Talking to People Who Talk to You Like You’re an Idiot

A long, long time ago–1997?–I was walking down Broadway on my way to work. At 8th street, I encountered a very angry woman in front of a science-fair-type posterboard covered in pictures of suffering domestic animals. They were horrible, and compelling, and I was young and easily swayed, and curious.

This woman (short, aggressively blond hair; long black overcoat over a T-shirt with the sleeves rolled and pushed up; jeans) was yelling:

“Animal RIGHTS!”

I can still hear her voice in my head, all these years later, Janis-Joplin, smoke-and-whiskey frayed: “Animal RIGHTS! Animal RIGHTS!” She was trying to get everyone to sign a petition.

At the time I worked for a nature magazine of some repute. What I learned there made it obvious to me that I shouldn’t sign anything unless I knew for sure what I was signing. But I didn’t know much about these extreme animal rights groups, so I approached her to learn more.

I can’t remember exactly what I asked her. Probably something like, “Can you tell me more about what this is about?”

She immediately shot back, “I don’t have time to explain it to you,” and went on shouting, right in my ear, since I was close enough to ask her a question. “Animal RIGHTS!”

Animal RIGHTS lady was like this. Only a lot scarier.

Animal RIGHTS lady was like this. Only a lot scarier.

Fast forward, yesterday morning. My friend Jamie gets a comment on a blog post she wrote about themes in writing. I won’t reproduce the full comment here, because it is so very, very tiresome. It is a couple hundred words and involves Dante, Aristotle, praxis, and lumps novelists and contract writers with “and such” and sets us apart from “true writers and artists.”

asshat

Jamie posted this blowhard jerkface dimwit obfuscating badger  guy’s comment to a braintrust we’re both involved in, with a call for help: How do I respond to this guy? The answers she got from our co-hort were, nearly unanimously, thus: Ignore him. You don’t have time to spend on this jerk. There were accusations of mansplaining, which were spot-on.

Me? I spewed a bunch of eff-bombs, did the requisite pushups, and then went for a walk with my Fuzz. Seeing Jamie, an educated, sensitive, generous whip-smart writer of her own credentials, getting schooled by this guy–THIS GUY THIS GUY THIS POOPTACULAR–was beyond the pale.

(I have been mansplained to, and I have done my own mansplaining. It’s not uniquely a male problem, although it does seem to happen a lot in one direction.)

In the end, I wrote to Jamie, “I’d reply to him in public, telling him everything that’s wrong. If we’re lucky, we might have converted a wanker asshat into just an asshat.” Jamie was much more elegant. She thanked him for his reply and said she’d try to reply in full later. She did the right thing, I believe.

More broadly, I’m thinking that there is enough anger in this world. I’m thinking that, if the woman on the corner of 8th and Broadway had taken the time to educate me, instead of brushing me off and making me feel like an ignoramus, I’d have walked away better educated, knowing more, at least maybe understanding why she was so passionate about this issue. And maybe I’d have cared to find out more.

Fervently hoping that Mr. Dusty-Library-for-Brains disappears into a deep pit of…uh, dusty library books isn’t going to actually make that happen. Screaming the same slogan over and over again at people you can’t be bothered to educate, I think, isn’t that far from just ignoring someone, and the issue, and losing out on a chance to help them see another side.

In fact, I’m reminded of the way my father once described the arguments he heard between me and my mom [paraphrased, obviously]: “It’s like the two of you are wearing suits of armor, okay? Big medieval things. And you’re just whaling away at each other with those big weapons–those big spiky balls. It’s a lot of noise. And no real progress on either side.”

Some arguments sound like this. CRASH BANG with no resolution. pix paul lewis (Nth Wales tel 07836 797910) Tom Mitchelson....Full contact Medieval fighting at Ludlow Castle Shropshire.

Some arguments sound like this. CRASH BANG with no resolution. pix paul lewis (Nth Wales tel 07836 797910) Tom Mitchelson….Full contact Medieval fighting at Ludlow Castle Shropshire.

I don’t hold out much hope that Dingleberries McRealWriter will actually take what Jamie eventually has to say on board. But at least she can say she tried, which at least allows for some possibility of that thing we call Hope. For discourse, for civilised conversation, for a world where we can read things and comment thoughtfully on them and then have further conversations that we can all learn from. That is something Angry Animal RIGHTS lady will never have.

Some days, though, we are just too damn tired to deal. That’s okay, too.

NB: Holy buckets: tracked down a story about ANIMAL RIGHTS lady. I guess, if you were just out to scam people, that’d be a reason for brushing off anyone who asked.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

3 Responses to Talking to People Who Talk to You Like You’re an Idiot
  1. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this, YiShun.

    I think the question of ignoring vs. educating has become exponentially more prevalent in the digital age. As a writer who often publishes her opinions online, I’m actually surprised I haven’t had to deal with the dilemma more frequently than I have.

    On the one hand, part of me wants to turn a blind eye. I hear a chorus of “Life is too short for that kind of nonsense” in my head. But, as you so rightly point out, how can we ever hope to clear up the nonsense if we aren’t willing to do our part by having the conversation?

    On the other hand, I sometimes have to bite my tongue to keep from whiplashing the arrogant and the cruel. (Thank goodness for the “distance” created when interfacing via a screen.) I have an overgrown sense of justice that often causes me to get involved in fights that aren’t necessarily mine.

    Ultimately, I strive to find the sane middle ground between those two extremes. I hope that I can maintain my perspective (and not get sucked up into every two-bit online argument I come across) while not abdicating my responsibility as a human being to try to make the world a better place when I have the opportunity.

    As writers who put our words out into the world and, in the case of blog posts, invite commentary, we have more responsibility than most to engage in the conversation. We don’t need to entertain every dissenter (or ANY trolls), but I do feel a sense of needing to finish what I start.

    Anyway – thanks again for this, and for helping me sort out my feelings about this particular case. You’re the best!

  2. RANT ALERT: I am personally passionate about many things; and feel I’m a fairly well informed human. I have to stop myself from “sharing my passion” a bit too much sometimes. But truly I don’t understand the willful ignorance that many in my sphere content themselves with. I get that “bandwidth” is an issue; I have that too but the degree to which “people” choose not to know about the world around them frustrates and scares me. Not to know about the food you eat, about the vote you cast, about why the place you choose to take your vacation is there and what makes there THERE. I want to know all those things, so I can make an informed decision or choice. And is it wrong for me to want others to know this too? To want others to care? To BE BOTHERED. ABOUT. THINGS. THAT. REALLY . MATTER!!!!?? Because the things and issues “we” seem to elevate really don’t…..We’re going to get so many, too many things the collective we REALLY DON’T want because we don’t care enough to be bothered to really know in the first place. YOU Yi Shun, seem to care and your friend Jamie too. Don’t let the willfully ignorant asshats make you feel otherwise. My family, my blood family call me “Infobooth” and they mean it in a teasing way. Some of us need, have to know… and we will be ready when the asshats shut up. 5 cents please.

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