In the discussion of my post from last week about human connections across political divides, we were exploring the challenge of engaging with people whose views we do not share or even necessarily respect, without disrespecting the person or doing damage to relationships. This week, a young woman named Denise Helms gave me a real challenge.
(I’m not in relationship with her, but her comments trigger all sorts of reactions and disagreement.) On election night, she tweeted a complaint about the results, calling the President the “n” word and speculating (hoping?) that he might be assassinated in his second term. Her justification disturbed me at least as much as the initial tweet. In a follow up post, she wrote, “Apparently a lot of people in Sacramento think I’m crazy and racist. WOW is all I got to say!! I’m not racist and I’m not crazy. just simply stating my opinion.!!!” This is the kind of statement – that just “stating my opinion” in such an outrageous way couldn’t possibly be racist, and that she was perfectly entitled to do so without risking her standing as a reasonable person – that I find particularly difficult to hear calmly, without judgment, and without trying to educate, persuade and demonstrate the wrongness of the actions taken (speech, even in the form of a tweet, is action in my book). Some days I even whether it’s a virtue to try to hear it that way. What do you think?