Hate speech. Fear mongering. Violent protests. Today is filled with profound amounts of people who feel inferior and act on feelings of paranoia and insecurity. Reaching across the aisle to garner support for a cause may not be the easiest task. People may shame you, question your cause, or refuse to be open minded or willing to listen to the purpose behind your beliefs. So, let’s talk tactics; tactics to maintain control in the face of adversity and tips on how to attain unconventional allies for your cause.
You’re running an event and a group of protesters interrupt, peacefully disagreeing with your cause.
You’re running an event and a group of protesters interrupt, with the intent to disrupt, emotionally disturb, and draw attention from your cause.
1. Invite them into the space. Ask them to select a moderator for their questions, and make it your goal to answer every, single question. This not only disarms potential feelings of animosity, but shows your professionalism, which garners a level of respect from those present.
2. Validate their position. Let them know that they are entitled to their own opinion, and, you are also entitled to your position in the issue.
3. Remain calm. If you act in a professional manner, the audience for your event will gain more respect for you and possibly your cause. Reactive responses are more likely to promote confusion and feelings of chaos.
In both scenarios, the above action steps remain relatively constant. However, the execution of the steps are likely much easier in the first scenario than the second. It is natural to feel aggravated and nervous in situations where people are aggressively opposing your viewpoints. However, it is important to stay calm and take a deep breath before acting out on negative emotions, because reactive outbursts will feed in to the cause of your opposition. Try to remember that though unexpected, having these people in your space presents a rare opportunity for discussion, learning on both sides, and understanding.
Being an advocate will cost you a piece of yourself, but it’s up to you whether or not you turn that cost into an investment to make things better in the future.
Discussions with people who share viewpoints you don’t agree with may cost you. But how much more do you value taking the opportunity to educate them, when you may be the only person they meet with your viewpoint?
Let me explain. Veterans’ Day weekend I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Combat Hate Conference, hosted by the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Incorporated, a traditionally Jewish fraternity. It was an incredible opportunity where Greek leaders from across the country discussed antisemitism, racism, stereotyping, implicit bias, and more. One of the speakers, Lloyd Wilkey, from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (and more), shared an important story with us. He discussed how he facilitated a discussion with several armed policemen on the many recent police shootings involving unarmed black men. He was the only black man in the space of that discussion, and surely, he was unarmed. But he was still willing to step into a space that made him severely uncomfortable, listen to commentary that he severely disagreed with, and take it calmly even though it caused him pain. Even though it cost him. His position in that space was not to attack, but to listen. To encourage thinking from other viewpoints and perspectives. Belief systems generally don’t change in a night. However, Mr. Wilkey chose to invest his time, energy, and intellect into a facilitative discussion with policemen to guide them around concepts of implicit bias, instead of judging them for their views.
Being willing to have hard discussions without judging is extremely important for encouraging other people to step out of their comfort zone and educate themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. If you expect people to show up for you, you must show up for them. Now, I’m not saying go support something you fundamentally disagree with. What I’m saying is find something you can support that the other person is passionate about. This could be volunteer work, natural science, getting new plumbing systems in the residence halls, or something else. The point is that you are willing to go and put yourself out there for something they care about. This goes a long way in garnering support for not only you, but the causes you support.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.