Today I could not hold it anymore. I had to say what I thought to an ex-classmate. I had enough and was frustrated that no one else objected to the borderline sectarian opinions. But what does it achieve?

We are a group of 70 people in a WhatsApp group. The group exists for 6 years. We talk about everything. It has been a great source of knowledge and a fantastic way to look at situations from different lenses. The 70 people in the group are without exception bright. Moreover, they come from all other the world and probably represent all the different walks of life.  Ask a question about Greek philosophers or latest trends in Taiwan, someone will have informed insight.  

What went wrong? Other the past couple of months, just like the whole world, conversations started to be more and more about politics. Not just the “classics”, like Trump. The group discussed refugees & migrants in Europe, Brazil presidential elections. That was all good at first for me. We are so different that we have loads of different opinions. But as the conversations were progressing something did not sit right with me.  I could not put my finger on it though. I was not even sure if something was wrong with the conversation or if it was me being in a foul mood for any random reasons. After all, I believe in people having different perspectives, and I am used to respecting them (in my honest opinion), even the wild ones. So how come every time I saw the WhatsApp group notification I started to boil from inside even before reading any new messages.

What is the problem? There are more than one:

  1. Using smoking mirrors to hide your views: Having narrow views and opinions standing for them for what they are. I respect that. I even recognize if you debate and defend your beliefs.  What bothered me is when you pretend your views are not what they are using a series of smoking mirrors.  Especially when it seems that you are using that crafty language to confuse people about your views. The rest of the group and me is no longer debating; this is manipulating at best and lying through your teeth at worst. 
  2. People are jumping on the illiberal bandwagon:  As soon as it became clearer that we were on the edge of intolerant comments, I expected the whole group to jump in and expose the flaws. Wrong. People preferred to deflect, minimize the comments. 
  3. Some & I pretend to ignore the situation: You know when you stumble upon two people fighting in the street, and there are already people looking at them struggling. Nobody is doing anything and as a result, you are also doing nothing. Well, that was the rest of the group and me. I think I was mad at myself for being a bystander for too long. And the reasons why I was a bystander were even worse. How the group perceives you may in some situation have an impact on your future. By default, I, and others perhaps, could tend to wait for things to pass and not disturb the peace. 
  4. Crossing the line: Free speech and opinions have limits. When you start to casually talk about serious issues as if it is not a thing, it should raise a red flag.

I opened my mouth, what’s the point? I know and so should you too by now, that the best way to get someone to change their point of view is to first show empathy, build rapport and engage in a dialogue.  Flat out telling people they are wrong almost never make them change their opinion.

So I initially felt awful. Because I lost the opportunity to productively engage with someone whose achievements I value.  I also disturbed the peace in a well-oiled group. And eventually also burnt some business connections.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. I see this message from Kaepernick every day at the moment on my way to the office.  And it reminds me that I need to stand for what I believe. In this situation, it should not have been about me or my feelings. It should have been about what I believe and pushing that cause forward.

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