I recently listened to an episode of This American Life, called “My Effing First Amendment”, which includes the story of Katie, a young conservative activist who, guided by a right-wing group dedicated to influencing students on college campuses in the US, set up a table at the University of Nebraska. It wasn’t long before a professor named Courtney spotted her, and, outraged, began a one-person picket line in front of Katie’s table. Listen to the episode if you’d like to hear what transpired, but suffice it to say, Courtney found herself so outraged that she ended up calling Katie names and flipping her the bird. All Katie had to do was film Courtney doing all of this, which enraged Courtney further.
As most of my readers know, I’m not a big fan of right-wing groups, and I’m not here to defend Katie’s political ideas. What I’d like to point out is that behaving like Courtney did isn’t making anything better. It’s called offending from the victim position, and it’s the way violence is justified in the vast majority of situations. You hit me, I’ll hit back 10 times harder. This is a vicious, escalating cycle. It’s much more difficult in the moment to turn the other cheek, but it’s also much more powerful in the long run, because it puts a stop to the cycle of violence, and allows for the possibility of discourse and repair.
Even more powerful than non-violent protest, what would it have looked like for Courtney to simply have sat down with Katie and talked? Perhaps to try to get beyond the slogans and messaging that Katie was delivering and find out about Katie, simply as a human being? I’ll bet Courtney and Katie have more in common than they realize. They both have family and friends that they love, and they both think ideas are important and love their country.
Mari has always told me, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” By being friendly toward Katie, Courtney could have led by example and shown how it’s possible to have sane discourse and focus on what we agree upon, even in politics.
Be careful how you choose your enemies. You will become like them.