How to Make and Choose Friends, and How to Influence People

According to Facebook I have seven hundred and ninety-five friends.  Of course that number includes people who asked me to be friends because we know someone in common… but I have have never met them before; it includes people with whom I have agreed with on matters debated or discussed, but have also never met.  This particular article is about someone I have met, have known for fifteen years, and with whom I had a serious disagreement this week, even though we are squarely on the same side of the political argument.

canada_flag_quebecWith apologies to all of my friends (in the meat world as well as in cyberspace) who share that name, I will call him Steve.  That is not his real name.  However to give you a profile, he is a Caucasian, English-speaking Montrealer of Jewish heritage.  He is passionate about several things, not the least of which are rock and roll and, as I discovered this week, the politics of the province of Quebec.

Since the premiere of Quebec announced the April election last week my friend Steve has posted several very strong posts on Facebook about voting against the Parti Quebecois (PQ).  While I no longer have a vote in Quebec (I left the province for greener pastures in 2007) I do have an opinion, and on this I happen to agree with him.  Were I living in Quebec there is no way I would ever vote for the PQ.  To steal a line from the comic troupe of Bowser and Blue, PQ stands for pack quickly.

Wednesday evening Steve posted another of his posts to the effect of ‘The PQ are bad.’  Several of us replied (none of whom disagreed with Steve) but then he posted something that worried me: ‘The PQ are evil… all of them.’

ViveLeQuebec_880Wow… strong words.  I responded something to the effect that while they are certainly (in my opinion) misguided, I doubt that they are actually evil.  He responded ‘The PQ and their #^%& leader are evil period! she is a racist @^%#$!

Wow… stronger words.  I answered that while I do not disagree that Pauline Marois is racist, that does not make every member of her party (and everyone who votes for them) evil. To this Steve replied:

TO ME EVERY MEMBER OF THE PQ IS EVIL BECAUSE FOR ME IF YOU LIKE THEM YOU ARE RACIST! FOR ME NO OPINION JUST A FACT!

Although our debate continued for a few lines on his wall, he then took it into private messaging, where he tried to clarify his position.  Unfortunately he continued to use words like ‘evil’ and ‘enemy’ claiming that he refused to speak to anyone who was on the other side of the question.  He said things like ‘I am fighting for the English, and for my rights, and I will fight until they are all gone.’  The following is the transcript of the private conversation:

Steve My mind set will never change to these PQ pigs and I don’t care who is part of it, I hate them all. they hate me for being English, they are racist towards Muslims, you don’t see it as you don’t live here anymore. if you did you’d think as me.

Mitch You are very wrong Steve. I agree with almost everything that you say… I just know that saying things the way you say them will never change anyone’s mind… except to make radicals MORE radical. Yes, they are the ‘enemy’ but if you want to change their minds then TALKING and not SCREAMING is the only way it will ever happen.

Steve As long as they are PQ they are my enemy. if they leave the PQ then it’s okay. anyone and I mean anyone in the PQ or anyone supports them enemy #1.

Mitch Then you are never going to accomplish anything. Dude, I served in the IDF – I know what an enemy is. I also know that when I stood in the room with Rabin and Arafat they were both trying to make things better.

Steve This is how I feel. I hate any PQ supporter and to me they are an enemy. I support all our Canadian troops and I thank them everyday. Canadian troops.

Mitch So let’s say they ARE the enemy… how are you going to change their minds if you refuse to talk to them?

Steve They don’t have minds. if I had my way I’d get rid of all of them.

Mitch So then what makes you any better than them? You are just as racist as they are.

Steve i am against them yes but i am fighting for everyone else they hate or insulted. I have no problem telling them how dumb, stupid, ignorant, no brain people they are. Sorry but i will not change my mind.

Steve Oh i am better then any PQ member.

Mitch You aren’t fighting for anything… you are yapping on Facebook and preaching to the choir. No, you are no better than them… not if you say they are all dumb, stupid, ignorant, and brainless they are.

Mitch By the way, I want you to remember that through all this YOU AND I AGREE WITH EACH OTHER… we just look at things very differently.

Steve they are all that and more. For example: 1) At the Jewish (General Hospital) one dumb bitch threw a tomato at a guy for talking English; he could have died cause he is allergic; 2) at the Verdun hospital a couple was thrown out cause they spoke English, now tell me to they deserve respect? Fuck no and my rants I am doing more.

Mitch You think that because of two assholes they are all evil? There are 8,000,000 people in this province, and frankly a lot of them are ignorant morons whose minds you will never change. However the rest of them might be willing to listen and those are the ones to talk to.

Steve One more time, if you support the PQ you are evil period!

Mitch For the record I have Palestinian friends… and more than two Palestinians have tried to kill me outright, no tomatoes. Does that make them all terrorists?

Mitch Then Steve you are simply closed-minded and will never change anyone’s mind. You can’t be any better than they are if you think they are all the same. Good luck to you, I’m never going to change your mind, and I am not going to waste any more time on a futile mission.

Steve Good!

Quebec1Wow… He has very strong words, and very strong opinions, but is as closed-minded as any separatist péquiste I have ever met.  It doesn’t matter that I agree with his basic position, it is even lost on me because of his fanaticism.  Even if anyone from the other side were to hear what he is saying he could never change anyone’s mind – if you start with the position that ‘you are stupid and brainless and a racist’ the other person is going to shut down immediately even before they hear your words… it is a simple fact of life, and one that took me far too long to really learn, to the detriment of many friends and opportunities.

cka_let-us-be-caI remember when I moved back to Quebec from Israel in 1997; there was a man named Howard Galganov was running a group called the Quebec Political Action Committee (QPAC), an organization aimed at fighting for the rights of Anglophone Quebecers.  I wouldn’t say that it was a militant group, but they were certainly outspoken.  A friend of mine encouraged me to join up ‘to protect our rights.’ 

Now I am all for protecting rights and freedoms, but having just come back from Israel where I spend thirty months in an army uniform (very often in parts of the country – and neighbouring countries – that were not friendly to Jews).  Maybe we were taught a different meaning of the word ‘enemy’ over there, but even having grown up in Quebec (I remember the referendum in 1980, and I remember holding my breath with everyone else for the results of the referendum in 1995) I could not picture the French Canadians taking up arms to kick out the English… this despite the FLQ that held the province hostage in 1970 (see article).

I asked my friend what the point of the group was, and his answer was simply to fight the enemy, to make sure that we were not pushed out.  He told me that we were going to have to fight for our freedom.

Harsh words…

I told my friend that I would not be joining QPAC.  He tried to protest, but I cut him off, and told him that if he wanted to see what real enemies were, what real strife was, then he should get onto a plane and visit places like Gaza.  I told him that I wanted to take Mr. Galganov and his equivalent on the separatist side to where I spent the last two and a half years to spend a week learning about what problems were; I said they would be French-kissing on the flight home once they saw what real problems were.

I don’t know when I learned it, but one of the more important lessons I have learned as a communicator is that even if more people hear you when you yell, more people listen when you don’t.  I can’t think of too many cases where I have yelled and convinced someone that I was right.  Speaking calmly and making a good case might not convince your political opponents to change their minds, but yelling at them will not convince them.  Your mother told you that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar… unless you are fishing I don’t know why you would want to catch flies, but she was right.

While I was in Montreal I was looking for a parking spot on Queen Mary Road (chemin de la Reine Marie) and I found a great one, right across from the restaurant.  I signaled, pulled in front of it to back in, and as I was backing up another car pulled into half the spot.  It really was just like that episode of Seinfeld (http://youtu.be/egsdc7tZ_xc).  I got out of my car and yelled – it was extremely loud – that he obviously knew I was backing into the spot, so why did he want to cause problems.  The driver of the other car knew I was right, but he yelled back – not to get lost, simply to stop yelling.  When I lowered my voice, he backed away and gave me the spot.

So what point am I trying to make?  It is obviously not political, as Steve and I agree on the salient points.

  1. Yelling, screaming, and name-calling will not convince anyone to do anything but dig their heels in.
  2. If you want to change peoples’ minds, you have to speak to them.  Simply yelling at people who agree with you will not change anyone’s mind.
  3. You may not agree with someone, but if you want to fix things you should try to understand their point of view – as offensive as it might be to you.
  4. Refusing to talk to the people with different views as your own will only ensure that they will always have different views as your own.
  5. Wisdom trumps loud.  Even when quiet wisdom is drowned out by loud screaming, it does not make the wisdom any less right nor the loud any more so.

If any of what I am saying sounds exactly like me, then you have probably not known me longer than five years.  By nature as well as by upbringing I am a loud, in-your-face type of person.  I have spent years trying to change that, and today I am (mostly) seen as a reasonable voice of reason type.  That did not come to me easy or naturally, but it was among the most important lessons I have learned as an adult.

I have not lived in the same city as my parents in several years, and as such they have not seen the transformation in me; so when my father says something like ‘you are exactly like your mother’ he doesn’t realize that it is among the most hurtful things he can say to me (aside from nagging me about my weight).  It may be in my nature, and it may be how I was nurtured, but that does not mean it is how I have to live my life.

I hope the Parti Quebecois do not win the upcoming elections in Quebec; if they do, I hope they do not win any referendum on separation that they may hold.  But more than that, I am truly hopeful that the people whose jobs it is to convince the moderates to vote against them is nothing like my friend ‘Steve.’  I hope they are reasonable and convincing, and do not just shout out and insult the opposition.

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