Leaving Westboro Baptist Church.. and Other Bubbles

No H8

When Donald Trump ran for President I lived in a liberal bubble.

Obviously, he was uninformed, self-interested, hot tempered — and just might blow up the world. And his sexist buffoonery appalled me.

I mocked him on Facebook, thinking no one else took him seriously, either.

And then some “red” friends unfriended me.

That got me out of my bubble.

I stopped chiding him and started trying to understand them.

And then something strange happened. 

Several of my “red” friends — and some of their friends (I didn’t know them) started thanking me for the respectful dialogue we were having.

Some even thought both sides made good points. BOTH SIDES: right AND left!

People began changing their minds.

This was a big lesson for me. One bolstered by a TED Talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the Westboro Baptist Church.

Why she left the Westboro Baptist Church

As a little girl Megan’s parents put hateful signs into her hands: “God hates… fags… Jews… American soldiers…”

And she believed it. After all, that was all she heard growing up.

When she got older she got on Twitter. But she punctuated her condemnations with smiley faces :).

Taken aback, some of the people who had been “yelling” at her began asking her questions. And that got her asking them questions.

She had never heard the other side before.

They began pointing out contradictions.

Why should gays be killed if Jesus said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone”?

How can you love your neighbor and want them dead?

Nowadays Megan is an educator on extremism, bullying and empathy. In a TED Talk she gives some advice:

Don’t assume bad intent

Assuming ill intent cuts us off from understanding why people think and act the way they do. It blocks understanding of the different worlds of experience that lead us to our unique ways of seeing.

Assuming positive or neutral intent allows dialogue.

Ask questions

We can’t make effective arguments if we don’t understand where the other side is coming from. And questions allow others to point out flaws in our positions.

Asking questions opens minds. When her Twitter followers stopped accusing and started questioning Megan mirrored them and began questioning, too.

And asking questions makes a person feel heard.

Stay calm

Megan had grown up believing that her rightness justified her rudeness. But rudeness only backfires. Conversations end and nothing changes.

Discuss with kindness and humor.

Make the argument

We may think our position is so obvious that we needn’t make our case. Others are just stupid or cruel if they don’t see things our way.

A lifetime of experience had created a mental framework that saw the world in a way that was foreign to Megan’s Twitter friends. And vice versa. If Megan had not heard persuasive arguments she would not have changed her mind.

If you want change you must make the case for it.

Reaching out is an option that is available to us all, she says.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 5, 2017, in LGBTQ+, psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Crystal Jauregui

    Megan was able to articulated the importance of being respectful to all human beings even though disagreeing with their choices. Her belief summarized how tradition, culture, practices, and “norm” can be deeply grounded in our upbringing and make us blind to the bigger picture. We tend to be misunderstanding and disappointed when we are self-absorbed in our “bubble” because we don’t know how to see beyond the bubble. I’m taking a Women’s Study course and I can visualize a positive impact if Megan’s philosophy was applied to the subject of Feminism. I’m learning about the challenges women and men are facing when dealing with feminism, it dawned on me, if both genders respected each other’s choices and value individuals’ beliefs regardless if they disagree, this outcome would put perspective on the thought process of the individual. It would change the negative view and clear the lenses of those who see it wrong for a woman to be out in the workforce or visa versa a man gawking over women. The perception we have about men or women would evolve and shy away from being a “stereotype”. Putting our traditional culture to the side can lead us to have a respectful insight to each gender role and beliefs and appreciate the human being instead of the “pervert” or “man-hater”.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, and even though I have watched Megan’s TED Talk a couple times before, I still have a very hard time sustaining a courteous dialogue with people from the opposing side. For example, this week my home country, Brazil, is having a public hearing concerning our abortion laws at the supreme court. I am pro-choice and my facebook is saturated with pro-choice posts, videos, research, articles, and testimonies. I feel so strongly about my opinion that I actually get furious when I see people sharing pro-life posts. Recently, I have chosen to simply ignore the opposing side by deleting my pro-life friends and relatives.

    I am ashamed to admit that, as of right now, I am not ready or open yet to have a respectful dialogue with pro-life people. I am still not capable to have neutral intent when talking about abortion, and, as Megan mentioned, only a neutral intent allows dialogue. However, I am very glad that I came across this blog post, because it forced me to at least think more critically about the way I have behaved lately. I feel hypocrite, because I claim to be overall very tolerant, while I am unwilling to have a polite conversation with someone whose views differ from mine.

  3. Nick Hellmuth

    This is a very insightful TED talk that both sides of the political spectrum can learn from, furthermore I think it should be practiced in all avenues of life. That being said, I think the fundamental problem with people is that they, especially when talking about politics, want to get emotional. Many people get emotional quickly when their beliefs are questioned and are too prideful to calm down, for many, questioning ones beliefs is akin to questioning ones character as a person. If their beliefs are flawed then they must be, or so some think. So its easier to get emotional, to reject dissenting beliefs, to label others as malicious or ignorant, rather then question ones self. It doesn’t help that people have a tendency to see things in black and white and that many tend to externalize their emotions. Sadly I think that too many people are interested in protecting their ego than actually learning what courses of action may or may not be best for policies and leaders that effect the lives of millions of people.

  4. I really enjoyed this because I feel that I can really relate to it. I’m very religious and I come from a family and culture that is very religious but often times I’ve found myself questioning some of the beliefs that I have grown up with all my life. I found myself conforming to what my religion or culture expected me to act, talk, walk etc. and I also found that I believed in this because it’s what I was raised with all my life and I didn’t know any different. It wasn’t until I branched out and was able to network and create new friends with different people that I came to the realization that all these beliefs I had wasn’t my belief it was my culture and my religion. After my realization I was able to communicate well with others instead of being rude and looking like I was willing to accept them for who they were. I definitely agree that it’s better to observe first and know what both sides are saying before anything because if you just come out and say what you want it’s not going to end well

  5. I was really happy to read this post. I’m interested in solutions, and progress is possible and is a constant in history—certainly with periods of regression, but the big-picture trend is clear. Vilifying “the other” is a certain way NOT to make progress. I think one of the reasons that feminism is arguably the social movement with the highest level of achievement in world history is that most women love men, and most men love women, which makes us more likely to try to understand each other.

    Like the affection that made you try to understand your friends rather than dismiss them as fools or malicious, and like the sincere smiley faces that drew Megan’s co-twitterers into a dialogue.

    Here’s a clip of Bernie Sanders, who’s been genuinely listening to people for decades, changing the mind of a woman who voted for Trump in 2 minutes flat:

    (No need to watch beyond 2:29)

  6. I enjoyed this blog very much, particularly because it says something very true about human beings. Human beings naturally notice differences from their own perspective and that of anyone else’s who’s perspective might differentiate from their own. Then they form a reason for why this might be. The problem here is that every single human being’s reasoning is created by their own specific reality which is based on many individual variables which act in random forms all throughout their life. This is the context of their life. The concepts and ideas we acquire throughout our lives form the basis for our brain to naturally do what it does best. Make sense of what we sense. The problem here is that our brain/mind does something very sneaky when we do not have all the information, it confabulates the missing information. It makes a subconscious decision to fill in the gaps which most make sense to it according to its immediate environment. Important to note here is that we are not aware of this confabulation process, it is subconsciously being done so at all times when you are trying to make sense of something. This is where the problem forms, the disconnection of human knowledge created by the confabulation process and your own acquired terms and concepts form the basis of what you know. It also forms what you do not know. When human beings are not able to grasp something that makes sense to another human being, they approach it, forgive me if I offend anybody, but in an almost fearful manner. We fear the unknown when we cannot grasp it at all. The unknown slowly changes our perspective as it becomes known. The process of it becoming unknown to known is very distressful for human beings because it means a deep change in perception. The irony of it all is that the unknown is simply slight distortions within everyone’s own perception of what they conceived to be true. Nonetheless, this unknown still has the ability to create fear within individuals. When we fear something we question and most importantly assess it just to make sure we are safe from what we do not understand it. In other terms, we judge it. When we judge something we begin to conceptualize it according to our own understanding of it, but when we do this, we fail to see it as it is. So we actually ruin any or all the chances of ever truly understanding the unknown. It is only when we stop judging it and let go of our assumptions about it, that we actually learn from the unknown. The reason it becomes less fearful is because it no longer seems so strange, so distant from our known. Our comfortability. Fear interferes with human cohesiveness. If we do not fear something, we usually do not feel the need to fill in the gaps of what it might be. We are pulled in by things wich seem interesting and we question to understand not to prove our already made up concoctions of what it might be. This is why I liked this blog because it shows a real life example of this.

  7. Good points, but it’s not as easy as that. It takes two to tango, and the person with the opposwing opinions may not be rational enough to accept your arguments at all. All discussions require a certain “minimum” of intellectual capacity and the will to listen to your opponents views.

  8. I’ve been out of the loop for several weeks and it’s interesting to see the profound shift in our public conversation. As you mentioned earlier, we (nearly everyone) was polarized over an incredible number of issues. There were lots of conversations, but, as you mentioned, they occurred within bubbles. We were talking to ourselves, and only listening to “them” in order to get soundbites to criticize. It seems that we’re starting to calm down, and to engage with one another again. I’m still concerned (and angry) with so many of the decisions of our current political leadership, but my hope is that by re-engaging in conversations, we can make some meaningful changes. Am I just being naive?

  9. A lesson in moderation. I’ve definitely felt some of my thoughts and beliefs slide over time – sometimes from better understanding, further reflection, a widened horizon…sometimes just age and experience, I suppose. Nothing earth shattering. We do need to keep an open mind but it’s hard to remember that when things feel so personal.

  10. Here’s what a Democratic governor in the red state of Montana had to say about reaching out and having conversations:

  11. Outstanding and timely post! I see so many ranting and railing against Trump and his supporters (I am not a Trump supporter!) and I wonder if they missed the price Hillary paid for the “Basket of Deplorables” comment. If we can’t talk with each other like adults then we’re only going to get more divided. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it seems like there is a lot of fighting amongst the people that keeps them busy fighting each other instead of demanding better leadership and results in all levels of government.

    • Yeah, I saw that my behavior had been completely counterproductive. And I see a lot of progressives being completely counterproductive. They make the mistake of assuming that Trump voters are just cruel or stupid. They don’t take the time to try to understand why they see things the way they do and have actual conversations and discussions so that they can learn from each other.

  12. “Those convinced against their will, remain unconvinced still.” I wonder if it is possible for one person to change another persons mind on any topic. But I’m convinced that life, over time, has that power.

    • Yes, absolutely. I grew up Republican and then had a class where part of it was taught by someone on the left and someone on the right. After hearing both sides the left made more sense to me. I didn’t change immediately because I couldn’t believe that what my left-wing teacher said was true, and then I started paying attention to how Congress voted on things and saw that what he said was true. The right tends to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted – just take a look at the healthcare bill passed by the Republican House. Huge tax breaks for the wealthy and a lot of UN-rich Trump voters will lose their insurance. Many of them will either go bankrupt, suffer much more than they need to — maybe their entire lives — or die early.

      Otherwise, as I said, many people I’ve had conversations with who had voted for Trump started seeing things differently when we had our conversations. And I learned from them too. The young woman who did the Ted talk changed her mind. My students sometimes me that my class changed their way of seeing — not all of them. And even my dad is starting to vere out from FOXNews 24/7. He has added the Los Angeles Times to his repertoire.

      People who don’t care won’t change their minds, and people who think that changing your mind is a sign of weakness — instead of a sign of growth – won’t either. It also depends on the worldview that has been constructed in your mind. Sometimes new thoughts just won’t make sense based on how you understand the world.

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