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January 30, 2017

How to Respond Compassionately to those we Disagree With.

This morning I awoke to a social media post that elicited an antagonistic reaction from me—a feeling which I speculate many of us have experienced as of late.

On more than one occasion, I have drafted responses to posts; responses that I feel are written with compassion in the moment. But I realize, just shy of hitting enter, that I am deluding myself. I have yet to post a rebuttal to any of these posts, but the temptation does strike me every so often.

Today I drafted a response to a post that luckily I had the good sense not to publish, and instead took my impassioned energy to a new word document. I challenged myself to figure out what is a truly compassionate way to engage in social media, in conversation, with people whose beliefs do not align with my own. I want to do this because I am not allowing myself to hit “enter” until I figure that out.

So this is where I landed:

What my experience on this Earth has taught me is that people want to be valued. People want to believe that their life is valuable. If you—like me—believe this to be an immutable truth, I argue that we have an obligation that follows suit: We should respect that everyone’s voice is also valuable.

When a person does not feel heard, or if they feel as though their voice does not count, they in turn do not feel valued. When we do not listen, when we willfully insist somebody is wrong, or we tell people to quiet their voices, we are essentially telling people that they are not valuable.

Perhaps, as opposed to turning our heads or imposing our will on others, we can simply ask: “Why? Why do you feel this way?”—or, “Why do you believe this?” Because beyond the perceived vitriol and hate, beyond the perceived wrongness, is a voice that is pleading and begging to be valued. And that voice is the instrument of a human that simply wants to know that his or her life counts.

Asking why forges common ground among people. Why’s that? Because when why is sincerely asked, we suspend our differences, if even for a moment, and share in our mutual need to be valued as humans. With the authentic utterance of this one syllable word, we are sharing in something eternal. We are sharing in our humanity. And that is pretty valuable.

Perhaps extending this truth to all people may feel challenging at times. Especially when we feel threatened by somebody’s voice, and we mistake his or her words for anything more than a bid for value. I implore you to simply think about your own value in the moments that compassion evades you. And know that your bids for value will be reciprocated by demonstrating that you value another.

If we can assure one another of our shared value, something tells me we can start reconciling our differences. After all, we humans are equally valuable. I pledge to start exercising why more often.

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Author: Mari Moxley

Image: The Great Gatsby  

Editor: Travis May

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Mari Moxley