Intelligence In the Face Of Stupidity: How Discourse Happens

I admit I often use strong rhetoric when I write. It's because I only discuss issues I feel strongly about.

When it comes to our country and the values that I hold dear, I try to make as informed and convincing a plea as I can. That means being direct as possible in confronting people and ideas that are dishonest, manipulative, or just plain baffling.

But I am willing to concede there is room for improvement, even with the level of discourse I engage in here and across the Internet. We are intelligent creatures; we need to treat each other with the same dignity and respect we want from others. When confronted with ideas that contradict our own, we need to be rational, articulate, and clever enough to encourage our opponents to change their views.

The last way we can ever do that is through emotionally-fueled fighting.

When it comes to politics, it seems people lose their minds. Rational thinking, knowledge, and facts go out the window, and civil discourse devolves into chaos.

You don't have to spend too much time online to find people bickering and fighting over the election. Close friends, families, colleagues turn on each other over such abstract concepts and political conservatism or liberalism. They are willing to burn bridges with people they've known for years to defend people they don't know who are running for office.

I can refer to you numerous articles that have discussed the personal damage this kind of political fighting can cause. Cosmo wrote that 42 percent of their readers said the election negatively affected their relationships. Other studies have learned that 41 percent of couples have fought at least once; 79 percent of Americans aged 55-64 years have been harassed online over politics.

Should our political affiliations really have such an effect on our personal lives? Should the National Debt have an impact on your friendships? Are you really letting Obamacare ruin your marriage?

But the fact remains, politics- especially in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election- is sparking a wave of emotions among people of all stripes. The losers seem to be lashing out the most. From protests to riots to abusive comments online, liberals suffering blows from Hillary's loss are expressing some dark sentiments.

Even celebrities are facing backlash when supporting Trump. Celebrated tenor Andrea Bocelli was on tap to provide his docile tones on Inauguration Day. That is, until people started speaking out.

Opera star Andrea Bocelli backed out of singing at Donald Trump's inauguration after receiving death threats, The Mail on Sunday has learnt...

When blind tenor Bocelli announced he would not sing at this Friday's celebration, it was widely reported it was because fans had said they would boycott his concerts and records.

But a source said the 58-year-old had been determined to 'press ahead' and sing but had pulled out on the advice of his security team after receiving threats to his life. (via Daily Mail)

Really? Death threats? Are your political leanings so important that you'd threaten the life of a well-respected and beloved Opera singer?  That level of commitment to a cause borders on delusion.

Sorry, it doesn't border on it. If you are threatening the life of someone because they are singing at Trump's Inauguration, you're completely delusional. And a criminal.

But even boycotting someone's concerts and records is ridiculous. I've been outspoken in my criticism of celebrities who get involved in politics. I've said it's irresponsible of them to abuse their influence over audiences to push a political agenda. But I never suggested anyone should not support a performer or actor they love because of their personal views.  The work they create is not indicative of their politics.

People can become passionate about issues that are dear to them- that is true. It's not so much about politics for some, but about a specific issue they think takes precedence over everything else.

For some people, they'll support the Democratic Party forever because of its role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. Never mind what they are doing for black Americans today; they stood with them at that crucial moment in American history.  That's all that matters.

Some people will support the left because of its continued espoused support for the gay community. Even if they don't support liberals' other stances, they'll stick with them. Never mind the fact that liberals did nothing to protect the fifty gays murdered in Pulse nightclub in Orlando; the association between the Democratic Party and gay rights remains.

This is also true for abortion, immigration, and animal rights. People stick to a cause, which colors their political leanings. Don't try to convince them otherwise, or they'll destroy your business, malign your character, or- worse yet- unfriend you on Facebook!

One of these issues is gun rights, which brings me to what I wanted to focus on all along. Recently Mike Rowe, of TV's Dirty Jobs and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, planned to attend an event that highlighted our veterans, but also supported Second Amendment rights. One of his fans was deeply offended by this, and vowed never to support him again.

Marla W writes...

I just read that you’re speaking at the SHOT show in Las Vegas this week. VERY disappointing. There are already too many guns in this country, and too much faux patriotism surrounding the second amendment. I can’t believe you’d risk your good name associating with a bunch of gun nuts. You’ve lost a fan. (via Mike Rowe on Facebook)

I for one am surprised that any fan of Rowe's- a hard-working, blue-collar champion like him- would be surprised that he would be associated with 2nd Amendment supporters. But it takes all kinds, I guess. What is most telling is the way that Rowe responded to Marla W, and how we call can learn from his example.

Well, hi there Marla. And Happy Sunday!

It’s true, I’ll be in Vegas this week, addressing a roomful of people who like to shoot guns...while I’m at there, I’m going to make sure I see my friends at The SEAL Family Foundation.

You’d love these guys, Marla. They look after the families of those involved with Naval Special Warfare. Remember Ty Woods and Glenn Dougherty - two of the men who died in Benghazi? The SEAL Family Foundation raised over $500,000 for their memorial fund...

Rowe goes on to discuss a team-building event the people from SEAL Family Foundation arranged for his people.  In addition to exciting stuff like jumping out of an airplane, they went to a shooting range and learned how to operate firearms.

For the next few hours, the SEALs took my employees through an accelerated small arms training session. There was an emphasis on safety, obviously. Some of my people had never held a gun before, much less fired one. So there was some…trepidation. But after an hour of intense instruction, everyone got comfortable...

I wish I could share their stories here, but for all sorts of reasons, I can’t. What I can tell do, is tell you how remarkable it is to see people who have never even held a gun go from uncomfortable, to tentative, to comfortable, to very comfortable, to empowered. One day Marla, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to experience something similar, and listen to the stories of people who use guns to protect us.

Rowe expertly takes Marla and his other readers on a journey, a journey that shows them the significance of operating a gun. How by learning how to use a firearm properly, his people were empowered and gained a new level of confidence.  Rowe never berates Marla for her antagonistic words or divisive rhetoric. He simply takes her by the hand to see why the Second Amendment is so important.

Obviously, you and I have a difference of opinion regarding the role of the second amendment in modern society. But thanks to the first amendment, we can express our differences in whatever way we prefer. We can criticize those with whom we disagree, or we can try to persuade them. We can make a case as to why we believe what we believe, or we can simply announce our disappointment to the world, as though our feelings alone are enough to justify our beliefs.

This is the kind of intelligent discourse strongly lacking in our modern dialogue. Sure, there are people out there like Rowe who are trying, but our vapid media and the viral nature of the Internet thrives on the hate, the vitriol, the despicable.

Rowe ended the article by doing something simply amazing: he invited Marla to attend the event for herself as his special guest.  His hope, no doubt, is to convince her why he believes in the Second Amendment, or at the very least, help her see the issue from a different light.

Mike Rowe is a good example of turning an enemy into a friend. I don't know if Marla will accept his invitation, or if she will change her toxic views on gun ownership.  But I guarantee you she was not expecting that response and it will change her attitude towards the man.

Rowe's response should be taken as a template for our ongoing discussions. We should be building bridges to our friends and colleagues, not fighting to the death. Not every discussion will allow this kind of decency and intelligence; not everyone is willing to listen to reason and sound argument. But when we make an effort, things will change.

The Bible says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." By approaching the angry words of a critic with intelligence and respect, Rowe was able to diffuse a potential riot and perhaps win somebody over.

I know I am going to take pointers from Rowe.  Hopefully, more will too.

Related News