We can use that buffer. Instead of lashing out, we can pause, breathe, change the subject or walk away, and then come back to it when we’re ready.
And finally make the argument. This might seem obvious, but one side effect of having strong beliefs is that we sometimes assume that the value of our position is or should be obvious and self-evident, that we shouldn’t have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right and good that if someone doesn’t get it, it’s their problem — that it’s not my job to educate them. But if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way. As kind as my friends on Twitter were, if they hadn’t actually made their arguments, it would’ve been so much harder for me to see the world in a different way. We are all a product of our upbringing, and our beliefs reflect our experiences.
We can’t expect others to spontaneously change their own minds. If we want change, we have to make the case for it. My friends on Twitter didn’t abandon their beliefs or their principles — only their scorn. They channeled their infinitely justifiable offense and came to me with pointed questions tempered with kindness and humor. They approached me as a human being, and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence.
I know that some might not have the time or the energy or the patience for extensive engagement, but as difficult as it can be, reaching out to someone we disagree with is an option that is available to all of us. And I sincerely believe that we can do hard things, not just for them but for us and our future.
Escalating disgust and intractable conflict are not what we want for ourselves, or our country or our next generation. My mom said something to me a few weeks before I left Westboro, when I was desperately hoping there was a way I could stay with my family. People I have loved with every pulse of my heart since even before I was that chubby-cheeked five-year-old, standing on a picket line holding a sign I couldn’t read.
She said, “You’re just a human being, my dear, sweet child.” She was asking me to be humble — not to question but to trust God and my elders. But to me, she was missing the bigger picture — that we’re all just human beings. That we should be guided by that most basic fact, and approach one another with generosity and compassion. Each one of us contributes to the communities and the cultures and the societies that we make up.
The end of this spiral of rage and blame begins with one person who refuses to indulge these destructive, seductive impulses. We just have to decide that it’s going to start with us.