We’ve all got ’em.
Before we get stuck in, I want to share this outstanding video from Will Smith.
I’m tired. Mostly, I’m tired about trying to understand what I should be angry about these days. There’s someone, somewhere, right now, who wants me to be angry about a particular thing. Friends, I’m just about done. There’s only so much rage my heart can hold, and it passed the safe levels a year or more ago.
Now we’ve set the tone … One of the things that grinds my gears is the concept of absolutes. Red vs. blue. East vs. west. Left vs. right, cats vs. dogs, whatever. The way I see it? There’s far more things we have in common than not, but the current skein of the media, your Facebook feed, or even dinner party conversations is about taking sides. About facing off against your foes. About fighting each other.
I try not to post negative shit, and this article is no exception. I don’t want you to care what my stance is on gun control or abortion or who the President happens to be, because it doesn’t matter. What matters is evolving our conversations towards common ground, and we can’t do that if we at clawing at each others throats. The current media focus on clickbaity titles and polarizing articles isn’t helping. They divide us, asking us to join a tribe of their making. I’d say this approach is actively harming us. And we are better than that, because we’ve got motherfucking superpowers.
It’s pretty easy to hop on Facebook and say something like, “This particular situation sucks.” You might be tempted to go further and say, “I think you should think the way I do about this particular situation.” You think you’re making a difference. You’re out there, being an activist. Fucken A, right?
Have a think about the number of times seeing someone post something diametrically opposite your own views has changed your mind. Let’s take a super simple example: maybe you like the NRA. So, you get all up in Facebook’s grill, saying, “NRA4life, and BTW, buy guns.” And you feel pretty happy about that.
Then someone posts an article, saying, “Guns are bad.” You have two choices at this point. You can either change your entire world view because the scales have fallen from your eyes, or unfriend that motherfucker.
I know which choice you made, and it wasn’t giving up your NRA membership.
This isn’t about the NRA, or even about guns. It’s about people not changing their views simply because they read someone else has a different view. If you want to promote your view, you need to do something different; just posting shit on Facebook does worse than nothing: it turns people away from you. I can tell you unfriending a motherfucker might make you feel better, but it’s not using superpowers and it sure as shit isn’t changing the world. It is making the world a more hostile, divisive place, and my pretty firm view at this point is we need less angst.
I have a two-step plan for you to unlock your superpowers, and it’s easy, which makes it awesome. Shall we begin?
There are two steps in this, and I’ll spend some time breaking them down for you in case shit’s not clear.
- Do not be a polarizing asshole, and
- Do something.
Here we go.
Step One: Do not be a polarizing asshole.
I know what it’s like. You’ve just got the latest Widget 2000, and it’s fucked. Missing the power cord, or whatever. You hop onto Facebook or Twitter, unleashing the righteous fury of your keyboard against that company. Your feel no one else anywhere in the world should buy the Widget 2000, so your feedback is at Mordor levels of fire.
You just became a polarizing asshole.
People can’t look at comments like that in any way other than negative and antagonistic. You’re demanding they feel your anger. You want them to get angry too. But they’re tired, remember? They’re already angry at a million things.
Hey. I know the Widget was fucked. We all know it. But do you want someone to feel your righteous fury (pro tip: whoever the social media manager is at Widget Corp doesn’t give two fucks, and might not even give one), or do you want to fix the problem?
Try a different approach. Instead of going for the nuclear option of providing all the negativity your heart can hold onto a canvas all your friends get to also feel negative about, and thus making their day shittier, how about … not? I know, it sounds weird, but trust me on this: it’s the better way. By all means, call up Widget Corp and ask for a power cord. But that’s about all the emotion you need to invest in this problem.
Now we’ve mastered this step with the Widget 2000, let’s extend it to our NRA example above. Is it really important you brand yourself on Facebook? Do you need the NRA as a tribe? As a what-if, what the fuck would happen if no one knew you were a polarizing asshole? Let’s say a bunch of kids get shot at a school. You might get to take part in a conversation about it, instead of people assuming you’re a shill for the NRA. You might change their hearts and minds, or they might change yours. But you’ll be talking, and working out what I already know: you’ve got more in common than your differences. I’d bet neither of you want kids to die, for example.
You’ll never know if you start as a polarizing asshole. Doors shut. People walk away. They unfriend those motherfuckers.
Step Two: Do something.
We’ve mastered the art of not being a huge dick. Let’s see if we can stretch our legs in a more positive direction: actually doing something. If you want another pithy working title for this step, call it “making a difference.”
One of the things I think is really important — like the number one thing — is equality. It’s a big elephant to eat, so my focus is on a subsection of equality: men and women. I figure if I can help get people thinking it’s not okay for women to make 70 cents on the man’s income dollar, or, hell, see if we can get a few more women CEOs, the world would kick a lot more ass.
Every so often, I will post an article about this, but most of the time I don’t, because my energy is directed on doing something. I write novels, and those novels contain women, and those women (…I like to believe) kick more than their fair share of ass.
If a person reads those books, they will (…if I’ve done my job right) share in my emotional belief. They’ll understand that women do, in fact, kick ass, and a great deal of it. They might start to believe crazy things about equality. If their sons or daughters read those stories* they might also have their world view altered. If just one young woman reads one of my books and changes her job aspirations from nurse to doctor, what would the world be like?
* You’re a horrible human if you let anyone below a teenager read my books on account of the language and horrific violence. I like to think I make Game of Thrones look like Barney & Friends re-runs.
Wait, I can hear it already. “But, Richard! I’m not a novelist!”
Yeah, but you do other things, right? Let’s assume you’re like me and want men and women to be equal, but you work digging roads. Could you remove the pin-up girls from the break room? Or, what if you’re a general manager in a corporate office, about to take a meeting. Would it kill you to offer to take the minutes?
You don’t need to look very hard to find something to do. I know it’s not as noteworthy as posting on Facebook, where everyone will see what an amazing activist you are, but trust me: it’s far more effective. And, after just a little bit of time, people will look to you as a leader. You’re not being a negative asshole, and you’re doing something. You are making a difference. People want to talk to you about stuff. You’ll learn from them. They’ll learn from you.
The world changes.