07 April 2021

Spring 2021 week 3 focus: Grappling with Opposing Views

—Linda Legge

A relative newcomer to WomenExplore, Linda Legge has recently retired from a career in Human Resource Management and Civil Rights that spanned more than 30 years.  She held management positions in Employee Relations, Training and Development, Recruitment, Benefits, Affirmative Action and Diversity and Inclusion.  Linda holds a Masters’ Degree in Human Resource Management, is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, and is also certified as an Executive Coach.

-So yes, I spent more than 30 years of my life in Human Resources and Civil Rights

-I was especially good at employee relations and was usually the one called on to

-listen to and deal with the concerns of employees

-mediate difficult disputes between co-workers

-train and coach supervisors on effective communication with staff

-You might think that this experience would have provided transferrable skills when grappling w/ opposing views

I certainly thought so, until I started interacting with family members on Facebook

-for the longest time, I had remained happily unplugged from the digital age

-for years, my only Facebook friends were my daughter (b/c I wanted to keep tabs on her) 

and my mother (b/c I couldn’t say no to a FB invitation from my mother)

-but when I moved to TN last summer, I decided to become more engaged on-line to keep connected w/ my family and friends

-I distinctly remember when I first started actively posting on FB, asking if there was any FB etiquette that I should be observing

-the wife of one of my cousins who happens to be very liberal said, “Don’t Discuss Politics.”

-I laughed at that, but I would have been wise to have headed her warning

Of course, at that point, we were well into the pandemic & the presidential election was only a few mnths away

-I was following the news on both issues very closely at that time

-and I was increasingly alarmed by the disinformation and hyperbole I saw being re-posted by my family

-when my cousin who has a heart condition was complaining that he could not get hydroxychloroquine, (remember that drug Trump was touting that scientists found had adverse health effects and did nothing to help with Covid-19?) I begged him not to take it and sent him scientific studies about its adverse health effects

-After a few rounds of him arguing with me, I told him that I was just sending him that info b/c I loved him and did not want him to come to any harm; he then sent me a smiley face emoji 

My mother was increasingly reposting things that I thought were so crazy, I truly thought she might be experiencing some brain dysfunction

-I had no idea what was influencing her or where she was coming up with her crazy ideas

-but I did notice that she seemed to be angry and agitated all the time (maybe it was just all the time she was speaking to me because I had opposing views)

-my father suggested family counseling, which in hindsight, might have been good but we never did it

My relatives were also reposting frightening Q-anon conspiracy theories and strong anti-BLM rhetoric

-For awhile I stayed silent, but I increasingly felt like my silence would be taken as complicity

-So I started posting my views and my experiences, such as my attendance at several peaceful BLM events and what I learned from them (but that was met with scorn and derision)

-I tried encouraging family members to fact-check their info before reposting (but they didn’t)

-I started fact-checking both the information I was posting and the info they were reposting (which were often opposing views), but they just demeaned my fact-checking sources

-Many times I thought of leaving FB or blocking some of my family members with the most egregious posts; but I really didn’t want to cut myself off from my family members and I DID want to HEAR them

-I thought I was “listening” to understand what they were saying and where they were coming from

-but I now know that I was listening more to try to effectively “preach” my version of “the facts” instead of listening to really understand their point of view

-I got nowhere with this strategy

-At best they accused me of is being a know-it-all elitist; 

-The worst things they said were that I joined a cult and was brainwashed and that the US would turn into a fully socialist country if Biden won the election

As the election neared I just became UNRELENTING in my fact-checking posts

-it was like a full-time job to me and & consumed much time

-I would agree with things I found to be true (and that did gain me some credibility among some w/opposing views)

  -I also posted lots of fact-checked info discrediting the opposing point of view

-that was often met with a dump of vitriolic personal attacks followed by accusations that I was “angry” 

-I would always answer that I had nothing but love for them which was/is true and then drop it

-Clearly, this was not working either

-so, sharing my personal experiences in opposition to their point of view was not working and discrediting their opposing point of view with my sources of information was not working

I was becoming worn out so I sought some solace by joining a FB grp called “Suburban Wmn for Kamala Harris”

-while I mostly enjoyed this group, I did try to keep the conversation on the issues 

-I did call out as inappropriate the negative personal attacks on Trump’s appearance or “mean Memes”

-I was on a new mission to try to keep those who shared my point of view above the negativity and engaged in civil discourse 

-I wanted us to win people over by our stance on issues, not by negative attacks of a personal nature on those with opposing views

-some agreed with me and also helped to try to curb the mean memes and negative rhetoric

-I must admit that I did find some consolation in interacting with like-minded people, even though I am a registered Republican

Also, even though I live in a very pro-Trump state/region (TN), I put up two “Republicans for Biden” signs

-I was a bit worried about vandalism, but my neighbors were respectful

-some neighbors commented on my sign, but comments were always focused on “Biden” and not the fact that the sign indicated that I was a “Republican”

  -however, I avoided any real conversation about the election or my views w/ my new neighbors

-on hindsight, that wasn’t very productive either (lost opportunity)

The list of things that did not work for me in grappling with opposing views was growing:

-sharing my personal experiences

-fact-checking to prove that my opinion was right

-avoiding discourse altogether

Finally, the election came and I was more than thrilled that it was finally over and that Biden had won

-Even though there was a flurry of disinformation spreading about the election being stolen, I largely remained silent except to sometimes comment on evidence presented to the courts and how they ruled

-I decided specifically not to comment on Biden or Trump at all so as not to rub salt in any wounds, especially when the GA victories gave the Democrats the slimmest majority

-my family largely went silent on politics and FB news was more civil and about family matters

-by that time, my mother had stopped speaking to me/ only my father would occasionally take my calls

-after the election, I think we all needed a break and I was happy to have one

Then we had the events of January 6th at the Capitol

-again, I maintained my political posting silence

-I expected more silence on politics from my family, thinking they would be embarrassed by the events

-however, I was absolutely shocked at the FB post my cousin’s wife sent

My cousin - Shame on each and every one of you who are saying Trump should be arrested for inciting domestic terrorism today!!! Where the Hell were all of you when cities were being burned to the ground and no one was held responsible?!?! Hypocrites!!!! Cozying up to the New One World Order. Might as well get your ticket now for the microchip train. There's gonna be a long line. I'll kick back with my popcorn, and pistol and watch the show.

Me - We were condemning the violence every time it happened, and we cheered the peaceful protests for civil rights. But no leaders were advocating for violence the way President Trump has. It is reprehensible that the President of the US who has sworn to uphold the Constitution has so violated his oath of office. Shame on all who are defending him.

As I now read the response I wrote then, I am truly ashamed of myself. 

-I started off OK, but I know better than to use inflammatory words like “reprehensible” and “shame”.

-I knew I needed help grappling with opposing views in a more positive and productive way b/c my strategies clearly weren’t working

Thankfully, the WomenExplore group recommended “Braver Angels”, an organization dedicated to improving the civility of discourse in the US and helping people to truly understand and work with fellow citizens who have opposing views

-I attended several of their free seminars and decided to join to get access to even more

-although I made a larger contribution, anyone can join for a year for just $12 

-through the Braver Angel workshops I’ve attended, I have become keenly aware of my personal shortcomings in fostering constructive dialogue with those who hold views that are opposed to mine

-even though I had a wealth of skills from my background, the workshops have helped me to listen and understand better those with opposing views and to find constructive strategies for engaging in positive civil discourse 

I’m going to leave you with four L’s from Linda that have helped me to grapple with opposing views:

Listen – listen deeply to really understand the other person (don’t just listen to try to persuade the other person to your point of view)

Learn – keep an open mind and learn from others even if you don’t agree with their perspective; see if you can find any underlying common ground with them

Love – maintain a deep empathy and care for the person you are communicating with; think of the person as your friend/neighbor, not an adversary or enemy

Lead – take an active role in promoting civil discourse; demonstrate by your own actions your unwillingness to sink into meanness; work actively to end racism, injustice, hate and to model inclusivity of marginalized

I just want to end by saying that I am disheartened and scared by the extreme polarization of our country today. 

-The tone and tenor of civic discourse is at an all-time low

-Disinformation and angst seem to be at an all-time high

However, I am happy that we have David Ball from Braver Angels here today to speak on this topic.

I think it is crucial that we all build our skills at Grappling with Opposing Views and I think Braver Angels is one step in the right direction.

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