The following is an excerpt from I’m Right and You’re an Idiot.
It comes from the chapter with Roger Conner. Conner is an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt University. He has three decades of experience as a nonprofit executive, lobbyist, litigator, organizer, facilitator and social entrepreneur on issues including environmental protection to immigration reform and foster care.
At Vanderbilt Law School, while consulting to a couple of foundations, Conner witnessed how many public policy issues devolved into shoving matches in which neither side fully understood the problem. He saw people blinded by their own resentments and hatred. This happens because most of us have attitudes toward other people or groups that are determined by their behavior toward us. “If you behave like my enemy, I understand you are my enemy.” If you behave like a self-interested, profit-seeking, care-nothing-for-the-environment person and call me a liar, I see you as my enemy, Conner said. So we commonly allow our stance to be determined by other people’s behavior.
And this leads to what Conner calls the advocacy trap. People don’t start out as enemies — it happens in stages. When people disagree with us, we first question their views, but eventually we question their motives and intentions. When they persist in their disagreement with us, we start to perceive them as aggressors. When they criticize our cause or condemn our reasoning, our defence mechanisms kick in. We are offended and start to get angry. When both sides in an argument draw their stance from the perceived behavior of the other, people eventually start treating each other as not just wrong, but as wrongdoers, and then as enemies. Once that happens, it is almost impossible to do anything over a sustained period of time other than futilely push one another.
Conner observed that the advocacy trap is very much like other seductive but ultimately self-destructive pleasures. In the short run it provides attention, “from the all-important media and applause, not to mention money, from their base, but in the long run this behavior prevents them [advocates] from fulfilling the calling that drew them into public advocacy in the first place.”
Read the full excerpt: The Tyee–Are You Blinded By Righteous Anger?
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