Several days ago I decided to whack at a hornet’s nest with a pencil metaphorically. I climbed into the den of honey badgers otherwise known as the comments section on a political Facebook post. Armed with my chosen weapon of presumptuous arrogance I decided to adroitly illustrate the lack of compassion of the people who held a perspective in contrast to my own.
Somehow in my self-righteousness I forgot the adverse effect of telling a person who is politically moved that they don’t give one-tenth of one percent of a shit about people and their well being. Most people take a particular political, ethical, social, or moral stance on a matter because they believe their view aligns with what they believe is best for the society at large. So after shaking the hornet’s nest like a meth head with a Magic 8-Ball I watched what started out as what originally barely passed for a discussion disintegrate into my debate mate slinging poo ladened ad hominems like chimps behind bars.
Shy of imprisoned apes I cannot defend nor condone the hurling of misplaced epithets in the form of insults, derision, and name calling. Granted, I did shove my No. 2 pencil into the paper thin side of the hive. I made my statement, and as I firmly believe, no one says anything without an underlying intention. We choose the specific words we extricate from our minds with a specific purpose, with a desired effect. Often that effect is the intent to shape and contort the perspectives of other human beings to either match our own or to deter them from maintaining theirs. Our emotional fervent blinds us to the fact that we are running on the treadmill of futility.
My mother on many occasions would offer me morsels of sage advice based on her own experiences. She wanted to spare me from traversing the landscape of error-strewn regrets that she had stubbed her toe on along the path of her past. My father, on the other hand, never gave anything resembling advice that wasn’t wrapped in an off-colored joke. His philosophy was that mistakes were the great Socrates, that wisdom was most purely imparted through trials and tribulations, the semester’s final in the form of a hard knock from the school of the same name.
There’s a strangely beautiful balance in that approach to watching people walk toward the field of landmines. The danger of the protective coddling, repeated warnings, and the unending doling out of unsolicited advice is that it sends the message that we do not have faith or confidence in others we think are making mistakes in being able to learn from them. Our warnings on how wrong people are in their perspectives also renders us unable to recognize that their truths are valid for themselves, no matter how ludicrous they may seem to us.
At the same token to shrug and say let them learn the hard way does in no way shape or form let them know we care and that we are concerned for their future, their successful outcome, and their well being. While the parent of the Millennial approach of over protection and insulation sends the message of a lack of trust in their ability to survive mistakes, the throw them in the lake and they’ll learn to swim approach almost conveys an indifference to whether or not they survive.
Challenging another’s perspective or process is in essence the hostile form of giving unsolicited advice. When engaging in a sharing of personal or political or ethical opinions, we would do best to find the precise wording that conveys our perspective without condescending or attempting to invalidate the opinion of an opposing party. This provides those within earshot the choice to either bank or dismiss our opinions. Some lessons can only be learned through trial by fire. We must allow people to walk through the flames if this is what they choose and be there to help them heal on the other side.