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A distributed conversation

I posted the below as a comment on an entry in djm4's journal, which discusses a couple of questions expressed in a entry in another journal. djm4 explains the context:
We were discussing whether or not to be open-minded about people with traits/behaviours/points of view that one doesn't understand (e.g. BDSM, multiplicity, transgender, furries, depression, religious faith, menk, otherkin - not all of which were cited in the original discussion, but all of which are vulnerable to this by dint of many people simply not 'getting' them and mocking them as a result):
Note that, out of the list "BDSM, multiplicity, transgender, furries, depression, religious faith, menk, otherkin" (I don't know what "menk" is), I am decidedly uncomfortable with and sometimes catty about a number of manifestations of same, even in the categories I have some personal experience with. So what I say below is not how I behave all the time. It's more of a direction I'm pointing in.

Is it worse to not understand it or to pretty much understand it but still find it totally risible?

I think understanding -- to the point of compassion -- the extent to which other people think and believe differently from you is one of the greatest goods there is. I also think it's extremely difficult, and most people aren't as good at it as they think they are.

That kind of understanding allows for viewing others' beliefs with affectionate humor but not mockery. If you are mocking, then you aren't making an effort to understand, and/or you're possibly threatened.

This goes for both beliefs and actions. If someone's beliefs are leading them to act in ways that cause damage, then mockery is not going to help solve the problem. Understanding may help, because if you understand how they are thinking, you are more likely to be able to get through to them about why their behavior is damaging, and/or you are more likely to be able to figure out how else to stop them from doing what they're doing (e.g., by directing them to less damaging expressions of their beliefs).

I often think people are overly kind with people who really should have their peculiar beliefs challenged.

I don't agree with either part of the above. First, I don't see excessive kindness. I think people are generally quite mean to those who have beliefs they consider peculiar. I also think most forms of "challenging" don't accomplish anything other than stirring up anger and resentment.

If someone is doing damage, then they need to be stopped. Really skillful challenging of their beliefs might be one of the tools for stopping them, but usually other tools are also needed.

Note: The conversation seems to be about "alternative lifestyles," if you'll forgive the term. What if we turn the conversation onto mainstream beliefs instead? Do you (any you who wants to respond to this) think that it's a good idea to laugh at people who, say, have very conservative political beliefs? What does it accomplish? Do you think it's useful to try to understand where they are coming from? Why or why not? Is it effective to challenge their beliefs?

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
crazed_lynn
Mar. 19th, 2004 11:26 am (UTC)
A challenge, even if not very direct, is more than likely going to result in the challenged person digging in their heels. It will end up with two (or more) people talking at one another rather than talking with.

Several years ago (and maybe still going on) some NYers held a reconciliation conference on abortion. People from both sides came and faced off. Early on, they jjusst shouted the same tired rhetoric at each other. However after they all wound down on that, people actually began sharing personal stories related to abotion and the debate.

Last I heard, it had not changed anyone's mind on the issue, but it did greatly reduce violence at the front lines.

Here'e my current belief on the issue of challenging people. I tend to not challenge their beliefs unless I have set up the context for a debate and not for an attack.

I really don't care much what individuals very different from me think. Let them think what ever they want. I do, though, care a great deal about what they do. And if what they do interferes with the free expression another, I will challenge the behavior.

I no longer attempt to line up everyone's beliefs. I used to do this. But I was very sure I was very right in what I thought. Now I don't believe in "right."

I can make a good case for violence as an acceptable human interaction. I can also make a good case for peace. The one I pursue is peace, but it is a matter of choice and not a matter of morality.

Do I mock? Yes. I am a creature of habit. I have not broken myself of mocking public figures and policy makers who I think have an unworkable world view. But mocking George W. Bush, for instance, does nothing to move him toward the center and solidifies his extremist base.

I think that most challenges to thought and behavior do not provide a workable long term solution. I think it is a mistake to apply force where the intention is a long term solution.

Love.
hfnuala
Mar. 19th, 2004 01:52 pm (UTC)
'menk' is a term (which I've only heard the london polys use) for extreme fandom - especially around being very fussy about continuity/recognising references.

I do laugh at people who are very conservative but not to their face. I'm not proud of this.
ruth_lawrence
Mar. 20th, 2004 02:38 am (UTC)
I mock and complain about people who are reactionaries, who actively hate.

To me, the more forceful of these folks intend harm. I don't feel a jot of shame for my negative attitude.

I don't go seeking confrontation with them, but I do contradict racist, homophobic and so on assertions.

eve_l_incarnata
Mar. 21st, 2004 12:49 am (UTC)
Part I
We were discussing whether or not to be open-minded about people with traits/behaviours/points of view that one doesn't understand (e.g. BDSM, multiplicity, transgender, furries, depression, religious faith, menk, otherkin

What is multiplicity? Otherkin are people who think they are dragons? I discovered the meaning of "menk" by reading your comments.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how open-minded I think I am, or am not... and what exactly being open-minded means. I find that when I take issue with people welcoming white supremacists to a poly group, I am branded closed-minded. Someone on my friends list made a quoteworthy post one day about open-mindedness, and how there was a difference between that and being so open that your brain falls out. I'm trying to figure out where I fit in on that spectrum.

Is it worse to not understand it or to pretty much understand it but still find it totally risible?

Good question. I'm not sure how one could understand something but still find it totally risible. I'm trying to think of things I understand, yet find risible.

I think understanding -- to the point of compassion -- the extent to which other people think and believe differently from you is one of the greatest goods there is. I also think it's extremely difficult, and most people aren't as good at it as they think they are.

Is understanding a necessary precursor of compassion? I don't know that most people bother to understand to the point of compassion, or that it would bother them if they didn't attempt.

That kind of understanding allows for viewing others' beliefs with affectionate humor but not mockery. If you are mocking, then you aren't making an effort to understand, and/or you're possibly threatened.

I think it's possible to mock without being threatened, or to have full understanding of what one is mocking.

This goes for both beliefs and actions. If someone's beliefs are leading them to act in ways that cause damage, then mockery is not going to help solve the problem.

True.

Understanding may help, because if you understand how they are thinking, you are more likely to be able to get through to them about why their behavior is damaging, and/or you are more likely to be able to figure out how else to stop them from doing what they're doing (e.g., by directing them to less damaging expressions of their beliefs).

True.

I often think people are overly kind with people who really should have their peculiar beliefs challenged.

My experience with various subcultures is that people would not call someone on their shit. The local pot dealer beats his wife? But... we can't talk to him about it, because it's his "karma", or talk to his wife (because she's "his woman"), or talk to "The Man". Someone reads the latest Llewellyn's twaddle and starts walking around calling themself The Grand Exalted Lord Bigdick? The directors of the big Neo-Pagan gathering are going to ask him to speak at the open forum about his "tradition". The Pie Man is abusing his children through neglect? Oh, we can't say anything to the brother about that... it would be stepping on his authority, and he's "one of us". How dare you even say that he's abusing his children!

I don't agree with either part of the above. First, I don't see excessive kindness. I think people are generally quite mean to those who have beliefs they consider peculiar.

Within subcultures, I think people get coddled. Outside, if they are open about their beliefs, I do think people can be quite mean. I suspect "meanness" is relative according to a number of factors.

I also think most forms of "challenging" don't accomplish anything other than stirring up anger and resentment.

I agree. However, I have made myself blue in the face gently and kindly talking to sexist men, racist white people, etc...

If someone is doing damage, then they need to be stopped. Really skillful challenging of their beliefs might be one of the tools for stopping them, but usually other tools are also needed.

Agreed.
eve_l_incarnata
Mar. 21st, 2004 12:50 am (UTC)
Part II
Do you (any you who wants to respond to this) think that it's a good idea to laugh at people who, say, have very conservative political beliefs?

To their face? No.

What does it accomplish?

In situations where conservatives are in power and ruining the country, I would think that a certain amount of commiseration among the dispossessed might be necessary.

Do you think it's useful to try to understand where they are coming from?

I grew up around people who were ignorant and proud of it. I have talked with people whose political views differ from mine, listening and trying to learn. Every once in a while, someone will make some valid points that make me think. For the most part, I find a rigidity and an unwillingness to, for instance, read the facts about "Welfare mothers" rather than believe what some right wing politician has blown out his arse.

Is it effective to challenge their beliefs?

Sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, people believe what they want to believe, facts or compassionate input be damned. I think I wrote about the guy who "prayed" over his dog after she was hit by a car instead of taking her to a doctor to have her leg set. I know that people were suggesting he take her to a vet.

I suppose sometimes, it's important to make a good faith effort.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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