Communication is what makes the world go ’round. Everything — the good, bad and the ugly — can be traced back to communication — either good, bad or destructive communication.
I’m flummoxed about why some of my communication on “hot button” topics is so frustrating.
Two recent examples. In the first, I’m responding to a friend’s objections to my T-shirt with the words #BlackLivesMatter. He finds the message divisive and offensive (his words).
I explain that #BlackLivesMatter is not #OnlyBlackLivesMatter, and certainly not #OthersLivesDon’tMatter but that it raises the real and pervasive racist policies and prejudice against black people engrained in our national psyche. I think my friend agrees that we need to stimulate a national dialogue about it but he thinks my T-shirt hinders, rather than facilitates, a productive discussion.
“You should be sensitive to how people might react to your #BlackLivesMatter T-shirt,” he tells me. “I don’t care what other people think!” is my retort, and we drop the conversation.
The second example has taken place over many weeks on Facebook with an ardent Zionist about various issues related to Israel and Palestine. He responds to my posts about Israel/Palestine respectfully but never understands the points I raise. Here’s a recent exchange on Facebook about the video above.
Zionist friend: Some might point out the restraint the Israeli soldier displayed allowing himself to be beaten up without fighting back, instead of blaming him for arresting a juvenile rock thrower. It is sad that these soldiers have their hands tied when it comes to their own defense because they know that they’ll be blamed for anything they do to respond.Lora: George Orwell might have described the soldier’s actions as “restraint” but no one using the English language today would.Zionist friend: I’m not sure why you think that. We both saw the same video. Getting hit repeatedly on the head seriously hurts. The soldier could’ve easily started swinging wildly in self defense, but he choose to take the blows instead. We should both be able to agree that it took considerable restraint on his part not to respond.
Lora: I saw a soldier running after a Palestinian boy with a cast on his arm…take him down in a choke hold and then get pummeled by the boy’s mother, sister and others. Given the persistent pattern of IDF violence (killings) in the West Bank, I think these women were very lucky there was a video camera capturing the whole thing. The soldier’s “restraint” is directly proportional to the videographer’s determination to keep filming.
Zionist friend: Rocks thrown by a boy with a cast are not any less dangerous. These women knew that they could beat the soldier without serious repercussions because of the insane restrictions and scrutiny placed on the IDF.
Lora: I cannot open your eyes. Goodbye!
Zionist friend: Not sure what part of what I said was incorrect, but I guess I’m getting used to our conversations ending this way. Goodbye.
I’m aware there are different variables at play in each of these examples. The first involves a good friend I’ve known for many years about my age, a white professional, and our conversations occur face-to-face.
The second example involves an anonymous person on Facebook whom I’ve never met but suspect that he’s young, has probably been raised in a Zionist household and has bought that worldview hook, line and sinker.
Now a good conversation is like a good ball game. One person tosses out the ball so the second can catch it and return it. The conversation, as a good game, proceeds smoothly with both participating and enjoying the give and take.
Some communication can be wild games where one throws curve balls which are impossible for the other to catch; or throws the ball over his opponent’s head never intending that the ball be caught; or slams a hard ball into his opponent’s gut. Who wants to play ball under those circumstances? I would just pick up the ball and go home.
My example #1 above resembles a stunted game of toss — but no catch. The conversation is frustrating because I don’t think my partner understands the #BlackLivesMatter message. No matter how I might pitch the ball, he doesn’t catch it.
Instead, he tries to toss another ball back to me — about how others might respond to #BlackLivesMatter — not about whether there is some validity to the assumptions behind the #BlackLivesMatter message. I want to talk about substance (and I pitch that ball) and he wants to talk about process (and tosses back a completely different ball). I suspect my friend may disagree with the substantive issues involved, but it’s too difficult to admit or discuss.
The substance about #BlackLivesMatter that I want to toss to my friend includes:
- Black Americans are far more likely to be homicide victims than white Americans. See here.
- Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons than white men. See here.
- The black vs. white economic inequality (income, jobs,unemployment, etc.) is staggering. See here.
- Homeownership is much more difficult for blacks than it is for whites. See here. And there are many more stats.
My friend either doesn’t acknowledge these statistics, or doesn’t agree with them, or perhaps agrees but doesn’t think the #BlackLivesMatter meme is a constructive way to raise awareness. He doesn’t want to toss my ball back to me, he wants to play with another ball. He’s likely as frustrated as I am when I reject his ball.
What type of ball game is my young Zionist friend playing?
Although he’s respectful and seems genuinely interested in playing ball (contrary to many Zionists I’ve met on Facebook), we aren’t having a very satisfactory game of toss and catch. This is very perplexing for me.
I don’t expect my friend in example #1 or the Zionist in #2 to agree with me. A good game of catch doesn’t require agreement, but it does require the ability to catch and respond. Neither are catching my ball and responding. They each want to play with a different ball entirely — a way of deflecting the game to their agenda. So I’m left wondering, what can I do differently to have more satisfying and productive conversations?