To nobody’s surprise, I consider it important to be able to empathise with people around us, especially those who are “different”.
It’s something where I try to walk the walk as much as I talk the talk, with varying success. There are a lot of ways in which I do pretty well at accepting and delighting in other people’s differences. The convention I went to on my honeymoon had a fair complement of transgender folk, gay people, bronies, steampunkaholics, to name but a few. I’m not in any of those categories myself; they’re all distinctly different from me in certain ways, but not in a way that presents any problem for me to interact positively with them.
That’s not true for everyone. There are people who are homophobic, or otherwise similarly prejudiced, and who would have been affronted and angered at the very existence of many people I shared a hotel with that weekend.
Comparing myself against them, I come off pretty well. I get to pat myself on the back for being fairly forward-thinking and progressive. But that’s not the most useful comparison I could be making.
I mean, if you’re a gay man who basically likes people and thinks we should all be kind to each other, we’re not really that different. Our values probably overlap a lot, in more interesting and important ways than that one divergent factor of sexuality. It’s pretty easy for us to see each other as part of our respective in-groups.
But the people with whom my interactions are more interesting – the people who provide my loving and compassionate nature with an actual challenge – are the ones who think homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord, and all fags are going to burn in Hell.
Or who think those freaks getting sex changes need the devil beaten out of them.
Or who think atheists are all immoral Satan worshippers.
Or who think mainstream scientists are part of an academic conspiracy to push their fabricated global warming agenda onto a nation of sheeple.
Or who think they’ve uncovered the evidence left behind by the shadowy organisation who orchestrated 9/11 as part of a plot to bring about a New World Order.
Or who think Sylvia Browne has given them messages from their deceased relatives, and that it’s such a shame how closed-minded skeptics can’t accept anything that goes against their inflexible, set-in-stone ideas of how the world works.
Or who eat Marmite.
You get the picture.
Those are my out-groups. Being nice to gay people is easy. This is where my mettle’s really tested.
If I’m going to claim to be any better at dealing compassionately with others than your average hateful, gay-bashing preacher, then it’s my interactions with these people – the ones whose values truly differ from mine, who are truly “other” to me – which I should be judged by.
It’s no good if I’m lovely to people who are part of my tribe, but sarcastic and contemptuous to any outsiders. That’s exactly the behaviour I complain about in others. It’s just that for them, the outsiders are gay people, atheists, or whoever. For me, the outsider is anyone with an irrational hatred of gay people, atheists, or whoever.
So those are the people I need to try to treat respectfully, if I’m going to be at all consistent. If I start being a dick to someone, it doesn’t get cancelled out if I can prove they started being hateful first.
My in-group values being nice to people, and I will tribalistically defend our values just as vehemently as you’ll defend yours. Because if you don’t share our values of being nice to people then you’re WRONG and we HATE you.
That’s the danger that’s too often missed. Treating kindly those people who are different is the precise thing you’re trying to encourage in others. Being hostile to someone whose main difference from you is that they don’t want to treat other people kindly, is entirely self-defeating.
Yep, I seem to be drawing another lesson from Jesus here. Two in a week. Love your enemy. If I make it three, call an exorcist.