Why Understanding is A Better Path To Equality Than Combat
Human rights is a picture painted best with red. The color recalls the blood spilt at sit ins and has recently speckled Facebook like a map of early evening stars. The passionate connotation of both the color and of equality comes from a history of fighting. The issues have mostly existed between opponents, in the middle of an argument, or at the fisted nucleus of a brawl. Issues like gay marriage don't have to be head-to-head battles.
It's important to respect an opponent. Your most stubborn adversary may someday be your ally. Yesterday, New York Magazine published a collection of quotes from Bill O'Reilly on the subject. His statement from 2004 probably earned him an onslaught of hate-mail from folks lambasting him, ironically, for spreading hate. Justice Sotomayor, most certainly didn't win over opponents of same-sex marriage yesterday when she stumped the lawyer defending Proposition 8. When faced--even virtually--with your foe, the anger that rises is alacritous and single-minded. This is what leads us to deciding that those on the other side are simply wrong and will in no way change for the better.
However, as the New York Mag article points out, even the most ardent and loudest may evolve. In 2004, O'Reilly said, "We told you this would happen, if gay marriage is legalized, then much chaos would follow." This year, he said, "The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals... We're Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else. That is a compelling argument."
No one expected that to come out of his mouth. If anyone was going to give the other side leeway, it was not going to be the guy who forecasted gay marriage's concomitant Armageddon. It makes you think how the champions and fierce opponents of gay marriage (or any other issue) might evolve over time. Maybe Ann Coulter and Racehl Maddow will even see eye-to-eye on something. Coulter is, after all, good friends with Bill Maher.
Speaking of Ann Coulter and Bill Maher, their playful, hard-hitting banter and otherwise perplexing friendship proves you don't have to treat your opponent like an enemy. Stand up for yourself, challenge your opponent, but realize that it's possible to not leave the argument hating each other. It's not easy, but if the author of Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America and the creator of Religulous can get along, then you can probably figure it out too.
I'm willing to bet that Maher and Coulter interact so amicably (as amicably as a conservative author and liberal comedian can be, that is) because of the amount of knowledge they gather on the issues they debate. In one corner of politics, you have opponents waving signs with simple, powerful messages at each other. In another, people are seeing who can shout the loudest, or who can literally hit harder. In another corner there are individuals who go to great lengths to understand the issue from different perspectives. These debates don't have two sides. We live in a culture of binaries and contests, but the issues have always been more complex (and more interesting) than red vs. blue.
Take the gay marriage debate. The opponents don't only include right-wing conservatives. Among them is a substantial LGBT population who are either stridently against gay marriage--both between opposite and same-sex couples--and those who have skillfully articulated their uncertainty whether marriage equality will in fact, grant the caliber of equality it promises.
We're not inclined to it, but giving our time to the people that infuriate us is the most efficient way of understanding where they come from. With understanding, the issue becomes multifaceted, and our anger becomes sedated, and gives way to patience, and humility. Our passion doesn't shrink when we fight less. It just changes: like seeing the color red and thinking of roses before bloodshed.
The solution to inequality is not simple; we may never arrive fully at an answer that sustains us forever. In light of this, the least we can do is collaborate, even with those we want to throttle at times. If equality is what we're after then our opponents deserve the time and credit we give ourselves.