I had many initial reactions to the bombings in Paris.
One of them was this: I’m about to hear some very hateful speech.
There is a group of people whose views are extreme, rigid, and very intolerant. They are a minority, but in a fear-based climate, their voice becomes a roar.
Here are some things I’ve noticed about their thinking:
- Views are rigid and do not change with new information. In fact, new information is often interpreted in a way that confirms their beliefs.
- They hold tightly to their privilege and have a scarcity mentality. For example, they worry that helping others will mean that they have less.
- Their language is judgmental and extreme; some of the things they say make you cringe. They may use language that most find offensive and inappropriate.
- They tend to equate tolerance with naivety or ignorance and thus become dismissive of other points of view. Preserving the relationship is not a priority during discussions.
- Communication has a generally angry and aggressive tone that scares people into silence. As a result, they assume that people agree, and prejudicial views are reinforced.
The goal of any conversation here would be to protect myself and others by setting boundaries. I don’t try to change this person’s views.
I often choose not to have engage in the conversation in the first place. If I do interact, it’s usually because I have some sort of relationship with the person.
Setting boundaries is something I did a bit when working with clients who said racist, homophobic, or xenophobic things. I would say, “I respect your right to your opinion even though I disagree. However, using racist language is not ok. Please choose another way of expressing yourself.”
Setting boundaries with someone who is not a client might sound like this:
- “I am not willing to have a conversation in which [describe language] is being used.”
- “It’s not ok for you to use that language here/ around me/ around my children.”
- “Please choose another word.”
- “We can talk about this when you are calm.”
- “I’m not willing to discuss this with you.”
I try to be brief, clear, calm, and respectful because this is the sort of communication I would like from the other person. Also, that type of interaction is in line with my values.
Setting boundaries like this promotes peace in a few ways.
- You protect yourself and others from the toxic effects of hateful speech.
- You set a good example for others who don’t know that its “ok” to set a boundaries or don’t have the language to do so.
- You begin to chip away at social norms around the tolerance of intolerance.
- You avoid developing a cynical worldview where you feel that most people are intolerant.
- You save your energy so that conversations with compassionate and open-minded people are more productive.
- You gain self-respect and will be motivated to address other forms of everyday social injustice.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you handle intolerant speech?
Korff, J. (2015, September 5). How to deal with racist people [web article]. Retrieved from http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/how-to-deal-with-racist-people#axzz3rncBp0jn
Yakushko, O. (2009, January 1). Xenophobia: Understanding the Roots and Consequences of Negative Attitudes toward Immigrants [pdf]. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1089&context=edpsychpapers