An initiative of the National Women’s Council of Ireland


Changing the conversation

June 10, 2014 at 3:25

Clíodhna Bairéad, currently studying for a Degree in Public and Social Policy in NUIG is volunteering with The Y Factor. This week she talks about the how the way we represent our beliefs is often as important as the beliefs themselves. 


I recently had the misfortune of having to deal with a very angry and aggressive person. It wasn’t dramatic or traumatic, it was just unpleasant. What made the interaction interesting for me is that the person actually shares my views on lots of things. We are on the same side of the fence, so to speak. This person has, however, taught me a very important lesson; which is that the issue isn’t the most important thing, how we deliver it is. The issues this person was speaking about are important, the delivery was wrong. Inciting hatred and spreading a message through aggression and anger is never ok. Standing up for yourself, standing behind a campaign you feel passionately about is a good thing to do but not at the expense of others.
This aggressive form of opinion delivery has been used against all oppressed groups, women being one that have suffered because of it. We are shouted down, beaten up, insulted, berated and dismissed. Changing this is important but now I realise that I would disagree just as much against a feminist who used the same tactics. I might not agree with you. I might not like you. I might think your message is wrong, but none of these things make you any less human, any less deserving of life, love and a basic level of respect from one person to another.
We have gotten so caught up in this angry way of approaching people whose opinions differ to our own that we can’t seem to get past it. Dismissing someone just because they don’t think like you, hating them because of it or diminishing their humanity in your eyes is, for me, as wrong as the issues I stand against. There is a better way of dealing with our disagreements. We can stop being angry. We can stop hating anyone who doesn’t think like we do. We can talk to each other, even if it solves nothing at least we will learn something, which is better than now where we’re bitter and resentful and get nothing for it.
I have worked with people, teaching sport, for ten years, I have learned some very important things. People are more likely to listen to you if you make them feel that they are safe, that their feelings are being taken into consideration, that they are being listened to and that their accomplishments are acknowledged. I like to take the same attitude when dealing with someone I don’t agree with. It works for me. I haven’t had a screaming match with someone since my teens (when that’s just a given!). The people I get most heated with are people I know well, care a lot about and who have to like me afterwards. If I am dealing with someone I don’t know, well, I am a whole different person. I am calm. I listen. I give reasoned and logical explanations for my opinion or belief and I take theirs on board. When I walk away I might not have won them over but often we agree to disagree and both say things like ‘everyone should be able to make up their own mind’. This may seem trivial but think about it in context; if everyone could have reasonable, calm and respectful conversations that result in the agreement that everyone is entitled to make their own decision, what would happen to the abortion debate? Would anti-abortion opinions go away? No, but the acknowledgement of personal choice is pro-choice. I’m not saying it would work exactly that way but in my experience people are far more likely to respect and accept your opinion if you show them the same courtesy.
I have had debates with all sorts of people. I am that kind of person. I like having conversations and finding out how people think. Some of those people have been outright wrong in their beliefs (racists, homophobes etc.) and their opinions upset me. I find them disturbing and I always try and represent my beliefs well and in a manner they can understand. Sometimes I just don’t talk to them. If I’m on a night out I don’t particularly want to talk to nasty people. That is all they are, nasty people. They are mean and cruel, but they are still people. If I want to be truly in the right, if I want to be able to take the moral high ground (because I don’t have a hope in hell of changing most of these people’s opinions so the moral high ground is all I’m getting) I have to know that I am different to them. I am dealing with people around me in a different way, a better way and that is what makes me and those people I dislike so different, not our opinions but our attitude towards others. Even if I can’t change their opinions, I might be able to get them to think about their delivery and maybe the next time they have the argument they won’t be so aggressive.
I was taught to treat people how I want to be treated, as an adult that is not always easy, sometimes it is next to impossible, but I find that when I manage to do so it does work a lot of the time, people respond to it. Well I want to be treated with respect. I want to be listened to and not be shouted at or assaulted. I want to be able to express my opinions and beliefs in a safe environment where my words will be taken seriously and considered by those who hear them. I cannot expect this if I don’t extend the same rights to others. If I exclude people who don’t agree with me then I think I’m part of the problem.
I read recently that we shouldn’t pay attention to people who don’t agree with us, but if we don’t listen how can we learn? I don’t want to fight in darkness, not knowing who or what I’m flailing at. I don’t want to fight at all, I want to have a conversation, to debate and discuss and share knowledge and insights. I want to include all people, not just one side.
Feminists have the power to change the world, they have done it already, my life is better because of the feminists who have gone before me and I would like to help leave the world better for those who will come after me. This movement is still relatively new and flexible. We have to power to change how we conduct ourselves and what behaviour we find acceptable from others. I believe that being more inclusive is better for everyone. It encourages people to join the conversation, not just women but men too. It is a barrier free zone. Come, ask questions. Share ideas. Give opinions.
I’m not the first to have this idea and I don’t think this theory is perfect. I don’t think it’s the only way to do things and anyone who reads this can probably find at least one flaw in every paragraph. But it’s flawed because I’ve never seen this in practice on a large scale. The world that I have grown up in is filled with a dialogue of hate. I am trying to be part of a way that might work better, hurt less and include more. I am trying to change the conversation