Why I Engage


This past weekend was a flurry of activity on Facebook. I read a piece written by someone called “#AllLivesMatter” and commented on it… a lot. The thread ended up being quite long and I took it to my own personal timeline and those discussions were still going yesterday. Hundreds of replies.

One of the questions I got over and over was why I bother engaging with people who just don’t seem to get it. That’s an obviously biased perspective which assumes that the people who asked the question DO get it. I happen to agree with them and it seems pretty clear to us. And of course, neither “side” ever appears to move from their position, so what’s the point of even having the discussion?

Here’s why: Several years ago I was out to dinner with a friend. I asked him what was new in his life, if he was dating anyone. He mentioned that he was and I, knowing his history with women, made a comment hoping he wasn’t dating a particular type of woman. Not because there was anything wrong with that type of woman necessarily, but I knew him and what he was looking for in a partner.

This, surprisingly, turned into a way bigger discussion  than I expected. He got defensive about his choice. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I explained why I thought he might be better with someone else. He continued to take a defensive stance and then told me that I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did, his family knew him better, etc.

At that point I knew it was better to just let it go. When the discussion turns to comments like that I know it’s not going to have a rational basis any longer. We finished up the dinner and I didn’t see him for a few months.

When next we met, he randomly brought up the conversation we had and said, “I thought about what you said. I can see where you were coming from.”

That was all he said about it and I let it go. That was as close as I was ever going to get to hearing him say, “You were right.” Today he’s married to exactly the type of woman I thought he wanted to be with.

This story isn’t about me being right, but rather to emphasize that sometimes when you have a discussion with someone, they aren’t in a place to hear whatever it is you’re saying. We’ve all be there – convinced we were right, unable to hear anything else. We know people who have held staunch positions on something, only to find out they’ve later changed their minds. Friends who got married even though those closest to them advised against it who end up getting divorced.

When it comes to social justice issues, though, it can be a lot harder. These are ideas we’ve grown up with that have formed over time and become quite ingrained. That doesn’t mean they’re immovable though. The way I see it, if something I say plants a seed and over time as the person I was engaging with goes about their lives and events happen that cause that seed to be watered, it was a worthwhile discussion. It may not even be the person who I was initially engaging with, but someone who happened on the discussion and took something away.

Will it always happen? No. Will it happen even most of the time? Maybe not. But when it comes to the fights for equality, I’ll take changing even just one person’s mind. Who knows whose mind they’ll change?

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