||[May. 14th, 2009|05:18 pm]
This post has been brewing for a couple of years. It's not about any one of the many causes worth fighting for, it's not about or aimed at any one person, it hasn't been spurred on by any one event.
Abuse and accusations are not how you win people over to your way of thinking. Keeping your allies on the back-foot because you think they should know better does not help teach them how to better understand or present your side of an argument.
It's with good reason that there's only a handful of people I listen to when they talk about issues. They have earned my respect on the subjects, not just because of their knowledge, but the way they deal with the people they interact with.
Time and again I have heard some folks say that a person shouldn't be rewarded just for doing the right thing. It shouldn't be praiseworthy that you're doing what everyone should already be doing anyway.
I would agree with this, except for one major problem - that same person will often be actively punished the moment they take a wrong step. And if they make a point of saying, "But how about all these occasions where I've done it correctly?" they get abused for expecting praise for doing the right thing.
If someone offers you a drink because you're thirsty, do you not thank them? If someone offers you food, shelter, a hand carrying something heavy, just because it's the right thing to do, should they not be thanked? How is acknowledging someone who does the right thing a negative act?
"Well, when I do this stuff, no-one ever acknowledges it," isn't a reason, it's an excuse to indulge in equally poor behaviour. "Well when I do these things, I don't expect to get thanked." Well that's great, but chances are you're not being taught these things, either. You don't necessarily need the encouragement or support, don't need the affirmation that on this delicate issue, you're doing the right thing.
Acknowledging the ones who do it right helps to show them they're on the right track, and for those who don't understand the issues it's a pointer in the right direction. And that is a vital first step to changing minds - letting people see the behaviour that is valued and considered desirable.
If you saw someone teaching children, and they abused all those who didn't understand the subject, ignored the ones who did it right, and then attacked and belittled the good ones every time they made a mistake, would you think that person was doing a good job of teaching? At an almost instinctive level you would know that this is the wrong way to teach, that for every child successfully taught this way, there would be numerous ones where it was an abject failure.
Most people would rather avoid being taught the subject altogether, than cop the abuse.
Any cause you champion, puts you in the role of teacher. You're tying to undo social conditioning and thought processes that have probably been ingrained since childhood. You're trying to teach a point of view that is often alien to the student. Even if they think they understand the problem, they probably don't get most of the nuances and subtleties no matter how much they try, and many will be painfully aware of this.
You're not going to achieve your goals through impatience.
I'm not saying you can't be frustrated. I'm not saying you can't question what they meant in order to ascertain whether they were doing the wrong thing, or misspoke, or are merely confused and need a gentle nudge in the right direction. I'm not saying you can't get stuck into someone who is an arrogant bastard. But pick your battles, pick who deserves to be yelled at and who deserves a quiet, "Um, I think you might be mistaken..."
Never assume deliberate belligerence where a lack of knowledge, an honest mistake, a poor turn of phrase, or good old fashioned thoughtlessness could be the real cause of the error.
If you think you're going to fix people's thinking by abusing those who know no better, withholding acknowledgment from the people who do it right, and by aiming cheap shots at the promising students when they make a mistake, then you know as little about humanity as those you wish to educate.