This morning I was talking to a few people about the attacks in Paris, with someone who’d actually been there. I said something about the backlash people were facing for not filling their Facebook feeds with posts about Beirut and mentioned an article I read about “Emotional Proximity” being one reason we’re more effected by the terrorist attacks in Paris than in Beirut. Before I had the chance to relay the article’s point, or offer my own views, I was summarily shut down.
“It’s because Beirut isn’t the first world,” a woman in the group told me. “It’s because they’re not white. That’s the reason.”
“I respectfully disagree–” I said, but before I could say more, the two women began to tell me how wrong I was, how what they knew to be true WAS true, and what I knew to be true was not. In other words, I was publicly shamed for not having their opinion. This was not a conversation, or discussion, but an intense, and unnecessary, verbal pummeling about how inferior my opinion was (despite never having stated it). The women were talking over each other, disputing whatever I might have said with the REAL reasons Beirut was overlooked and why I was wrong for suggesting anything other than what they thought. The aggression with which they did this was so unexpected, and steeped in that specific online superiority that I couldn’t help but turn to my friend and ask with my face if what was happening was sort of shocking and unreasonable. His face told me it was.
“Wow. Okay, I’m going to just stop talking because clearly you’re not going to hear me,” I said.
“No, talk, say what you want to say,” one of them challenged. “We’re not stopping you from saying anything.”
“No, I’m good. I’m not interested in having an argument for no reason.”
“That’s what arguing is,” the other woman said. “You argue for the sake of arguing.”
“I don’t argue for the sake of arguing,” I told her.
“Well, if you’re arguing to change someone’s mind, then you’re a fucking idiot.”
Got it. I’m a fucking idiot.
I’m a fucking idiot because I argue to get to a deeper truth. I’m a fucking idiot because I argue to learn something I don’t know, or to work out what I actually think. I’m a fucking idiot because I argue to advance an idea. I’m a fucking idiot because this person who needs to be right, to control by shaming me, isn’t getting what she wants, which is for me to consent to her point of view without protest, to submit and yield to her position, to validate that she’s smarter and better, which is what it will take for her to feel good. I’m a fucking idiot because I’m not willing to waste my time engaging in one of the emptiest exchanges that can take place between people.
This knee-jerk response to shame others who disagree, or simply have differing beliefs, is the weakest way to feel superior. The irony of employing such shame tactics in conversations like the one we were(n’t) having is that it cultivates the very culture of entitlement and oppression the shamer is accusing others of possessing. Her argument is that Beirut was overlooked because the people killed weren’t white, that we are keeping the third world small by denying it a response, and she’s right. The people in Beirut were ignored, they do feel like they don’t count, as though their lives don’t matter. We did give Paris more attention, but the reasons are varied, and not as simple as she wants them to be. Also, compassion is not a zero sum game.
When we shame others, we are engineering ways to keep them small, to make them feel like they don’t count, but employing the very tactics you’re railing against in service of being right, does nothing more than discredit your ability to effect change. You cannot take a stand against something and work on its behalf at the same time.
When we operate from a place of superiority, we block communication, and without communication there can be no discussion or conversation; there can be no bonds and no connection. Arguing for the sake of arguing bypasses what true dialogue is all about, and shaming others in order to be right because you fear disconnection only guarantees the disconnection you fear.