There was a time in my life I especially remember that in which I should have said something.
I was in high school and in my English class, one of my classmates (I will call him Tex) made comments about his Christian beliefs on an almost daily basis. We were in a public school and most of the students had the patience to listen to what came off as religious dogmatism.
Others in the class hounded him, told him to shut up and jeered whenever he would start to say something. I sat there in an emotional straightjacket until one day, after class, I started crying.
I felt bad for the fact he was being picked on but did not know quite what to say in class. It took me years, but now I have constructed an imaginary dialogue which I could have started to get the class to understand Tex’s background:
Me: Tex, where are you from?
Me: Are you Baptist or Methodist? (Sorry for the stereotype, but it is close to the truth)
Me: Did you attend church every Sunday?
Me: Did everyone else in your neighborhood go?
Me: Did anyone ever challenge the doctrines of the church?
Tex: I never heard of anyone doing that.
With my background of having spent several summers in Texas visiting my grandparents, I had an understanding of how most people raised in the South (and especially those who still live there) think about religious and political matters.
I could have told my classmates that people in the South devoutly believe as they do just as much as non-religious people believe. Attacking a person’s beliefs will get us nowhere. It is better to simply ask a few questions and create a dialogue. No one should be made to feel left out.
An experience I had at work may have provided me with an answer.I work for a city as a public employee and served as an alternate representative for the existing union. A faction of the union wanted to bring in an outside union to replace the existing one and made motions at an official meeting to that effect.
Displeased with the manner in which the existing union management attempted to stop the motions by declaring them illegal, I voted with the faction (and on behalf of my regular representative, who bolted from the meeting with several others to try to stop the quorum).
Early on, I felt as though the battle lines were clearly drawn. Even though I contended from the beginning that I simply wanted a vote to be held among all employees in my class to allow choice between the two unions, I was “typecast” by those siding with the existing union as one of “those people.”
I wrote out and sent messages to all voting members of the union explaining my point of view, discussing ways the two sides could compromise and responding to various bits of what I believed to be misinformation by the other side. (Neither side behaved especially professionally in this mess).
What did the other side typically say? They would correct me and insult me if I so much as forgot to identify myself as an alternate. Neither side trusted one another and no one gave an inch.
Throughout this time, each side sent assertions of fact back and forth on the emails and also posted messages on bulletin boards in break rooms. But no member of either side publicly announced that they were convinced of the correctness of the other side's point of view. Why was that?
Because once the lines are drawn and “shots” are fired, people tend to “duck for cover” and line up with their allies. Does anyone really change sides? All we need do to answer that question is to answer this one: Who is the greater villain in United States history – Jefferson Davis or Benedict Arnold?
I could have pounded away at those who opposed a vote with sound arguments on many grounds. In fact, I did. I sent messages of my arguments to the union president, vice president and counsel. In the end, the union management got its way, I left the union and I hear things are back to normal.