In my “about me” description (see upper right), I mentioned that I’ve faced some ostracism within my circle of friends and colleagues for my political views. This was especially dramatic beginning with the buildup to the Iraqi war and ending with the 2004 Presidential election.
It hasn’t been pretty, and I’ve lost some of them, perhaps forever—sometimes merely by dint of saying something as mild as, “I disagree.” It’s not as though I insulted them—at least not knowingly or intentionally—but many have nevertheless acted as though they’d been insulted.
The situation would usually arise in the context of a party or a dinner or some other get-together among friends. I’d be at the table, chatting, joking, having a good time, and someone would bring up politics, the war, Bush—something. Then the vitriol would start, with the assumption that of course all of us agreed on these things: Bush was an asshole and a liar, the war a disaster and a crime, and so on and so on and so forth.
I’d be faced with the choice of speaking up or keeping silent. Sometimes I chose the latter, depending on the company, how long the conversation went on (passing remark vs. lengthy gabfest), and how strong I might be feeling that day.
Whenever I did decide to speak up, I tried to be quiet and respectful, and above all simple. I’d start by saying that I’d been a liberal Democrat my whole life (I’m one of you, not one of them, so don’t hate me, please!). I’d say I’d never voted for a Republican in my life (true). Then I’d say, in the mildest of voices, that nevertheless I happened to have come to agree with George Bush on quite a few aspects of his foreign policy.
First there was usually a stunned silence. At one party the person I was addressing asked me, “What did you say?” three times before she actually could process my answer and even understand the words I had said, much less react to them. Yes, every now and then people would be curious to hear what I had to say, and we would have a decent discussion. But far more often the anger would erupt, often instantaneously—and I mean rage, the like of which I had never before encountered with friends or acquaintances. A closed-mindedness, and a refusal to even listen to me. Most of these people had always seemed to respect my intelligence before, but now I was considered to be very very stupid—or evil. Gone over to the Dark Side.
Attacks. Name-calling: “imperialist,” “colonialist”—and, in one rather memorable case, “Dan Quayle lover,” although I certainly hadn’t breathed a word about any passion for him. Many of my friends were noticeably cooler to me after these exchanges, and a couple of old friends actually severed our relationship (permanently, so far).
There are a host of reasons this happened, I suppose. But at the time I didn’t see it coming, and it was extremely shocking and disturbing to me. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I think that I actually would have gotten a better response from them if I’d skipped the “I’ve always been a liberal Democrat” intro. Because there are few things more hated than an apostate, a turncoat, a traitor.
Someone who leaves the fold is much worse than someone who was never in it. There’s a special rage reserved for those who have rejected the ideas that others hold dear. I don’t think I ever said anything condescending to any of these people, but time and again they told me I was being condescending.
But when I thought about it, I realized that this perception of condescension was inevitable and unavoidable. After all, I was saying “I used to believe ‘A,’ but now I believe ‘B,’” and I was addressing people who continued to believe “A.” Under the circumstances, how could they fail to see me as condescending, whether I was really conveying that attitude or not?
Inherent in the idea of anyone changing his/her mind from one position to another is that the person must think the second position is superior to the first—else why the change? So, whether or not the changer intends to be condescending, the reader/listener hears condescension because in fact it is implicit in the situation. No way out of it, I’m afraid.