A Safe Space to Think About Things The Wrong Way

Sometimes we need safe places to think about things the wrong way so we can eventually think about them the right way.

I’ve thought about this quote recently due to the Trump election victory.

I’ve had conversations about a (minorly) controversial subject before where I played devils advocate. Or I just didn’t understand the issue fully, so my opinion was admittedly, wrong.

These were relatively small misunderstandings or points of ignorance, but I think back to those situations and I think about the difference it made when someone was understanding and gave me a safe space to tease out how I really felt vs. calling me a name. I got defensive.

My small example made me start thinking about how I think there is some truth behind the idea that in order to engage with those on the other side, we need to create a safe space for them to think about things the wrong way, a judgement free zone. That doesn’t mean they “deserve” to have it, that they deserve to have their unappealing, racist, sexist views “tolerated.” Just that it’s what will work to make them less defensive and more open to coming around.

This echo’d a great VOX article that came out recently, titled: Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn’t one of them.

In it they refer to a study where canvassers asked voters in Florida to simply put themselves in the shoes of Trans people in a non-confrontational situation. Many of the canvassers expressed bigoted views, but came around by the end of the conversation, a conversation that was free of accusations that the bigoted person was in fact, bigoted.

Because according to research, that doesn’t work:

It’s such a threatening message. One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.

Alana Conner, Executive Director of Stanford University’s Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions Center

I think it’s important to remember that we all have prejudices, or in the words of Mark Cuban, we’re all a little racist.

I see a lot of debate on Facebook, and among friends and family, about whether or not shaming someone who voted for Trump is warranted. There are tons of anecdotes about people cutting off Facebook friends who voted for Trump, or saying we should shame them.

I think regardless of whether or not they “deserve” it due to reprehensible views, I don’t think the research supports the idea that that will work.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean I think we should cater to or tolerate these views, or accept them as acceptable. Just that in our mission to try to get people to change those views, perhaps it might be more savvy to engage and enlighten instead of shame and shun.

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