You’re a terrible person.
How do I know? It’s easy. You have opinions. Loads and loads of them.
For example: You have an opinion on Donald Trump.
And the people who don’t share your opinion? Well just go have a talk with them on Twitter or Facebook. They’ll tell you right quick what a horrible person you are. And they’re not gonna’ sugar coat it. They’ll find a few choice words that aren’t appropriate for polite society but are the mother’s milk of social media and hurl them at you.
And you? Well, I guess there’s a chance that you’ll happily ignore this insults, knowing they mean absolutely nothing. But let’s be honest: You’re probably going to get upset come raging back and BAM—you’ll have won the argument and the other person will apologize and tell you how much they’ve learned.
I can’t believe I have to tell you this. Honestly, it’s beneath both of us, but patience, kindness, gratitude, and compassion are the most important parts of life. And angrily asserting your opinions on Twitter is an abject waste of time. Actually, it’s worse than that, because doing so probably does harm in ways that traditional time wasting never could.
So yes. You’re a terrible person
“But wait!” you say. “It’s okay! It’s worth it!”
Because at least you know you’re on the right side of history. You’re standing up for what you believe in and you’d never be able to look at yourself in the mirror if you didn’t defend your beliefs.
Well, sadly, “beliefs” are just opinions wrapped in self-righteousness and it would appear that your opinions aren’t making the world a better place. Not for you and not for the other terrible people, either.
Arthur Brooks notes in his book (you should read it) that treating one another with disgust and disdain, which is how we’re being conditioned by technology to approach those with whom we disagree, doesn’t have any net positive results.
Calling someone a moron doesn’t encourage them to revisit their point of view. If anything, it probably chases them back into their ideological camp where their stupid opinions will be reinforced by other wrong-thinking people. And they’ll decide that you aren’t just wrong, but you’re a terrible human being as well. And maybe not even a human being.
My wife is fond of saying that you can be right or you can be happily married. She is wise beyond her years.
People are losing friends and family over their opinions. Opinions that don’t matter at all. Opinions that a JV debate team can easily take turns arguing both sides of and tear to shreds in the blink of an eye. Opinions that the opinion holder themselves probably disagreed with at some point in the last year. Or 20 minutes, even.
Suddenly people are letting these ideas and ideologies determine who they will be friends with?
I’m here to tell you to cut it out. You’re better than this.
What would Jesus do? This atheist Jew will tell you what Jesus would do: He would tell you that you’re being an asshole. (Probably. I’m quoting Leviticus by memory, so I may have the phrasing slightly off.)
But he’d be right. And I’m not saying this to nag you. I’m not being a school marm. I don’t care if you have bad manners or are crude or ill tempered. The reason this matters is that more and more you are letting your opinions dictate how you regard your fellow humans and how you experience their humanity. This isn’t new. The natural order of things is for us to decamp based on our opinions and then to slaughter each other.
That’s why this is important and even urgent. There are groups out there in whose interest it is to make you hate one another and playing on your heart felt beliefs is an amazingly effective way to achieve that division.
You’re being played.
Vladimir Putin (as just one example) figured out how to weaponize your fragile ego and he’s turning you into an unwitting participant in the decimation of your neighbourly good will. And he’s not the only one. So many entities would love for us to be at each other’s throats. Because it makes you loyal to them and—more importantly—it makes them money.
Look, I’m no better. I have my opinions. You’re reading one now! But do you know what would happen if you told me you disagreed with me? I’d be delighted! I’d love to know how and what about my argument you think misses the truth. And maybe you’d convince me and maybe you wouldn’t but you know what would never happen? Nothing you could say would offend me and nothing you could say would make me despise you. I’m ready for you to hold any opinion at all.
Because I don’t actually care what you think. I care what you do.
I wasn’t always this way. I was as convinced that my opinions matter as you are, but then a magical thing happened.
A few years ago, while travelling on business, I got a call from my friend Dim informing me that Sima, his mother, had passed away. This was the woman who effectively became my mom after my mother died when I was 14.
I was in a hotel somewhere in the midwest, trying to make sense of the loss. I wound up in conversation with a total stranger, whose name was Lori. And Lori told me that she was a nurse in a children’s oncology ward. And I tried to put myself into her shoes for a moment.
Oncology is cancer. And children . . . well . . . they’re children. There are some people amongst us who go into that place. The place where children and oncology intersect.
Now unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine it. Not really. But you understand it. It’s your worst nightmare. And yet there are people, like Lori, who go there every day. They do what most of us couldn’t. They face this nightmare down. Every day.
Hold that thought for a moment. Breathe it in.
I decided in a single instant that Lori was a saint. Or maybe an angel. I’m not well versed on the ins and outs of Christian theology. But in my eyes, she was sporting the wings, the halo, the whole regalia. A saint/angel. Because us mere flesh-and-bone mortals could not withstand her reality day in and day out. The reality in which children get cancer and suffer and sometimes die while saints like Lori hold their hands and comfort their helpless, broken, parents.
Once I had sanctified/angelified Lori, once I had decided that she was from a different plane of existence, and she could do no wrong, she revealed that she was . . .
Wait for it . . .
A dyed in the wool Trump supporter.
I’m not making this up! Lori loved DJT. He was her boy. To her, he could do no wrong. And this wasn’t during the campaign either! This was after DJT had ample time to convince those of us who are squarely on the “DJT is bad” train to be completely certain that he’s exactly the absolute worst kind of human possible.
And yet here I was. Having to square this circle.
But the answer turned out to be remarkably simple: Our mutual humanity is much more important than our vapid and transient tribal affiliations and ultimately worthless opinions.
What Lori thought was that Trump is a terrific guy, what Lori did was she went to hell every day to take care of those who were the most in need of her help. It’s not differential calculus! It’s just a scorecard: Humanity 1 : Opinions 0.
Look, we are all up to our necks in excrement. And most of us want the best for our fellow humans. We really do. And you know what the best way to express this reality is? Of course you do. Just be kind!
Be kind and be patient and forgiving and compassionate. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt and when they prove to you that they’re total dickheads—then be kind some more.
“But what if they’re evil?” (I hear you say).
Ok—let’s list some evil people . . . Stalin? Dahmer? Putin? They’re not on Facebook. They have no Twitter feed. You’re not arguing with them. Evil comes in all shapes and sizes but it’s relatively rare. The vast majority of people arrive at their conclusions based on some combination of reason and emotion, not because they genuinely want bad outcomes for the rest of humanity. And as sociologists keep pointing out, we’re a tribal animal—most of the time we hold our opinions because they’re the opinions of our tribe, not because we arrive at them independently or because they’re factually accurate.
You can do it. Stop judging and stop categorizing and for cod’s sake stop being offended. “I find it so offensive when…” well don’t! Find it irrelevant, find it beneath you or better still just don’t find it. Sticks and stones and all that!
It matters! Look around you: Everyone is in a fox hole and living in a gas mask. Why?
Because life is painful and arbitrary and we’re all deeply flawed and just hoping there’s room for us on the life rafts.
Sure, it’s nice to be sure about stuff but not at the expense of despising those that disagree with you. You can be right or you can be married.
The path forward is and always has been and always will be – patience and compassion and love.
Reconnect with those who voted for the person you could never vote for. Ask them about their pets or their kids or their car troubles. Tell them about yours. Time is so short—you’re really going to waste yours being offended or angry? About someone’s (useless) opinions? Wouldn’t that make you a terrible person?
Yes. Yes it would.