When you point and stare

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Evening Post & Mail
On raising children, arguing on the Internet, and figuring out how to change minds both young and old

The psychotherapist Philippa Perry has a gift for explaining human nature in a way that often reveals important large-scale truths in ways that are plainspoken and easily digested by the beyond reasonable objection. And though she often directs her attention to the relationships between children and parents, her advice often applies to other personal relationships.
■ In a valuable book on parenting, Perry advised thus about dealing with children going through meltdowns: “No one was ever healed by being made to feel ashamed or silly.” Yet, even if the advice is meant to apply to parenting, doesn’t it equally apply to any case in which people are trying to persuade or instruct others?
■ Social media tools have convinced altogether too many people that conversations which people used to have inside the quiet of their own heads ought instead to be spilled out for all the world to see. In part, it’s hard to resist – writing is often an act of thinking, and sometimes people can achieve real growth by writing out their thoughts as an act of trying to achieve clarity.
■ But there is a difference between writing out a thought and publishing it. It is the publication step that social media introduces in a way that has never been so easy before. Unfortunately for many aspects of life – not least of all, our civic health – many thoughts that ought to be tempered before entering public view are instead birthed straight from the screen onto the worldwide Internet.
■ That includes countless thoughts that make others feel ashamed or silly. Sometimes, that is by intent. Often, it is merely by the nature of emotional reaction.
■ We encounter ideas that we think are ridiculous and it is perfectly natural to have the instinct to ridicule them. But the ridicule that sounds entirely justified in the space between one’s own ears can easily morph into a personal affront when a friend, colleague, classmate, or relative reads it on a Facebook page or drawn across a Snapchat clip.
■ Personal relationships are what often convert humans. We tend to behave like herd animals that way – the influence of those around us gives us signals about threats and opportunities alike. If one person in a crowd points and stares, it often won’t be long before the rest of the crowd starts looking, too.
■ Now that it is so easy for anyone to point and stare – digitally – it is important to digest the advice of Benjamin Franklin, an early master of American debate. Franklin wrote, “Would you persuade, speak of interest, not of reason.” He wasn’t dismissing the importance of reason, of course; he was instead recognizing that people will respond based upon instincts and intuition, especially about what seems best for themselves and their families.
■ It will take time for us to adjust as a species to this phenomenon of being always connected (or at least, as often as we want) to as many members of our various tribes as we might choose. It would be very sound practice indeed to digest the wisdom of people like Philippa Perry and Benjamin Franklin, realizing that when we point and stare at something in the world that we want others to see, we would be well-advised to refrain from trying to make others “feel ashamed or silly”, if what we really want is for them to see those things the same way that we do.
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Brian Gongol
Brian Gongol @briangongol

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