You’ve probably seen in the press lately that a high school kid wore a traditional Chinese dress to her prom and was promptly ridiculed and abused for cultural appropriation. This, in turn, led to counter-abuse claiming that she has the right to wear whatever she wants and that anybody who feels differently is acting like a PC crybaby.
After looking at this case and many others like it, I’ve concluded that the main issue is that nobody has any manners or common sense. Because it seems like both of these would be useful things to have, I’m going to explicitly write out the rules for life that will cause everybody to get along. Here goes:
Rule 1: Don’t intentionally make other people feel bad.
If you do something that you know will upset somebody, you’re a jerk. Before you do something that will affect other people, ask yourself the following question: “Is it likely, based on what a reasonable person knows, that this will make somebody else feel bad?” If the answer is yes, then don’t do it.
Applications: Name-calling, ad hominem attacks, lies, etc.
Rule 2: Try not to take everything personally.
If somebody does something that makes you feel bad, ask yourself the following question: “Did they try to make me feel bad by doing this?” If the answer is “yes”, then feel free to get angry and open up a can of whoop-ass on them. If the answer is “no” – even if you’ve been terribly offended – you’re not right to be mad at them. Instead, you should focus on letting them know why you’re offended and how they can avoid it in the future. If you’re speaking to somebody who follows rule 1, that should fix it.
Rule 3: Always act in a polite and mannered way, even when other people don’t.
I heard something on NPR that describes this perfectly: The speaker was talking about how Republicans in Congress had unfairly blocked legislation during the Obama administration, so she was going to give them a taste of their own medicine by doing the same. This doesn’t make sense. If you think that somebody is behaving badly, you’re not allowed to behave badly in response. The only people who are allowed to behave like this are second graders and Kardashians. For God’s sake, be polite.
Rule 4: People should be called whatever they want to be called
If you want to shut down any future dialogue with somebody, call them a name that they find offensive or demeaning. Pro-choicers, do you really think that you’re helping establish a dialogue by calling your opponents “anti-choice”? Pro-lifers, do you really think that calling your opponents “baby killers” will spark a healthy conversation? Those of us who are older have trouble figuring out what a transgendered person is, or what a cis- person is, or any of those other confusing and scary terms. Being a good person means that it’s our job to figure this out and refer to people in whatever way they wish. Sure, we may screw up, but as long as we don’t do it intentionally, we can fix the problem without too much trouble.
Rule 5: Remember that people who don’t agree with you aren’t evil
People generally believe things because they have what seems to them to be a good reason for doing so. Whether it actually is a good reason or not depends on the belief, with some being better than others. However, it’s rare to find people who believe things simply because they wish to hurt somebody else. Consider this when you disagree with somebody about something important. Some examples:
- Gun control: People who like guns aren’t baby killers – they’re people who wish to defend their homes and/or hunt. People who like gun control aren’t trying to destroy this country – they’re trying to keep people from being shot.
- Abortion: People who are pro-life don’t hate women – they simply believe the fetus is the moral equivalent to the mother. People who are pro-choice aren’t indifferent to human life – they simply believe that women should have the right how to handle an issue that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
- Politics: People who like Donald Trump aren’t stupid – they voted for a guy who promised to change how things are done in Washington and he’s doing that. People who hate Donald Trump don’t hate America – they just believe that the President is steering the country in the wrong direction.
Every issue is the same. Even the vilest people believe that they are in the right, so if you want to engage them, you have to be respectful of their beliefs. It’s only when you engage with them that you can change their minds.
I hope that these rules make your life better in every way. Feel free to share them with your friends and family and to use them to improve the world.