A fantastic piece in the New York Times this morning by David Brooks. It's on my current obsession, too, and it says exactly what I mean - just possibly more elegantly.
For example, you can’t have a civil conversation with people who are intent on destroying the rules that govern conversation itself. It’s fruitless to engage with people who are impervious to facts. There are some ideas — like racism — that are so noxious they deserve no recognition in any decent community. There are some people who are so consumed by enmity that the only thing they deserve is contempt.
You’re not going to change these people’s minds anyway. If you give them an opening, you’re just going to give them room to destroy the decent etiquette of society. Civility is not a suicide pact. As Benjamin DeMott put it in a famous 1996 essay for the Nation, “When you’re in an argument with a thug, there are things much more important than civility.”
And yet the more I think about it, the more I agree with the argument Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter made in his 1998 book “Civility.” The only way to confront fanaticism is with love, he said. Ask the fanatics genuine questions. Paraphrase what they say so they know they’ve been heard. Show some ultimate care for their destiny and soul even if you detest the words that come out of their mouths.
You engage fanaticism with love, first, for your own sake. If you succumb to the natural temptation to greet this anger with your own anger, you’ll just spend your days consumed by bitterness and revenge. You’ll be a worse person in all ways.
If, on the other hand, you fight your natural fight instinct, your natural tendency to use the rhetoric of silencing, and instead regard this person as one who is, in his twisted way, bringing you gifts, then you’ll defeat a dark passion and replace it with a better passion. You’ll teach the world something about you by the way you listen. You may even learn something; a person doesn’t have to be right to teach you some of the ways you are wrong.
Second, you greet a fanatic with compassionate listening as a way to offer an unearned gift to the fanatic himself. These days, most fanatics are not Nietzschean supermen. They are lonely and sad, their fanaticism emerging from wounded pride, a feeling of not being seen.
If you make these people feel heard, maybe in some small way you’ll address the emotional bile that is at the root of their political posture.
... a person doesn’t have to be right to teach you some of the ways you are wrong. True, true, and true. We should all have this tattooed on our brain.