How to Stop Being a Jerk and Be a Decent Human Being

The Internet has turned us all into disagreeing jerks.

Find a blog post about any topic where there might be two opinions. I’ll wait here.

Got it? Good. Now scroll to the bottom of the post and start reading the comments section. I guarantee you will see at least 2-3 of the people in that comments section spit out obscenities or insults that you just don’t hear people say to each other in person.

By taking away the face behind comments, we’ve turned each other into a bunch of detached cynics that enjoy screaming things at each other in caps lock because we don’t have to face the inevitable reactions of: “You’re a lousy human being and I’m going to go stand over here now.”

Why? Because that’s reality. That’s what happens when you flagrantly and angrily insult someone for no reason. You end up alone. So if you do it alone, then you won’t be hurt.

What a life.

How It Should Be

I recently read a wonderful snippet about the Scopes Trial. For those unfamiliar, the Scopes Trial was basically the big debate of whether or not to teach evolution or creationism in schools.

Now, when you think about opposing viewpoints that divide people online, you may think of any of the following:

  • Sports team
  • Politics
  • Sport
  • Gun control
  • Politics
  • Parenting style
  • Writing style
  • Politics
  • Global warming
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Politics
  • TV Shows
  • Celebrity life choices
  • Politics

…and the list goes on. But at the top of the list has to be religious beliefs. I’m a conservative Christian man who is not overly sensitive to offending comments, but good grief some of the vitriol that is spewed online towards Christianity is just shocking. It’s created a whole new society of oppression towards people of faith.

And some of those people of faith, of course, are not blameless. There are plenty of Christians out there that do the same thing. But then, we all get lumped into them.

This is all despite the fact that we live in a country that celebrates freedom, particularly freedom of worship.

Now, the debate of creationism versus evolution is a high-profile, big-ticket type of debate. It’s one of the core beliefs of our lives, one way or the other. So, you would think that people on the opposite sides of this trial would be using the media to insult each other, call each other names, and talk blatantly about how childish or naive or stupid the other side is.

The two attorneys in the case, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, would have none of that. Instead, they defended their viewpoints aggressively in court, but it never devolved into personal attacks on the other person. They both felt that the other person was wrong – and probably even a little ridiculous – but they didn’t resort to cheap shots and insults.

They treated each other like human beings.

Click on that link above that leads to the Wikipedia entry of the trial. If you scroll down, you’ll see a photograph of the two opposing lawyers sitting with each other and being all buddy-buddy. They didn’t hate each other just because they had different views on something.

In fact, after the trial was over, Bryan sent Darrow a small carved monkey as a token of the battle they had just waged. It was a lighthearted sign of respect.

They knew how to disagree cordially.

We Are a Nation – and World – Divided

There are way too many things that divide us as a people. That’s okay. It’s the nature of the world we live in and it is human nature to disagree. That’s not a debate, nor is it a problem.

But we keep making it a problem by the way we treat it.

We’ve forgotten what “separate but equal” really means. It means that there are groups that are different in certain ways, but we should be celebrating that and not ignoring it. We should be using those differences as starting points for discussion and education instead of pretending they don’t exist.

And most importantly, we should all be treating each other with basic human respect. We all have to live in this world together, so we might as well try to get along.

Think of all the different groups in this world that have devolved into hatred for really no logical reason:

  • Men and women
  • Gays and straight people
  • Christians and atheists
  • Whites and [insert pretty much any race here]
  • Kids and adults
  • Conservatives and liberals

You get the idea. These groups can all have different viewpoints in the world, and that’s what sparks intelligent discussion.

Instead, thanks to the online world, we’ve drawn more battle lines than ever. We’re incapable of having a serious discussion about the issues that affect any and all of these groups, because it turns into LALALA YOU’RE STUPID AND DUMB AND A BIG BUTTFACE AND YOU’RE THE REASON THIS COUNTRY IS IN THE TOILET.

It’s embarrassing. I understand that emotion plays a part, but come on. Let’s get a hold of ourselves.

William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow are lawyers. Most people agree that lawyers can be some of the most despicable and heartless people in the world – particularly the ones that handle high-profile cases. But these two men, despite being in a trial that was broadcast as far as the media could take it back then, remained cordial. They remained respectful.

They remained human beings.

That’s the difference. The next time you want to call someone an idiot for an opposing point of view, shut up for a second. Take the time to analyze what they’re saying. Look at the context of their argument. Stop looking for sentences to take out of context so that you can have your “GOTCHA” moment.

Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt. Learn something from an exchange of ideas. Educate yourself on their views.

And above all, show respect. The other person is a human being with a family, friends, and plenty to offer this world. Quit shutting them out.

That doesn’t mean you have to accept their views. I don’t. My views and beliefs are mutually exclusive to a lot of people’s viewpoints. I believe many people are wrong. But that doesn’t mean I think less of them.

Accept the person as a human being first. Then state your case.

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