Recently, I found myself engaged in a serious talk with someone I’ve never imagined I would even talk to, had someone given me her profile with bullet points that described who she was.
This girl, an officemate from my consultancy work, was a classic extrovert (although she rabidly claims otherwise), a devout Christian, and against gay rights.
As you know, I am quite the opposite of all those things: I am an agnostic introverted LGBT advocate.
It was a recipe for disaster.
Or at least, that’s how it appeared then.
Then we started talking.
Just honestly talking.
The trigger was me Facebook-tagging her at this challenge for my organization (the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce) launched in time for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. I did it mindlessly, of course: I knew she loved wearing make-up, and the challenge needed people to wear lipstick and post it on social media to show their support for LGBT rights.
She untagged herself. I realized I had made a misstep: I totally forgot the part about her being a devout Christian.
She thought I hated her for it.
Eventually, she approached me, asking if we can talk.
I said yes.
It dawned upon me how a lot of details would’ve been lost along the way if I had outright rejected her: we both loved Carly Rae Jepsen. She was very self-conscious, and could get really awkward (just like me!) She believed in female empowerment too.
Of course, she tried to explain in the best way she could why she believed what she believed in. I tried to do the same.
It seemed to be that Heineken ad coming to life, then and there.
(To digress: for a moment, let’s not argue on the problematic nature of the beer brand’s social experiment, like this article does. It’s true: the starkly clashing views cannot both be right at the same time–and one must acknowledge that one is either wrong or right.) Would I have known the wonderful things about her, had I labeled her immediately as a distasteful person purely because of certain characteristics?
While I will passionately disagree with her on many fronts, the conversation served as bridge towards finding a common ground: that we were both trying to figure out the world from our understanding, and that we had a lot to learn from each other from our differing perspectives.
While talk might seem cheap when actions are desperately needed, I think that it is a necessary step to facilitate greater understanding. I know that sounds like a trite motherhood statement from a beady-eyed politician, but I’ve realized that shoving your beliefs and expecting other people to subscribe to them won’t necessarily change people’s minds, no matter how right you think are.
The lifespan of change by pummelling your opponents into submission is short. It might seem like the quickest way to effect change, true–but the change brought by hard work of kindly engaging people is more long-lasting.
Funnily, I know I am not the best example of what I’m saying. I sometimes get impatient, and at times I feel like it’s so hard to get through people’s heads.
(Likewise, I know a lot of people who feel the same way about me. I can be very stubborn, and a lot of my head knowledge sometimes doesn’t translate into actions.
I have my weak spots. I know that. I can’t be the best in everything.
I’d like to try, though. I’d love to learn to change for the better.)
We morally evolve as people not by closing doors and shuttering ourselves into our own echo chambers. We grow by connecting, listening, empathizing.
People are not static things. But putting them in a corner, isolating them, demonizing them–those things prevent them from evolving.
It’s hard to imagine people changing for the better. After all, it’s easier to believe that who we are is consistent, throughout time, when the truth is, the person we are ten, twenty years ago is greatly different from who we are now, and who we will be years from now.
Maybe all we need to change things is a listening ear and soft-spoken words.
Maybe, more than ever, we need a gentler world to talk things through.
I won’t name names, but: thanks to the people in my life who are quick to listen and slow to judge. I love you with all my heart: you know who you are.