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We’re so much better than condescension

A conservative friend of mine — let’s call her Jen — just attended one of those dialogue-rich events in a major city with a liberal friend. Minutes in, she sensed that the whole room and discussion were unconsciously progressive and thought about ducking out. “Hang in there,” her friend told her. “Your point of view matters, too.” Jen stuck around through lunch, when she ended up sharing her very divergent perspective with the organizer. He then invited her to share it with the whole group, encouraging the room to really listen as she spoke.

Jen spent the rest of the event feeling uneasy, but not entirely unwelcome, until a hand went up toward the end. “I appreciate your bravery,” the man told her and the group, his tone warm and earnest. “It must be really hard for a Republican to sit in a room full of love, justice, and peace.” Condescension is not always easy to spot. The more dipped you are in your silo, the harder it is to tell when your judgments jail your curiosity in a sense of superiority. What could I possibly learn from them, you’ll unconsciously wonder, when I’m obviously the better person? It’s bad enough when condescension blots out an individual, and worse when it stains a whole group. “The next time I show up at a Braver Angels meeting only to find RADICAL LEFT WINGNUTS I’m going to have some strong and intelligent words of REPRIMAND to share with this group of psychopaths,” went one email I got that stood out to me for a fascinating reason: Its author managed to demonstrate all three of what I call the incurious condescensions: You must be crazy, stupid, or evil. Fail to catch yourself believing them in conversation, and your attempt to hear, be heard by, or influence the other person is toast. It’s like how my colleague Wilk Wilkinson, a truck driver in rural Minnesota, put it in one of his recent podcast episodes: “If you treat them like a monster, you will never change their mind.” What can you do when you catch yourself with condescension?...

— Moni


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