Friday, 2 October 2015

Why IS Respect So Difficult?!

Seriously, though... Why is being respectful so hard for some people?

We're all different and that's fine.  In fact, it's more than fine; it's bloody brilliant!  Who wants to live in a world of identikit people, who all look and talk the same way?  To me, that sounds like something from a horror film, not some kind of perfect idyll.

And yet we find ourselves in a society in which different views are treated as an excuse for cruelty and ignorance.

For example, I co-run a campaign against Fifty Shades, because I believe it contributes to an already prevalent believe in stereotypical abuse myths (if you love an abuser the right way, he'll change; if he was abused as a child, he has a get-out clause for his behaviour and so on).  I also believe the author of said stories has treated those who see abuse in her books appallingly, by insulting, minimising and silencing them.  Now, I get that Fifty Shades is a ludicrously popular franchise (and I mean ludicrously; have you read the damn thing?  I've read better written till receipts).  I realise that if you speak out against something popular, you're going to infuriate the fans of that popular thing.  But why can't people "respectfully disagree," anymore?

Last night, a fan of Fifty Shades wrote on our campaign page: "You're all lunatics!"  She went on to victim-blame ("if you're in an abusive relationship, just leave!!"), which makes me think pretty badly of her, but it was that opening comment ("you're all lunatics") that really pissed me off.  Why?  Because of the utter lack of respect it showed.

It might shock you to know that I have talked at length with fans of Fifty Shades about why they like it, why they didn't recognise any abuse in it and why they have a problem with me saying there is abuse in it.  I am more than happy to exchange views with someone who is open to listening and who doesn't resort to insults purely because I believe something different to them.

A stranger doesn't agree with me!  I MUST INSULT THEM!

Of course, often, the boot is on the other foot.  I've seen people savagely rip into TV shows I like.  I've seen people slag off bands I'm a huge fan of.  And yes, I've gotten angry about it.  Yes, I've thought "that nob doesn't know what he's talking about."  But were I to actually speak to that person about their different view, I wouldn't start by saying "YOU'RE A NOB!"  Doing that would make them massively unlikely to actually bother reading anything I went on to say and even if they did read it, they'd be thinking the exact same thing about me, because I'd opened with an insult.  It's all well and good to be infuriated by someone with a view that's massively opposed to your own, but if you just toss around insults and close yourself off to the idea of actually listening to that person's reasons for their opinion, you're not protecting your own views; you're acting like a dick.

Nobody's asking you to switch opinions and suddenly hate something you once loved, or vice versa.  But responding to what you think is a "wrong" opinion with a casual insult, or a hostile attitude (particularly if the person with the "wrong" opinion hasn't actually spoken to you about it and you're literally just initiating an argument for the sake of it) doesn't make you any better than the person you think is so wrong in the first place.

It might sound like a trivial thing for me to get annoyed about.  I mean, there are much bigger things going on in our world than people accosting others whose opinions differ from their own, right?  Of course there are.

But from tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow.  Think about where the whole "you are wrong and I must scream insults at you" thing leads. 

It leads to a culture in which angry responses to differences are simply accepted as the norm.  We already live in a world in which differences can cause people to be marginalised and hurt - not only emotionally, but physically, too.  We already live in a world in which certain countries tolerate homophobia and racism.  If we're going to change the big issues, we need to start with the small ones.  If we can rightly see that "fuck you, you're gay" is wrong, why do we accept "fuck you, you're wrong and you're a prick" just because someone has a different view on a trivial subject?  If we don't stamp out that kind of response to someone merely disliking something we like, we're not displaying the kind of tolerance that all decent people want for the wider world.

And no, I'm not saying that we're going to eradicate homophobia and racism by merely showing a modicum of respect to someone who dislikes our favourite TV show.  Of course we aren't.  But if more of us make an effort - and I include myself in that, obviously - to meet different views with polite disagreement, rather than insults and closed-minds, then we're putting something better out into the world.  We're showing that we won't resort to nastiness or abuse and we're giving the other person the chance to give their side of things.

That might not change the world, but it's got to be a good starting point, right?

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