The Consequences of Dismissing People

So I have something to confess: I’ve been sort of angry lately.

And why have I been angry, you might ask? (Or, maybe you didn’t, but I’m going to complain to you anyway.) I’ve been angry generally, broadly, at the state of the world.

It feels as though the #metoo movement has been losing a bit of its momentum lately, but I’ve been one of those people who refuses to let it die. And as a result of talking about this so publicly, as often as I have, I’ve been hearing a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming comments lately. I’ve had people tell me that women’s issues don’t matter. And for the first time since I opened up about my struggles with mental illness about a year ago, I’ve had people try to insult me by calling me “seriously mentally ill”, making me realize that I cannot own my mental illness without certain people immediately dismissing me as some sort of uninformed, unintelligent, worthless person.

All of this has resulted in me feeling a little bit pessimistic about the state of the world.

And that isn’t to say that I haven’t had rewarding experiences from talking about this issue. I have. I don’t regret speaking out, but the problem is that anger and pessimism is easy to fall into. As the saying goes, “if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.”

And normally, I’d say that a little bit of anger is healthy. A little bit of anger stokes that fire in your belly. A little bit of anger keeps you going. But I don’t like this anger that I’ve had lately. This anger is not the sort of anger that keeps me going; it’s the kind that makes me dismissive and rude and sloppy. It’s the kind of anger and frustration that often comes from feeling like you haven’t been heard.

And that’s incredibly important – for both sides of every argument. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to feel as though an attempt was made to listen to their argument and understand and sympathize. Nobody likes to feel as though they’ve been dismissed.

And this anger that I’ve been feeling – it’s the kind of anger that makes it easy to dismiss people. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just stupid”, without stopping to think that they might have a reason for why they think the way that they do. The kind of anger that makes you go, “well, they’re just a garbage human being”, without stopping to realize that they’re still a human being.

And the problem with saying the sort of things that this anger makes you think is that it isn’t constructive. It doesn’t make the other person feel as though they’ve been heard or understood. It makes them feel dismissed, because they are sort of being dismissed. It makes them angry. And when both sides of the argument feel angry and ignored, it creates a divide. It makes it difficult for any progress to be made, because both sides of the argument have shut down completely. Discussions cannot be had. Greater understanding cannot be reached. Nobody is learning anything, and that doesn’t help either cause. It only creates resentment. So although my recent anger is born from my complete and total dedication to this cause, it simultaneously hurts this cause and turns people away from it.

And, as I said, anger is easy. Pessimism is easy. There is some research that even suggests that we, as human beings, are naturally inclined to focus on the negative. And, more than that, when someone isn’t listening to what we have to say, it can be very easy to ask ourselves why we need to be the bigger person if they won’t be. Why is it okay for them to insult us, to dismiss us, to belittle us, and yet we can’t do the same to them? But the thing is, this sort of anger isn’t healthy or constructive for anyone. It hurts the person who we are dismissing, because they don’t feel as though they’ve been heard. It hurts our cause in the long run, because like it or not, we are representing it, and so we cannot use it as an excuse to mock or belittle people without serious detriment. And it also hurts ourselves, because it makes us bitter and pessimistic and sad. It isn’t fair, not to anyone. It’s easy, but it isn’t right.

And I know that it can sometimes be hard to swallow your anger, especially when what the other person is saying is something that you perceive to be very harmful. But one thing that I have found very useful for getting passed your anger is, quite simply, this: take some time with what they say. Don’t respond to them immediately, because if you do that, your response will be pure emotion. But, rather, think about it. Try to imagine the issue from their perspective. Try to explain to yourself why they might think that way (and don’t run to that default excuse that they’re stupid, because it isn’t true). When you do get back to them with your response, chances are, it will be more logical, more thought out, and more sympathetic.

And maybe they still won’t hear you. That is very possible, and when that happens, it can be very frustrating. But if you listen to them and you try to understand them (not necessarily agree with them if you just don’t), a few things still happen that otherwise wouldn’t:

  1. You expand your understanding of the issue. You see that there are other views, and you have at least made an attempt to understand the thought process behind these views, so that, if you still don’t agree with them, you can intelligently and thoughtfully explain why you don’t agree with them.
  2. You don’t make any enemies – for either yourself or the cause that you might be fighting for. The people that you have been talking to still might not agree with you, but at least they feel heard. At least they feel as though a discussion has been had (or at least attempted, in some cases), and at least they are not made to feel stupid and ignored. Nobody is hurt because of this discussion. And, whether you want to hear this or not in moments of anger, that is incredibly important.

We are far too quick to dismiss people in this society – and perhaps part of that is because anger is easy. Listening to people is difficult. It takes actual effort to sit back and think about other perspectives, and I’m not trying to say that we don’t want to put the effort in. Sometimes, it just isn’t our first response, especially not when we feel insulted and ignored.

But putting that effort in, taking the time to step outside of your emotional response, is worthwhile. As I said, a little bit of anger can fuel you, but too much anger will have its consequences.

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Human Beings: Essentially Good, or Essentially Bad?

Let me try to sum up everything that I’m about to say in about three words: people are weird.

Yeah, that’ll about do it.

People en masse, as a collective group, are a lot of things.

People en masse are responsible for a lot of terrible things in this world. And when I say that, I’m not trying to call out any one, specific person, I’m talking about humanity in general.

Things like war, murder, and poverty, for example, are a human invention.

Abuse, whether that be sexual, physical, or emotional, is a human invention.

Oppression is a human invention.

It is not nature that ensures that injustices keep happening in the world every single day of our damned lives; that’s the work of people. That, too, is a human invention.

People can be angry and selfish and cruel. They can hold onto grudges, they can take their frustrations out on the wrong person. They can be downright frustrating, and sometimes not when you’re willing to have much for patience at the time.

And with all of that, I get it; sometimes it can be hard to keep your faith in humanity. Sometimes it is very difficult to think of people en masse as a positive thing, as something that you feel particularly inclined to like. But whenever I hear someone say that they hate people, or that they want to move to the middle of nowhere to escape from people, I can’t help but think that they are only seeing one side of a much larger, much more complex picture.

Yes, there are people who commit atrocious crimes against their fellow human beings, but there are also so many people out there who want to do some good. There are hundreds of people everyday who join in marches, who contact politicians, who form groups based entirely around helping their fellow human beings. There are doctors out there trying to save lives, volunteers in foreign countries trying to get food and health care to people who need it, activists who you might not agree with but at the end of the day they are fighting with everything that they have because they want to help people. They want to make the world a better place.

Yes, there are devastating disasters in the world caused by people and their hatred for someone or something. There are bombings and shootings, but there are also people in those disasters who die to save their loved ones, there are first aid responders who are there specifically because they want to make the situation better.

Yes, there are rude, selfish, narrow-minded people who will treat you poorly, but there are also kind people who will offer you a hand, people who will smile at you on the street for no other reason than because they want to make the world a friendlier place.

And the thing that I love most about people is that it is completely possible for them to be both extremes, the positive and the negative.

The selfish person who yells at you unfairly can also be the person who dies in a shooting trying to save their loved one. The doctor who wants nothing more than to save lives in their day-to-day work might then go home and be selfish and emotionally abusive to their family.

We as human beings like to think of things as being black or white, as being one thing or the other, but that is never the case. All people are flawed, but all people have their strengths at the end of the day too. And maybe that’s part of the reason why some have the tendency to say that they hate people or that they’d rather avoid them altogether; they focus in on the bad, and they forget to notice the good that is definitely there as well. But it is really, really important that we at least notice both: the bad, so that we can learn from that and make sure we never personally repeat it, and the good, so that we can remember to have hope, so that we never give up on them or on people en masse.

And as human beings who wants everything to be either one way or another, I know that this can sometimes be a very difficult thing to do; I am aware that I am asking you to look at one thing in two different ways, praising the good while simultaneously condemning the bad, and that can be very complicated, especially emotionally. But nonetheless, it is something that we as a society need to start doing more often. Because if the amount of people who have told me that they hate people and they want to move out into the middle of nowhere to avoid them have taught me anything, it’s that it is very easy to give up on something once you have decided that their negative side is the only side they have. And we can’t give up. Giving up is very dangerous.

Giving up on people results in their own mistreatment, in them being treated like they don’t matter when they do. They are still people, after all.

And giving up on humanity en masse means that humanity en masse loses one more person who could have made a difference, one more person who I know just wants to help people, but who has become disillusioned by how difficult that can be sometimes.

Real, societal differences are never made by giving up, by deciding that there is only bad in a situation so why bother to encourage the good?

There is both, and there will always be both. The world is not black or white, good or evil; the world is what you make of it.