This week I want to talk about how we communicate with each other. Last week Sutherland Institute was privileged to host Jim Ferrell of The Arbinger Institute. You might know of their work. They’re the people big corporations and governments hire to help with conflict resolution. They’re also the ones who remind us to see people as people and not as objects.
It just so happened the morning of the Arbinger presentation that I was writing an op-ed for the Deseret News about redistricting. I finished up and went in to listen to Jim who had already begun speaking. Sutherland has hosted Jim for seven straight years, so I’ve heard the presentation many times. Even so, it only took 10 minutes of listening for me to get up and go back and re-edit my op-ed. I changed some words around that would move people to listen more than react.
Politics is filled with people who listen only to react. They hang on your every word, like vultures waiting for the kill, just so they can reply with their own argument. Some people don’t even do that. They just talk over you. They don’t care what you have to say because they’re right and you’re wrong. These are also the people, by the way, who think that the only reason you believe what you do is because you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of speaking with them. If only everyone would listen to them, everyone would understand the truth!
As you might expect, Sutherland Institute (and I, personally) receive regular flows of hate mail. I thought you might like to hear some of it and I share it with you in the hope that you might understand that there are constructive ways to communicate with people and then there are ways to communicate that ensure no one will listen. Here are some comments of this latter stripe:
This one has to do with gay rights, “Is Paul Mero one of those Ted Haggard type dudes obsessed with gay sex? Flamboyant homophobes like Paul Mero are almost always closeted self-loathing homosexuals, so somebody should tell Mrs. Mero to be careful.”
Here’s another one, “Why do you plague poor suffering Utah with your grim-faced collection of crack-pots and homophobes? You’ve brought so much contempt to our state with your natural family silliness and quiver of arrows bunkum. Can’t you whip up an exodus and move to a promised land in Guatemala or someplace? Surely there is a sacred spot or two mentioned somewhere in the Book of Mormon.”
Of course, Sutherland’s position on immigration has raised hate mail to an all-time high. Like this one, “Take your amnesty bill and shove it!”
And these words added to a suggestion that is, frankly, anatomically impossible for me to do, “U r nothing but a mule and a stooge for the LDS Church…You r not a conservative, you’re a[n] amnesty hippy! Why don’t u go down to the drum circle @ liberty park with all the other druggy hippy liberals!” And in all caps this person concludes, “PLEASE KILL URSELF U SOCIALIST PG!!!!!!!!”
And he’s one of the polite ones!
After a pretty tense immigration debate last January before the legislative session, a raucous crowd was mingling. Many people approached me to thank me for my remarks – which admittedly were provocative. I was advised by security to stay on the stage and let people approach me rather than have me roam around the venue floor. I shook hands and exchanged pleasantries as these two little old ladies approached the stage. I leaned way down to shake their hands and, as I did, they smiled and one said, “You have to be the most repugnant, arrogant and condescending man I’ve ever heard.” I smiled in return and thanked them for coming.
What I wanted to say was that candor isn’t repugnant, confidence isn’t arrogance, and speaking politely to an idiot isn’t condescending. But, of course, I didn’t say that. And I didn’t say that precisely because it wouldn’t have been constructive, even if it would’ve made me feel better.
The next time you want to express your opinion, decide ahead of time whether or not you actually want to influence someone. If you do, choose your words wisely. If you don’t, just know you’re only speaking to make yourself feel better.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.