Respect and Insults

It looks like today is going to be a two post day. I have in my circle a few individuals who feel like they need to ridicule others to make a point. I’ve never understood this way of thinking. I get being confrontational and forceful, because if you can’t learn to stand up against the opposition, your voice will be drowned out by the crowd. There is a difference between being forceful and being offensive, and if we are to become mature adults trying to make valid points, it is important to know the difference.

It’s incredibly easy to be offensive. All you have to do is just find something you don’t like about someone and start bringing it up in the most rude way you can think of. Our brains are wired to attack first and ask questions later. It requires no effort to listen to an opinion and then spout off any sort of vitriol that pops into your head. The first problem with being offensive is that it’s just lazy. If you can’t come up with a measured response to an opposing viewpoint, then why should anyone listen to you?

The second problem with being offensive is that it doesn’t accomplish anything. Has anyone ever said something offensive to you and your immediate response was to actually listen to what it was they were trying to say? I seriously doubt it. When we are attacked, our natural reaction is to bring up our defenses and get ready for a fight. Our goal of getting the other side to really hear us is completely washed away because the person isn’t listening to what we’re saying, only to how we’re saying it. It is a complete waste of time.

The third issue with being offensive is that our human nature starts a pattern of escalation. You look at the politics in the country today and it’s no mystery why our country is as polarized as it is. Both sides focus on attacking the other in the worst possible ways, and each side ends up trying to raise the bar to get the upper hand. Our political situation today is a prime example of why being offensive is not only ineffective, but it actually makes things worse for everyone. Instead of respectful disagreements, we have plotting and revenge. No progress can be made in such an environment.

The only way to move forward as a society is to start from a place of respect. Regardless of your viewpoint, you should be trying to treat everyone you meet as if they are the same as you. Imagine yourself in them, and treat them the way you would want to be treated. Growing up, this was taught to me as “the golden rule”. It is probably the most important relational lesson that anyone can learn. Much of human history would be very different if people had actually learned it. Our future certainly can be.

So how do we change things? Our situation today seems so hopeless, but the wonderful thing about life is that it’s never too late to fix things, and in the end each of us is responsible for our own behavior. You can’t do anything about the other guy, but you can practice being respectful even in the face of offensive behavior. While they shout and hurl insults, you stand firmly with measured responses, tempered by logical thought and a refusal to be brought down to that level of interaction. You’re better than that, and even if the other guy won’t change his own behavior, when other people see that you are behaving in a mature and respectful way they will be far more inclined to listen to your arguments than the other guy.

Something to keep in mind: you will never change another person’s belief. Once a person has committed themselves to an idea, no amount of argument is going to change it. It requires some kind of shock to force a believer out of their own ideology. Your goal is never to convince the believer, but to make calm arguments as to why you think that you’re right and they’re wrong so that bystanders without a set point of view can make their own decision. When you keep this in mind, it is much easier to argue your point because you start to realize that your effort isn’t at all for the person you’re talking to, but those who haven’t made up their mind yet.

So how do you feel about being offensive? Can you think of a time when you were offensive and it actually had a positive result? How can you start to incorporate unconditional respect into your arguments? We should never give in to ideas that don’t align with our own philosophies just because someone tries to force it on us. Careful thought and introspection are required, and logical and respectful debate is the only way to convince anyone of anything. If we can truly learn this concept, our future will be all the brighter for it.

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