We all know them – or have been them ourselves.
Connor and Khabib act like idiots even if they’re some of the world’s best and most disciplined UFC fighters.
Someone from our school of thought misreads the room, steps on some toes, and makes anyone who sides with them look like a jerk too.
Sometimes the people who are right in truth are wrong in action; which makes their position look wrong. And that makes it hard for those of us who agree with them. Cringe.
Same goes for the reverse. Think of those people you respect in life because of their sincerity or integrity (or coolness). Chances are, you’re much more likely to respect their views, just like you respect their person. Right or wrong.
But, and this is important: Misbehaviour does not falsify someone’s perspective. Nor does charisma make someone correct.
So what’s the call?
It’s simple, and yet so difficult at times: reject the behaviour (maybe: call it out) and acknowledge common ground. And do so respectfully.
Sacrificing truth at the altar of “virtue”
I see it again and again. Early in my University years it was Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists with their wit (and British accents) somehow popularizing terrible and weak arguments against Christianity. And they won many. Everyone loves Obama and wishes he was still president, not because they know a thing about his economics or policies, but because he was way classier than the guy who’s in office now!
Now to be sure, no one likes when the jerk is right, so it all makes sense. Why would I expect people to listen to me if I have no integrity? If I’m obnoxious or abrasive? If I never listen?
Yet ask also: if “virtue” is tied to a lie, is it virtue at all? Of course not.
We cannot sacrifice truth, not even on the altar of so-called morality.
And perhaps most important: an intellectual (or otherwise) opponent is still a human. So while there should probably be consequences for poor behaviour, a person should still be respected and not in any way dehumanized. Unlike the usual evisceration that happens on social media.
This’ll take practice. It’s hard to resist the knee-jerk comeback. It takes energy to show empathy and to actually think. It’s much easier to make fun of someone or just be nasty to them.
Grace leads to grace
Stephen Covey makes it an essential habit: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. James commands Christians: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Even in someone’s misbehaviour, I think these rules apply. Respect the person, reject bad behaviour, hear their ideas.
And we may be surprised: showing respect often yields respect. It could perhaps change a mind.
This was behind Jesus’ words: “love your enemies.” What’s the hope? That you would be enemies no more; that eventually you and they would come to a place of respect because of your common humanity and pursuit of truth; that you would acknowledge that before God you both fall short. That you can both be wrong. But that you are both valuable even if you are wrong, and so you must seek to understand one another.
Being correct is not enough; nor is simply being respectful or kind. Both truth and virtue must be held in tension, pursued with equal rigour. Only then are we treating a person as they should be treated.
Keep thinking friends. But keep respecting, too.