Stop Criticizing Moderates (Support Them Instead)
Why it is beneficial to guide those in the process of transitioning rather than put-downs.
“If the Democratic nominee isn’t Bernie Sanders, I’m not going to vote in November.”
I often see self-proclaimed “free thinkers” who discriminate against peers who are not “free” enough. Present mostly on internet forums, they judge everyone with a stubborn, gatekeeping mentality under cover of anonymity. An arbitrary bar is set: if a newcomer to the hobby, party, or sport does not fulfill it, they are not “real.” What even is “real”?
Every niche has these zealots — you can find them in disparate fields as veganism, gun lobbyists, and TV show fandoms, pushing their message: “If you are not entirely for me, you are completely against me.” Though benign, if sometimes annoying when confined to fields with a limited real-world impact — Marvel vs. D.C. or Mac vs. Android — rabid fans take on a darker tone when politics and social issues are brought into the mix.
An odd dichotomy created between what people fight for and against — somehow, a moderate view can be worse than the complete opposite of one’s ideals. Sadly, some groups which have suffered from discrimination in the past practice exclusionary principles themselves. Though I cannot profess to be an expert on any of these, I feel there is a similarity between the following:
- Bi-erasure, where some view bisexuals in a straight relationship as “not a part” of the LGBTQ+ community because they are “not queer enough.”
- Vegans hating vegetarians, where some view consuming milk and eggs as “just as bad or worse” than eating meat.
- Gun Collectors = NRA members, where anyone who owns a firearm must be a Republican and support the NRA or are a “fraud.”
- Biden < Trump, where alleged progressives believe a candidate with one of the most liberal policies of any democratic party nominee to date is the same or worse than our current administration.
It’s necessary to state at this point that, for the majority of hobbies, groups, and clubs, gatekeepers represent only a small portion of the general population. Online, a minority can exercise a large amount of media presence — it’s why anyone following social media assumed Bernie Sanders would sweep the democratic nomination when in reality, it was a fervent group of young supporters who generated most of the buzz (and young people also don’t vote).
Though it is comforting to know that radical groups are small in number in real life, it is disconcerting to see their disproportionate power. Fringe groups such as QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory involving a cannibalistic Dalai Lama (not joking), can end up being supported by the President and other public figures and being featured on traditional news sites. Foreign actors and propaganda machines can turn ridiculous beliefs into movements thousands strong.
“So, what’s the problem? Those idiots you just mentioned are terrorists or pedantic about issues that don’t matter. My fight is true and just. There is no compromise when human lives and the future of our planet are at stake.”
If you are still unconvinced of how exclusionary beliefs are harmful to an organization’s goal, imagine helping your friend to quit cigarettes, and you say:
Ha, it’s been two weeks and all you have done is smoke one pack a day rather than two? What a loser! I don’t smoke any cigarettes at all — just do that!
Changing minds and hearts often comes gradually. I understand discrimination, perceived injustices, and societal inequities are terrible issues. I know governments and administrations have used the “we are working on it” excuse for decades to directly avoid confronting problems. There are legitimate reasons to advocate direct action when gradual change has been attempted and failed.
However, that is no reason to attack individuals in the process of change. It takes an incredible amount of mental fortitude to admit one was wrong, that the beliefs they have held and fought for their entire lives may have been a lie. To recognize personal fault and work towards growth requires a reorganization of identity from the ground-up. This is the point of greatest self-improvement, but also the point of greatest vulnerability.
“Sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a man in the process of changing.” ― Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer.
Radical, harmful beliefs can take root when a person has an identity crisis. They don’t know what to believe, what to do, how best to make amends. Incorrect beliefs and ingrained stereotypes take time to remove, and during this transitional period, if mistreated, they may turtle up and revert to their original selves. Worse, after being shunned, they may join a fringe, radical group that offers the sense of belonging and brotherhood they are missing.
The best way to combat partisan polarization in one direction is not partisan polarization in the other direction. It is up to each community member to recognize when individuals may have exclusionary ideals and actively move to engage them in a discussion about their beliefs. There are always more individuals willing to hear a nuanced, well-researched perspective than extremists who refuse to understand logic. As mentioned before, the loudest voices on social media are often the most radical — no one clicks on a news article titled “Man has moderate views on veganism,” after all.
Work with those in the process of change. Understand where they come from and the different environments and cultures that may have affected their beliefs. If you believe they are changing “too slow,” you can work with them to develop a plan or several short-term goals instead of direct criticism. If someone refuses to change their mind at all, there is no reason to force the matter; perhaps you can affect the opinions of others watching on.
To win hearts and minds, keep an open door. Eat with moneylenders, priests, prostitutes, and lepers alike, and fight gatekeepers in your own communities.