November 28, 2018

Two Wrongs Still Don't Make a Right

Be Nice. (The World is a Small Town)Remember when you were a child and a parent, member of your extended family, a family friend, or some other adult you respected explained that "two wrongs don't make a right?" Maybe you had recently been the victim of some sort of injustice and were planning your revenge. Or maybe you'd already carried out your revenge and were now being punished for it. Whatever the circumstances, I suspect most of us can recall this lesson. I know I can.

It seems like there are an awful lot of people these days on both sides of the political spectrum who would like you to forget this lesson when it comes to how you treat those on the other side. Some will tell you that civility and empathy are signs of weakness. They'll tell you that you should be strong and meet fire with fire. Others will tell you that civil discourse is a sign of "privilege" and that positive social change never came about through civility. They may also tell you that empathy and tolerance merely enable bad behavior and make you "part of the problem."

I think they are wrong. I don't care which side of the political spectrum they occupy. They are wrong. How we treat people matters, and how we treat those with whom we disagree says something meaningful about our character. I am fed up with the absolutistic approach I see coming from both sides. You calling me a name does not justify me calling you one in return. As an adult, I understand that name-calling rarely improves any situation. One side treating the other side's president poorly does not justify similar treatment when the roles are reversed. Reasonable adults are expected to know this. "But they started it" is not any more valid today than it was on the playground.

If you had a horrible upbringing and never managed to learn right from wrong, I am sorry. You deserved better. That still doesn't make how you are treating others any less wrong. If you are a psychopath whose brain dysfunction prevents you from being able to empathize with others, you have a valid excuse for behaving this way. But even if you cannot empathize, I hope that you might eventually discover that treating your ideological opponents poorly often strengthens them against you and makes it less likely that you will get what you want.

We are human, but we are not all humanists, skeptics, freethinkers, or even kind people. We are often dangerously tribalistic and irrational. We all know the rush that comes from unloading on our "enemies" even if we manage to do so on social media instead of through armed conflict. But let's not forget that we are the ones who have made enemies out of people primarily because they hold different political views. We should be ashamed to treat them poorly on that basis. As adults, we should be able to disagree with someone without making them our enemy.

My suggestion is a simple one: Stop looking for excuses to treat people poorly. "But he's a Trump supporter!" So what? If you keep calling him names, you are only guaranteeing that he will be more determined than ever to re-elect Trump. "But she's a liberal snowflake!" Who cares? All your name-calling is going to accomplish is to make sure she keeps fighting against your agenda. Set aside all the excuses and be the person you wish there were more of.