Get to the bone.
I have been trying really hard not to get into arguments online. Which is challenging for me. I enjoy the thrill of conflict and care deeply about the issues that I’m advocating for. What’s more, as a writer, I often have the advantage when it comes to articulating my point. Still, even when I know that I’m right without the shadow of a doubt, my attempts to educate the other side are often fruitless and frustrating.
Ever one to pick at scabs until they bleed, I got to a point recently where I began to wonder if there was a different way. A way to engage with folx whose understanding of a topic was limited. A way to help them expand their ability to see beyond their experiences, privilege, and defensiveness. A way to “call in” instead of “call out.” Because my current approach, while gratifying in the moment, rarely creates the change I’m longing for.
Of course, I understand and empathize with the part of me that gets angry when engaging in a debate. It’s the part of me that is tired of myself and others being dismissed and dehumanized by the patriarchy. It’s the part of me that wants to cause those who are upholding systems of oppression as much pain as they have caused me and the folx whom I care about. In those moments, my only goal is vengeance.
So I have started to look outwards for guidance on what this new way of being could look like. One where I am able to engage with people from a place of curiosity and respect instead of anger and scorn. I have been seeking out sources that both validate my anger—being trespassed upon should elicit a response that something’s not okay—and show me how to include and transcend it.
In one of my favourite texts, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes, “But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’” I can see this in my anger; in the way that I am fighting for justice. Even my desire to make money is sometimes motivated by a desire to violently take back power.
My current practice, then, is to acknowledge my anger while simultaneously trying to get to the bone of what’s being discussed. I ask the other side more questions in the hopes of them seeing their blind spots. If we get to the bottom of an issue and what’s discovered is that they are willfully hateful then I disengage. And while it doesn’t always work in the ways that I want it to, this practice is proving to be more effective than my previous approach.
So, what happens when you keep asking questions?