One of the lessons I learnt from last year's #FeesMustFall campaign was when to stand back. It was clear from the start that while students appreciated support, they did not want Politicians to give voice to their concerns. A problem with politics is similar to the problems of businesses that aren't really good at what they do. Ugly business can descend into a defence of 'why we are better' through attack. I have seen 100 page vitriolic attacks on competitors. Departments of 'Competitor Analysis' where the task is to finding talking points to bring the competitor down. Each new product release is similar to each new issue that raises its head in the public debate. Instead of trying to solve the problem, it becomes an opportunity to distinguish themselves. In business, to create a competitive advantage. In politics, to increase the partisan divide.
Students said no. They said they would take care of it. They didn't want to provide soapboxes or to divide themselves. They were from all sides of the political spectrum and didn't want reasons to build walls. They wanted to be heard. They didn't need representation.
No walls of soap boxes thank you.
I also had a chat with someone who is a leader of a very conservative community. He had expressed the start of doubts about the way the Church was dealing with homosexuality. He also expressed that he himself did not know many same sex couples. This is not surprising given how conservative the world he provides care to is. The simple act of expressing doubt raised the heat in the room for him in both directions. The uber-conservative elements doubting his ability to lead if he was even raising questions. The liberal friends he had outside his circles angry that it wasn't obvious to him that people should be treated with kindness.
The likelihood of productive conversation between the people on either side of emotional issues is slim to voetsek. Change happens amongst the doubters and wobblers. For me as my blood started to boil in the infamous comments section, I briefly broke my rule of responding to what I consider trolling. I tried to engage.
But trolling isn't trolling if a person actually believes what they say. Take the king of Trolls, the Donald. We don't know what the Donald believes. He doesn't aim for ideological consistency. He figures out what people want to hear and says it. If that isn't working, he says things that people find offensive but some people believe. Once he becomes the champion of people's deep dark secret prejudices, they will stop hearing they stuff he says which they disagree with. We ignore our hero's faults. We ignore our enemy's strengths.
When people are talking about their genuine beliefs, the only people who are likely to really understand them are people the believe to be on their side. People listen to people who are mostly on their side.
The thing with that Church leader is that he is mostly on my side. He is also mostly on their side. Me attempting to change the view on the other side is almost completely pointless. There needs to be common ground first. It's not my fight. Not in the sense that I should let it be. But if what I want is progress rather than just the righteous high ground, the best thing I can do is step back where there is more heat than light. To continue the conversation where it is productive.
You can't change anyone's mind until you are on their side. Until you change together. If you aren't in that position, it is best to stand back.