Here is a list of reasons why on various occasions one or more people have looked at me like I’m the most ignorant and/or evil person on earth (no particular order):
- I’m Catholic
- I think applesauce is the best pancake/waffle topping ever
- I find no redeeming value in rap music
- I think split infinitives, sentence fragments, and Oxford commas kick ass
- I don’t believe that religion and science are irreconcilable
- I feel like American Sign Language follows a far more logical and efficient structure than spoken English
- There was nothing predictable, inevitable, or cyclical about the fall (or rise) of the Roman Empire
- I don’t particularly object to the idea of same-sex marriage
- I fail to see M-dashes as an effective replacement for parentheses in prose
- I believe the path to heaven has everything to do with one’s treatment of other people and next to nothing to do with strict adherence to the Bible
I’ve never been persecuted for any of these beliefs and opinions, per se, but I can think of at least three people who won’t talk to me ever again because I’ve expressed one or more of these in their presence. (And to be fair, there are people who’ve admitted that they like me better for several of these opinions.) It is very likely that I’ll have one or more readers who will stop reading before finishing the above list. And it is similarly likely that I’ll have one or more readers who will attempt to argue with one or more of the above points in their comments.
It was the “Catholic” part that got me the nastiest look from a friend of a friend during a book discussion group a few years ago. She gave me a fairly cold glare, then refused to look at me the rest of the night. As for the guy who gave me a funny look over the ASL thing, dude didn’t know there was more to Sign Language than the alphabet and was a firm believer maintaining the purity of the English language. I expect he’d have been more appalled by my thoughts on split infinitives and sentence fragments.
I’m a big enough man to acknowledge, however, that I haven’t always been a believer in several of the above beliefs and viewpoints. These are all views that I’ve come to throughout my life’s experiences, and I’m not afraid to admit that any of the above views may change just as my life experiences change. As an example: until just a few years ago, I was opposed to gay marriage. It was having the opportunity to get to know a few gay people and talk to them that helped change my attitude. I had the chance to finally learn that they’re not at all like the TV stereotypes—that for the most part they’re just regular people who happen to be in love with someone of the same gender.
On the other hand, my negative opinion of rap music hasn’t improved at all over the years. I disliked all forms of rap in the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and still today—despite multiple efforts to acquire a taste for it because my friends were into it.
The trouble I’m seeing is that we seem to live in an American society where the most popular (most socially acceptable, really) reason to hate someone is because of their viewpoints—because their life’s experiences have led them to see things differently from how we see them. We seem to have this assumption that if someone who disagrees with us knew and had experienced the same things we know and have experienced, they would see things exactly the same way we see them. (And we do this despite the fact that we can all think of times in our lives when we’ve changed our stance on a viewpoint after gaining new information and a new understanding of the belief.) I find this to be a lazy assumption to make, as, for all we know, we might see things from the other person’s perspective if we shared their knowledge and experiences.
It troubles me further that every dispute seems to get reduced to a matter of good versus evil (or at least good versus ignorant). And it doesn’t have to even be about something particularly important. In the Total War: Rome 2 forums, I continuously see people call each other “f—ing retards” over whether or not Spartan hoplites could take Roman legionaries. Discussion forums in general have become the most verbally abusive places on the internet. I think that because these are not face-to-face arguments, there’s less sense of accountability for how we address each other, and thus people put less thought into the fact that there are living, breathing, thinking people who are seeing and reading their words. I’ve seen both pro- and anti-gun-control advocates declare that anyone on the other side of the debate “needs to be shot.” Similarly, I’ve seen anti-death-penalty folks tell the pro-death-penalty folks to go kill themselves and pro-lifers wish pro-choicers’ parents had gotten an abortion.
I mean, seriously?
It’s unfortunate that so few of the people on either side of the above arguments ever attempt to understand where the people on the opposing side are coming from. They say to ‘never compromise on your beliefs,’ but I honestly have a lot of respect for people who are willing to compromise—willing to acknowledge merit in the opinions and viewpoints of those who disagree with them, rather than dismiss them as “part of the problem.”