I teach my kids about the destructiveness of name-calling and contempt in relationships, and I think it’s a lesson we all could use a refresher on.
If you call me names, I just know you disapprove of me for some reason. It’s not productive.
John Gottman Ph.D. is well known for his research on relationships. He can predict a couple’s marital success with 94% accuracy.
He categorizes couples as “masters” or “disasters” accordingly. His research found that people can come back from a lot of things in a relationship, but they cannot come back from contempt.
Social media could have been a tool that brought us together but instead it birthed trolls, while algorithms set us up to only consume what the platform determined we wanted to see.
If we’re constantly fed information we agree with and opposing views are served with a side of contempt, how are we to work together on solutions?
If you have contempt for the opposing view, are you even interested in a solution?
Solutions-based conversations take the willingness to engage with someone who disagrees with you so you can identify common ground as a starting point.
Instead, we demonize opposing views to the point where we cannot even recognize the humanity on the other side. I’m right and you’re wrong. Or I’m justified and you are un-American!
We’ve made anyone who doesn’t think like us the enemy. Meanwhile, contempt-filled rhetoric leaves us to wade through defensive emotional reactions instead of actually thinking through the issue at hand.
It’s hard to listen to a point of view that prompts a visceral reaction, but we have to start trying.
Communication is a funny thing. If someone is talking — especially when chastising an opposing view — no one is listening. Or the only ones listening are people who already agree with you, and that’s just an echo chamber.
If you’re speaking with contempt, you’re never really reaching the audience required to enact change.
We have to be brave and willing to take the first steps toward understanding where someone else is coming from. Understanding does not mean you compromise your principles or give up where you stand on issues.
It means you come to the table willing to talk about issues, listen to someone else’s concerns and offer solutions, with the expectation that the other person will do the same.
If we really want change, we have to communicate in ways that inspire change and it starts at home, in our own families.
Name-calling is not cool. Belittling others is not how we build ourselves up. Judgy ridicule is poison.
Above all else, this is the lesson our children need to learn, and grown-ups need to lead by example. Don’t engage in hatred. What is your purpose in difficult conversations? Do you want to enact change? Make progress with community issues?
Or do you just want to feel the satisfaction of mudslinging while thriving in the divide?
If we have contempt for an opposing view, can we truly inspire solutions? It’s time to take stock of our objectives and be honest about whether our behavior is backing up what we say we want.
This isn’t a game, and there are no winners unless we all win. Like it or not, we are in this together, and it’s up to us to figure out how to function in society side by side.
— Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother of three kids, and the opinion editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Louisville Courier-Journal. She can be contacted at email@example.com, followed through her YouTube channel and on Twitter: @WriterBonnie, or click here to learn more about her. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.