Imagine you’re sitting at a high school football game. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty old school right off the bat. But now we’re really going to get into the Way Back Machine. Your set of bleachers sit across from the other team’s.
Yay us! Boo them!
From where you’re comfortably sitting in the middle of your side’s bleachers you can — if you look — see the entirety of the other team’s bleachers. The significance of this is you can see the well behaved folks up front. You can see the dedicated fans in the middle and you can see the rowdy assholes up on top in and in the back.
Now those folks in the back bleachers are the people who really are doing all the bad things that your cheerleaders (pundits and bloggers) are telling you that other side is ‘all’ about. (Yay us! Boo them!) You look and sure enough, that behavior is right there. Those peopleare saying and pushing for exactly what you’re scared of — or are convinced is such a social evil.
Conversely, that side is saying all kinds of horrible things about your side. Accusing your people of doing bad things too. How dare they! That’s not true at all!
How do you know? Well, from where you’re sitting you see what your side is about. Those folks down in front are well behaved and reasonable. Sure the people whom you’re sitting with may be passionate, but they’re not about what the other side is accusing you of. These are reasonable concerns and reasonable solutions …
For the record, a blind spot isn’t just a place you can’t see, it’s you don’t know you can’t see it. And you’re not going to see it, until you actively change your position — even for just a moment. (It’s kind of like looking in the mirror when you’re driving to see what you can’t see from your current position).
It is not until you turn around and look up at the back of your own bleachers that you see that the ‘accusations’ of the other side have a degree of truth.
Not the entirety mind you, but a degree. You’ve just seen the extremists of your own side for the first time. Those wild and exaggerated claims of what your side is doing is exactly what those folks back there are all about. They are doing what the other side is accusing your side doing. They are demanding an absolute and unreasonable conditions. And most of all, they are not willing to compromise. Hell, they don’t want to come to the negotiation table with the other side. In fact, they’re not even really willing to compromise with you. They want their way and fuck everyone else because they are RIGHT!
Are they whole of your movement? No. But just as you condemn the other side for the behavior of a small few, the other side is doing the same to you. Just as you make strawman arguments of the other side’s position based on their rowdies, your side’s extremists are giving people reason to dismiss your position.
And why shouldn’t they? Let me explain why. When you look over your shoulder, it puts you at a crossroads — a crossroads that is going to determine your credibility. It will demonstrate to others how ‘intelligent and rational’ you really are.
Or it’s going to demonstrate that, at best, you’re a liar. In the middle, it will convince people you secretly support the extremist position. At worst, your choice will show other that you are one of the people who are indeed doing what your side is being accused of. In short that you’re untrustworthy.
The reason I say this is because you’re going to be judged by what route you take from the crossroads.
Are you going to flat out refuse to look over your shoulder? In doing so deny that said bad behavior exists on your side. This while:
a) still condemning the other side’s bad behavior
b) claiming the same kind of behavior constitutes the whole of that side’s agenda.
c) calling anyone who sees your side’s bad behavior a liar.
d) deny those people’s experience because ‘that’s not what we’re about’ or ‘well, I’ve never seen it.’ (‘personal incredulity’ logical fallacy)
Are you going to look over your shoulder and then start to rationalize and excuse the behavior because that’s not what ‘real’ _____ (insert group here) are about? (No True Scotsman/apologist.)
Or are you going to point to the other bleachers and decry that they’re doing it too? In doing so justify your ‘side’s’ bad behavior because ‘they started it?’
Or are you going to minimize that behavior and dismiss it as unimportant? Or dismiss it as minor in comparison to the greater wrong and noble intentions of your side for trying fixing said wrong?
Are you going to justify said because your side is so angry and outraged? That this behavior is acceptable because of how strongly they feel? (These approaches are common branches apologist rhetoric tree)
Or are you going to say that they’re not really with your group by making some kind of micro-division about them being left handed, purple haired ____ (insert group here)?
That last tactic is particularly weasel-ish. It goes beyond ‘no true Scotsman’ and — outside your bleachers — is the most damaging to your credibility. Not just with the ‘other side’ but with everyone. Micro-division make perfect sense to people ‘inside’ a group, but to outsiders it’s easier to dismiss the whole group. They’re not about to waste their time with such shadings. Also this is a common dodge for people trying to benefit from extremism while pretending to be Little Bo Peep *
Now all those roads are comparatively easy. You just turn a blind eye and you stay safe inside the doctrine of your side. You can continue identifying yourself as a member of the elite fraternity of ‘right thinking people.’
More than that a common reaction is to dig in deeper (hence move further up the bleachers). I liken this to turning around and starting to sing your side’s anthem. This serves many purposes. First, you keep the tribal identifiers (Yay us! This is our song!) Second, the louder you sing your side’s anthem, the more status you get from those in your bleachers. Third is in the exuberance and passion of singing your side’s fight song you can conveniently forget what you saw about your own side’s behavior. Fourth it revs you to keep the fight going — instead of solving the problem
That fourth point sounds snarky, but it’s way more accurate than snide. Let’s be honest. Being passionate and involved with big issues is fun. It’s exciting. You’re changing the world. And man, isn’t that power? You’re getting praise from those on your side. You’re getting attention. You’re making a difference! Who wants that to go away?
See if you are involved in the negotiation of a working compromise the problem goes away. When the game is over, everyone goes home. When that happens, you’re no longer needed. You’re no longer ‘involved’ in such big issues. You basically have to find a new hobby. Or, if you turned ‘the cause’ into a career, a new job.
Actual success means you’ll become obsolete. This motivation to keep things going is very much the elephant in the room. It’s also an important consideration when it comes to understanding why people are so steadfast against compromise and absolute in their conviction; when that’s your attitude, the problem isn’t solved. Which makes us ask: How much of this refusal to find a working solution is coming from — what is in essence — job security? Or as the case may be, hobby security?
This is why ignoring the back bleacher behavior effects your credibility. Even if people don’t say anything. (And most won’t. They’ll just walk away.) They’ll quit listening to you because either recognize you’re less interested in solving the problem than keeping the game going. Or they’ll think you’re one of those barking moonbats and leave you to your ranting about the issue. They’ll do this because they’ve lost trust in you.
Going back to the crossroads of having looked over your shoulder. When you really are interested in fixing the problem, the hardest road to take is the one where you first walk up to your own rowdies and say “You’re not helping.”
I say hard because odds are good they’ll turn their dragon’s fire onto you. How dare you try to tell them how to behave to help the cause. You will be accused of everything under the sun. You’ll be called a traitor to the cause, a turn coat. You’ll be accused of being one of‘them’ You will be targeted with hate, venom and abuse (mostly verbal and emotional, but physical isn’t out of the question). Why? Because you will be considered guilty of betrayal. Humans treat betrayal very harshly. And this by the way will not only be from the rowdies from your side, but also those nice and reasonable people you were sitting with. **
Here’s an important safety tip: If this is the reaction you’re getting, it’s not about the cause. It’s about loyalty to the team — right or wrong. (If the idea of “my country right or wrong” makes your teeth itch, consider the same attitude about loyalty to your team.)
The second hard part of this process is sitting down with the moderates of the other side and acknowledging bad behaviors on both sides. Not blaming, not accusing, not denying, and not giving up, acknowledging. Then convincing those folks that you don’t agree with your side’s rowdy’s bad behavior. You too find it unacceptable. You have to communicate you are actively trying to pull those folks leashes and — most of all — the other side can trust you not to let the barking moonbats have their way. In other words, you have to work twice as hard getting people from other groups to trust that your side will honor and abide to any agreements.
On the plus side, as a condition of negotiation, they have to pull the leashes of their own side’s barking moonbats. This is both a sign of good faith and a serious warning if they refuse.
This hard path is critical because nothing will flush your credibility down the toilet faster than standing by mutely while someone from ‘your side’ abuses someone else. People don’t remember your words, they remember your actions — or in this case, lack of action. When one of your own starts misbehaving, your action or inaction will either show your true colors or paint you with the same brush.
So why would you want to risk all this? Why should you look over your shoulder at your own side’s behavior? You’re right. You know you’re right. You know your friends are right. What possible purpose would taking this big, bad horrible chance serve?
That answer comes in several parts. First is if life was truly as simplistic as only two teams (Yay us! Boo them!) then the fact that the other side doesn’t like you doesn’t mean much. The problem is that isn’t how things really work.
There’s more than just two sides. It’s not just your side against the other side.
There are lots of different perspectives and considerations other than what your side thinks or the other side thinks. All of these influence the subject. But more than different ‘sides,’ there are a lot of people who are independent — they’re on nobody’s side. Often such people see other considerations that undermine the positions of your side and the other side.
These independents are the people who you want to convince and sway. This is harder than you might think because they don’t have the tribal identifiers — ergo the automatic assumptions that your group’s perspective is ‘right,’ much less reasonable. You’re actually going to have to explain, support your contentions, provide evidence and address other evidence. Evidence that may undermine ideals you accept as unquestionable fact.
Unfortunately, a whole lot of what they see are legitimate ‘oh that is a problem’ Be warned, this in combination with you trying to explain your position can result in you actually having an open mind and understanding the issue. Not just saying it. But recognizing that the issue is more complicated than you thought. This is much more emotionally disturbing than you might think. Certainty and the comfort and safety of being firmly in the group evaporate. (Which is what mostly bleacher thinking is about, not addressing the problem.)
Also, while we’re talking about dealing with independents, now isn’t the time to try to persuade them to join your side by pointing out the evils of the other side. Straight up, when they’re talking to you, they don’t care about past bad behavior of the other side towards you. What they care about is the bad behavior your side’s rowdies have directed at them. The wrong doing done to you by a third party is less important to them than the wrong doing done to them by someone claiming to be from your party. If someone on your side has abused them, you’re starting out with a credibility issue already by simply identifying yourself with that set of bleachers. Oh, and for the record, No True Scotsman and/or micro-divisions don’t work to build your credibility. Sympathy, empathy and explaining how you’re working to keep the barking moonbats on a leash does.
Now why in God’s name would you want to take such horrible chances? Why should you leave the comfort and safety of the bleachers? Well the answer is down on the field. That’s where the actual work and problem solving is getting done.
See most people never leave the bleachers. Or if they do they put on little cheerleading outfits and basically lead the “Yay us! Boo them” rah-rah booster club — from in front of the bleachers. Thing about cheerleaders, sports announcers and sport show hosts is they aren’t actually in the game. In fact, they’re promoting and encouraging bleacher thinking. Sorry folks, your political commentator, talk show host or comedian is an entertainer, not someone working on the problem. In fact, he’s the one making the money off your ‘Yay us! Boo them!’ attitude. His game isn’t what’s happening behind him. His game is facing the bleachers. The more tribal and whipped up he can get your side’s bleachers, the more money and power over you he gets.
The truth of the matter is if we want to bring about change, solve problems or prevent them, we don’t belong on the bleachers. We have to get up, leave the barking moonbats and our comfort zone behind, walk down the steps, past the cheerleaders and join the game. But if you join the game with the attitude of Yay us! Boo them! — then everybody loses. There is no compromise, negotiation or even listening to the concerns of others. In other words: Nothing gets fixed because the different sides are too busy screaming they’re right and everyone else is wrong.
Now obviously, the first thought about this article is about politics and great social issues. But the raw truth is it’s about a lot smaller stuff too. Personal aspects of your life, job, social status and relationships with others. And yes, this includes the rowdies, because a lot of time we hide our own bad behaviors from ourselves behind a curtain of rationalizations of why it’s okay to for us to do that. We hide from ourselves how often we give ourselves permission to let these bad aspects of ourselves run amok. If you want to know why people react negatively to you, don’t like or trust you, take a look at what you’re actually doing rather than being your own cheerleader.
* It’s kind of like the Sinn Fien denied association with the Provisional Irish Republic Army. Yet the Sinn Fien reaped the benefits of the radical’s actions while singing about their peaceful political intentions. That’s the problem with you making micro-divisions, the only people who believe it are idiots. While those using it are deemed liars. If you use this tactic, you immediately get put into one of those two categories.
** As an exercise — both for seeing how much of what we believe is ‘truth’ is subjective and a litmus test on just how ‘reasonable’ the people you’re sitting with really are — try this experiment: For a week argue the other side of an issue. Not a strawman, but voice the legitimate concerns and problems the other side is on about. First is see what that does to your thinking and position about the subject. Second, Don’t tell anyone that’s what you’re doing until after you’re done.
- Although I said a week, that will be hard. Stick it out as long as you can, but do not be surprised at the pressure you will put under to get back into line. (For the record, this is not some diabolical trap, it’s actually Debate 101 — where you are called upon to debate both sides of the issue.)