How do I do that? | #8

How do I do that?

That was the basic message of at least 3 emails I got from issue #5 of this newsletter – the one I called I Want to Tell You a Secret. In that email, I told you a horrible truth – that if we want to build a better world, we are going to have to convert people to our side.

How do we do that?  How do we convert the other side? How do we create a world that includes those who would argue with us? How do we win over people who disagree with us?

The answer to that is long and complicated, but the first step is actually pretty simple: You have to want to.

Because you have to want to do it. There is no shortcut to this – all the plans in the world will not help you if you do not sincerely desire to help others change their mind. Not because you want to be right, but because you want a better world for them, too.

You have to want it, not just so you can win, but so they can win. Because in the better world on the other side of …*waves hands*… all of this, we all win – or else it really won’t be better, it will just be different. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to commit my life to fight for a world that is merely different – a world still based on power and privilege and wealth but we just changed the people who have those things.

And you have to want to because if you want to bad enough, you will try to figure it out.  Nietzsche said that if our “why” was strong enough, we could endure any “how”. And we can.

In his last movie The Shootist, John Wayne plays an ageing gunfighter, John Books, who is eaten up with cancer. The movie is all the more poignant because while he was filming this movie, Wayne himself was eaten up with cancer.

My favorite scene in the movie comes when the young boy, an aspiring gunfighter himself, remarks about how fast a draw Books must have been when he was younger. Wayne looks at the boy and tells him,

“It’s not always being fast or even accurate that counts, it’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger–and I won’t.”

Likewise, the single largest advantage you can have in this battle for a better world is to be willing – to be committed to building relationships with people who are not like you, who think differently than you do, who believe differently than you do, who vote differently than you do. Because if you are willing, if you are committed, then you will figure it out.

Many couples have arguments, but most of those arguments do not end the relationships. That is because the couple has decided in advance, before they even have the argument, that the important thing is the relationship, and because of that, they will figure out how to make the relationship work, despite the disagreement.

I am a privileged White straight cishet man, and with that comes many layers of privilege. Likewise, I am writing this to people who have many layers of privilege. Nothing in this email should assume I mean that people who are oppressed are responsible for engaging their oppressors, especially if to do so puts them at risk. However, you should fully understand that if you are not an oppressed person, you are fully responsible for engaging those who would oppress others. It is our work to do.

I have talked before about Martin Luther King’s principles of Nonviolent Social Change he mentions in Letter from Birmingham Jail. Step #3 on that list is self-purification, or self-examination. In it, we look inside ourselves and examine our motives and our commitment to this cause.

Are we truly committed to the building of a better world? Are we truly committed to the liberation of all people, or just some of them? Because if we are, then we have to engage “them”. If we are truly committed to change, then we can sit at tables with people who disagree with us, we can listen to their stories and find out what their interests are, we can learn what they seek, and then find ways that our interests align.

And that is where the real work begins, and what all of this is leading you to: Finding where your interests align. Because when you do that, you can actually find ways to work together. And then you will be doing things with people who are different than you, instead of doing things to, or even for, people who are different than you, and that is where you discover the horrible truth you have been hiding from all along: That there really is no one different than you after all.

You can listen to the audio for this post here.