the issues at hand. Finally, you are not responsible for protecting the fragile egos of those who feel threatened by your righteousness. You can do everything in your power to avoid antagonizing people, and yet they will insist on being antagonized and that is beyond your control so you have to let it go. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.