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Differences Do Not Mandate Disrespect
Saturday, Nov. 06, 2004, 10:52 p.m.

QUESTION: Can't we all just get along?

WHAT I LEARNED: It's not always easy to be nice.

This entry was originally posted on my blog - Little Island. The topic of respect in the face of disagreement is something I've thought about quite a lot as I've read many diaries and blogs over the last few months. Recently I have seen many folks employ what I would call "fightin' words" in their own posts and even in the comment sections of other diaries they chose to visit - and do so just as casually as they would use the words please or thank you or I'd like fries with that. Maybe even more freely - if you can imagine that. It's been bugging me because I've watched it do some major damage between some of my online buddies. With that in mind, these are my considered thoughts on respect in the face of disagreement.

In the wake of the elections, I have had some time to ponder the words emanating from the election frenzy that was. For me it has been a mixed experience – sometimes I have been impressed by the insight and knowledge of others and sometimes I have been distressed by the mean-spirited epitaphs used in the name of free speech and commitment to cause and party. Over the last few months and even on this very day, I have spent time reading many a fine diarist and blogger as they assassinate the character of everyone that didn't support their candidate. I have heard many wretched statements made by essentially good, kind, intelligent people who can be funny and friendly and smart most days. I have read terrible words written about the candidates, about our President, about the state of our country, and about the intelligence - even the humanity - of other voters simply because their political perspective was different than someone else's political perspective.

I believe it is fair to say that this approach to standing up for a point of view is often going to be experienced as hurtful and abusive and alienating. To be spoken of by others in the most demeaning of terms because you are not on the same side of the political fence as they are can be deeply wounding. I also believe it is fair to say that insisting on saying what you want, how you want to say it, no matter what the damage and hurt inflicted on others around you – no matter what amount of idealism and lofty goals might fuel such impulses - will have exactly the opposite effect of what would be most desired - a chance to help another person to understand your point of view and perhaps convince them of its correctness.

Most people are not going to seriously entertain a viewpoint that is couched in a language of disrespect, disregard, and intellectual and political elitism.  No one is going to be positively disposed towards someone who is telling them outright that they are pretty damn stupid for thinking the way they do. No one is going to listen with a will to understand when they have just been called a horrific name or heard things they hold dear disparaged and raged at. No one is going to change their mind in the face of rudeness, condescension, or a simply unwillingness to treat others - even cyber-others - with simple courtesy. I do not believe anybody’s mama taught them to behave like that, to speak like that, to write like that, or to think like that.

I was taught to be respectful and considerate of others – even those you disagree with - and that is how I have tried to raise my kids. I don’t think I am alone in that. However, I am sure none of us are able to pull that off all the time. It is natural to get annoyed and frustrated with others who think differently than we do regarding things we feel strongly about. However, I do believe that it is important for all of us to be respectful to each other and to remember that just because we are smart doesn't mean others are stupid. I don’t believe harsh words convert others to our way of thinking. I believe it drives them away. We have a certain duty to each other as thoughtful human being to temper our words with consideration for others. In that way we may perhaps lead others to see our point of view as valid. In that way we accomplish our duty to our ideals and goals.

As on online diarist and a blogger, I have learned that many decent people living good lives and trying to do the best they can every day are going to deeply disagree with me in some areas of thought. Because I read about the details of their lives through their journals and blogs, I am given the advantage of being able to see the person behind the opinion. People do have different perspectives, different world-views, and different drivers in life. They may come to very different conclusions about many important issues and I may not agree with them at all. However, seeing the person behind the politics and other areas of difference is one of the great values of being part of the online diarist and blogger community. It is in fact one of the most essential things that we can bring away from it – that understanding of our commonality in the midst of great differences.

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