Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What Is To Be Done?

With many college semesters in the company of my beloved Greek professor, I learned much more than a new alphabet. Her jocular father gave her the literarily punning name, Ruby Ott. She gave the small group of us regular infusions of wisdom tossed in casually while we struggled with translations.

Often the simplest was the most powerful. As we debated over constructions in the Iliad, she dropped one in during a passage discussing Hector and Achilles, “We hate most in other what we see in ourselves.” As usual, we wrangled on and found a meaningful English version. Later though, and much later and often, such nuggets haunted.

Even now, when some of us are disgusted by and angry with someone, we think of Professor Ott. We ask, “Is there an aspect of my behavior or personality that I see here that so upsets me?” It very humanizing and can lead to either sympathy or empathy.

Recently, as I see some of the bile spewed on local or distant rightwing, fundamentalist Websites, I stop to ask myself. Almost always, after analysis, the answer is, no, they are just somewhere out there. Yet, the process is still humanizing. It can lead to what the academic and the scholarly experts suggest for dealing with the plug nasties.

Despite Christ’s lessons to turn the other cheek and to love your brother as yourself, they are not likely to do so. As hard as it may seem to those of us who pride ourselves on both reason and reasonableness, on both social graces and outreach, we must first accept that we shall not, if you pardon the expression, convert them.

They want their way on every issue. They do not and will not care whether you have reasoning that is more solid, all the data in your favor, or even a more Christian view of a subject.

Lessons I have gathered from psychologist chums, texts and the Net include:
  • Acknowledge that they are passionate about every single battle they enter, that the only thing that will please them (momentarily) is acquiescence.
  • Do not engage in protracted logical arguments. They are driven by certitude and emotion. They won’t hear you.
  • Do not compromise. If, for example, they insist on reordering the school curriculum, explain as many times as necesary in as simple terms as you can that this is impossible, unreasonable and unacceptable.
  • Realize that they need simple answers. They are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They will remain confused by and afraid of complexity and change. You cannot convince them to accept logic and your facts.
For even the most strident of them, you can accept that they are distraught. It is actually quite liberating to do so. That doesn’t mean that you agree with them or give in to their irrational demands. However, if, as their reviled Bill Clinton might say, you feel their pain, you can deal with the issues at hand much more evenly and calmly. Let them do the screaming. Just make sure they don’t get what they want.

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