I believe in saying what I believe without alienating others.
Every week or so, I get e-mails from friends or relatives which are usually venomous and always political. The e-mails are usually directed toward national leaders or policies. Other e-mails are directed toward my own local community leaders. Often these electronic mailings don’t even originate from a reliable source. My temptation has been to reply to the sender with capital letters, “Hey You, check your sources before sending me this trash!” The other temptation has been to respond to the false statements by vigorously defending what I think to be true. Sometimes, I have allowed these e-mails to sit in my inbox, just so I can have evidence that some ideas are just plain crazy. Most of the time, I do what is easy, and hit the delete button.
About two months ago, I received one e-mail that I thought was totally offensive and absurd. My anger was fueling a response to the e-mail when I stopped to think about it. So, I wrote a wise friend in another part of the country and sought some direction. My question to her was, “Should I respond? If I respond, how should I even begin?” I realized that if I responded to such venom, I would receive another response, therefore engaging a discussion which I did not start in the first place. And, who was I to believe that I could change the mind of this person, who passionately believed in issues as differently as I believed? I was perplexed. I began to realize that hitting the delete button was not as easy anymore. I had incredibly strong feelings about the issue at hand and believed that such issues needed to be addressed. But I also wanted to keep the relationship I had with that person. It was a vulnerable moment.
My wise friend reminded me that people change because of relationships and personal experiences. My own understanding of the world did not evolve overnight. I had mentors, close friends, and counselors who listened to me struggle and ask questions. These relationships gave me my own sense of security to step outside a comfort zone and change my own belief systems that were more inclusive and thoughtful.
What I realized in this conversation is that people just want to be heard.
So this week, I received another one of those awful e-mails. This time, the e-mail was from an old college friend. The mailing was attacking one of our national leaders, who in essence I agree with. And, the source of the mailing was again, not what I thought to be reliable. This time, I did not hit the delete button. This time, I responded.
“Dear friend. I am so glad to have heard from you. I appreciate you sharing with me your feelings about how this person has led our country. I can see that you are angry and disappointed with the way things are right now. While I love discussing this issue, I must say to you that in the honesty of our relationship, I disagree with the article and support this leader. If you would like to talk with me in person about these issues, feel free to call me. Perhaps we can come up with some creative ideas. If you are not able to call me, I would enjoy getting other types of e-mails from you that offer kind words and updates about you or our friends. Give your children my love. Sincerely, JoEllen”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.