Confession: I Wimped Out

Our longest-lasting neighbors, now approaching their 80’s, are as nice a pair as I could imagine. When we moved into the cul de sac 40 years ago, we were the neighborhood’s young blood. Their two children were pre-teens; our son was 15 years from existing at all. Through the years, Red and Beth have helped us in every way imaginable. Red’s old pick-up truck hauled the set of my theater company’s first production. Beth has provided barbecued chicken, home harvested honey and pickles. We’ve dined together and partied in each others’ homes. Now their Husky-German Shepard mix ( a designer breed with the ridiculous name “Gerberian Shepsky”), Peaches, is Spuds’ best playmate.

I was sitting with Red in our neighbor’s back yard watching the two dogs run and frolic, when for no discernible reason, he launched into a diatribe about about his cousin’s wife. “She’s ‘an intelligent, educated woman with 6 grandkids, and yet she just thinks Donald Trump is wonderful. She actually voted for him! This is a woman, and she supports a man who has been charged with all these sexual assaults and even rape, and who cheated on all his wives and paid off mistresses and porn stars. Jack, I just can’t understand it.”

And I just sat there, smiling sympathetically, shaking my head like Angela Lansbury did on “Murder She Wrote” after about the sixth season when she started phoning it in. I didn’t point out that the President hasn’t been “charged” with anything, or that there are plenty of valid reasons a woman might reasonable decide to support his Presidency despite his obvious sexism and misogyny, or that it is at least as absurd for any women to support a political party that nominates a serial, photographically-proven sexual harasser (who has also been accused of rape) after making #MeToo its battle cry, or the party that continued to lionize Bill Clinton and that counts among its icons Jack Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all of whom engaged in some of the conduct Red was deploring while in the White House, not just in their wile, pre-presidential days.

Then Red went off on the President’s challenges to the election. It was clear, as it has been before in periodic conversations with both Beth and Red, that they are victims of daily misinformation (the Washington Post is on their walk every day) and have been credulous victims of all the Big Lies.

I didn’t say a thing except appear to agree. That, of course, was dishonest.

But I couldn’t see the point in trying to undo years of propaganda while our dogs were playing, only to have Red tell someone else about his supposedly educated and intelligent lawyer neighbor who “loves Donald Trump,” thus making me the loser on the Cognitive Dissonance Scale.

After 40 years, it just didn’t seem worth it. But I’m the zealous advocate for our duty to confront.

Now I’m disgusted with myself, but I’ll be bringing Spuds over to their house to play, and to have a nice, neighborly chat with my well-meaning, ignorant friends.

41 thoughts on “Confession: I Wimped Out

  1. If you live a life without learning how to compromise, you will end it alone. I don’t think you were cowardly at all. Your neighbors are too set in there ways to be convinced of anything else. You would have just worsened your friendship and your daily lives.

      • Not the same. The Dems are not planning on industrially murdering tens of millions of innocent people. There’s still the rule of law and checks and balances and there will be other elections. There will also always be idiotic voters. Plus, you write this blog. That’s enough confrontation for ten or a hundred people.

      • I understand why it’s necessary to stand for what’s right. It’s hard to place both the you hypothetical and your anecdote on the same level. In your anecdote it’s a conversation about a man of odious character being maligned unfairly but we can’t say he didn’t bring it on himself, with his hot takes and tweeting. Your hypothetical is more about unjustified anger towards people who aren’t placing themselves in the public space and making themselves a potential target. In both contexts obviously the absolute right thing is to stand up to your neighbor. Yet for the sake of Trump a man who won’t even do the ethical thing for his own benefit. I feel you can be forgiven for not tossing a 40 year relationship

      • They’re in their 80’s. I have the same answer even about 1930’s/Germany/Jews. You’re not going to change their minds, just make your life and theirs less pleasant and gain nothing.

        • I beg to differ. I just turned 80 and I am as open-minded as ever. Though I can’t say I’ve been challenged much since the time in early 70s that a strange female sporting an Oxford University sweatshirt but an American accent interrupted a sidewalk (but obviously private) conversation between me and my female co-worker to refer to her plans at “a girls’ night out” as “Wrong! Don’t you know you can’t say that! If she’s past 13, she’s a WOMAN!!” All we could do was laugh. We were in Japan at the time, so we didn’t pay much attention except to express annoyance (bordering on anger, in my case) that anyone, much less a stranger, could tell me what I can or cannot say. Feminism wasn’t leaking into the country at that point — not that it’s the leading philosophy now, either — so that it wasn’t until I returned to the US in the latter part of the decade that I learned what stupidity had being going on since I’d left. I was not only being told what to say, but also what to think. I knew which side my sanity was welded on after that.

          I have no qualms about arguing (temperately) any subject, but I’ve never heard nor read anything worthwhile from the Left-Behind-the-Middle. Fortunately, since their New and Progressive religion does not brook any discussion but only encourages proselytizing — and does not include any of the wonderful friends and neighbors remaining from the larger social group I once enjoyed — I don’t have any qualms about (quietly) shutting the door in the faces of such practitioners. The exceptions are part of Jack’s reasoning: people who are older than I am, who are infirm or insane, mentally. However, after learning some painful lessons, I no longer exempt anyone I know on the basis of physical infirmity, and I can’t automatically like people because they are nice or have really delightful pets. But I will be nice back to nice people, especially if they have really delightful pets.

  2. I am guilty of this as well. I recently moved out of Washington state. Everyday while at work in WA I smiled and kept my thoughts to myself. Truly, my job was on the line if I had been honest with my co-workers and bosses. However, more than I can describe, I have been stricken with the idea that I should have been speaking up, and now I must. I don’t see any more details in your blog about our Duty to Confront. Will you please expand on this?

  3. Hi – First time commenter and I’ve been in your shoes.
    These days it’s a delicate balance of diplomacy. So you wimped. Dust yourself off and try again. Don’t give up. Obviously Red was venting about his cousin’s wife, and not about what he knew about you.

    Here are my suggestions: Don’t go for direct confrontation. One option is to find out more about how he feels for the cousins wife, and ask him if he is interested in knowing her own how’s and why’s with patience enough to truly listen. Another attempt is to learn more about Red, and ask him more about why it bothers him so much. Acknowledge the difficulty to understand opposing viewpoints, even with a desire to understand. At some point, confirm your understanding of Red back to him, so he knows you feel him. And then ask him more questions about how ‘sure’ he is, like 100% or only 80%? See if there’s any room for opening his mind, any potential for instilling doubt. Ask if there are any conditions that his belief could be wrong? If dealing with someone 100% sure and no conditions to be wrong, that’s a brick wall. If Red is truly a brick wall, at least you’ll have found out.

    I’m still practicing to make this effort with others, based on James Lindsey’s and Peter Boghossian’s concepts to ‘speak truth in the face of danger’ and have impossible conversations. It’s not easy, but it is a way forward.

    Thank you for your blog. A friend recently shared it with me and after looking around, I signed up.

    • Welcome, Mrs President Elect. Excellent advice. For me, the factors mitigating against direct confrontation include the age of the neighbor, and that it occurred in the neighbor’s home. Having had a family member come into our home and accuse us of voting for a racist and a fascist, for the same vacuous reasons as Jack’s neighbor, I understand the urge to bite back.

      I hope you find the dialog engaging and thought-provoking. All viewpoints are welcome here . . . well, within reason. Jack bans threats of violence, direct personal attacks, and a few other unpleasantries.

      jvb

      PS: Congratulations on your victory. It was a long, hard fight.

  4. The duty to speak out does not require you to throw yourself on your sword out of principle. It was clear to you, due to cognitive disonance as you described, that a frontal assault would be futile. You wouldn’t have convinced them of anything and you would have lost your friendship, along with the opportunity to influence them in the future.

    What I prefer to do in such situations is what I think of as planting seeds. With someone with very strong opinions, it takes time to influnce their thinking without offending them. I’ll leave them with little bit to think about, and with each conversation add a little more. It takes patience, but I believe it’s a lot more effective than direct confrontation, and it will keep you as friends.

    In the situation you describe, I would have agreed with them that Trump is an asshole, and it’s difficult to understand how anyone could vote for him. I believe this, and I know you do to, since it took you months to decide to vote for him, even after it was clear to you that he was the only thing standing between America as we know it and the abyss, as we discussed in another thread.

    After saying that, though, I would say something small about how I was troubled by Biden’s actions, and why, and how it would be difficult for me to vote for him as well. I wouldn’t push it. I would just let that percolate. Even if they disagreed, I wouldn’t argue the point. Then in another conversation I would continue my questioning of Biden and the Democrats, hoping to slowly move them down on the cognitive disonance scale.

    One thing I always tell my kids: when they get into an argument, they can either be right or they can get what they want. They can’t always have both. You need to guage who you’re talking with, in both their opinions and their emotions, and modulate your words to what they can handle.

    • I was going to say something similar to this. Sympathize with how you understand how challenging it is to support someone like Donald Trump (because you were there, too), plant a few small seeds of how some people find it hard to support Biden or something like that and move to another subject quickly. There’s no need to present your neighbor with an itemized list of everything wrong with his position.

      Yes, there’s a duty to confront…but, please, pick your battles wisely.

  5. The duty to confront does not mean you need to confront an aging guy sitting in his yard or yours, who has been a friend for many years, just because he has listened to the prevalent media. In fact, consider whether there might even be an ethical principle suggesting the opposite: no reason to offend friends when you can’t change their minds and you know damn well that we have been through these political cycles — some worse — historically, and the Republic survives. Additionally, we both agree that it is well past time for Trump to stop the efforts of his (apparently) Court jester, Rudy. It will be very interesting to see what, if anything, America’s former mayor presents to a court and whether he violates the code of ethics.

  6. Jack wrote, “This is a woman, and she supports a man who has been charged with all these sexual assaults and even rape, and who cheated on all his wives and paid off mistresses and porn stars. Jack, I just can’t understand it.”

    Here is a hindsight way of approaching that particular subject with your neighbor;

    “Donald Trump is a real jerk; but, charged? I think charged is the wrong word because he actually hasn’t been charged for any of those things, but accused certainly fits the bill. Since we have a Constitution and we’re we’re innocent until proven guilty in the United States maybe your cousin’s wife just doesn’t believe the accusations until they’ve actually been proven. Maybe you could understand her opinion better if you think about it like that.”

  7. As an owner of a business for 30+ years I have several examples of people who worked for me and were not well liked by their co-workers. In almost every case, they earned their dislike and in a few cases were truly assholes. In spite of their offensive personalities, all were exceptionally good at their jobs which made everyone else’s job easier and improved everyone’s earnings. I see Trump in much the same way–an obnoxious man whose achievements made life better for us. When I put this argument to almost anyone, starting out with the question, “Have you ever worked with someone whose personality you found offensive but was good at what he did?”, I find a chink in the cognitive dissonance armor. It’s not always as convincing as I’d like but it does start the conversation. The same argument can be used for pointing out the negatives of life-long politicians (i.e. Biden) since almost everyone has stories about someone who worked their way up the corporate ladder doing very little but got ahead by always working the angles.

  8. Sometimes it’s just not the time for that kind of conversation. He was venting frustrations to a friend and you did exactly what you should’ve… listened and enjoyed the dogs playing. It’s the context of it all.

      • People who loved Obama – with the exception of his family – scared me too.

        Loving Trump may soon become mandatory amongst his supporters. It came all too close with Obama.

        Tell me, Jack, did his views decrease your opinion of your neighbour? I’d be willing to bet that if you had aired your views to him, his opinion of you would not have decreased either.

        I personally cannot understand sometimes how you can think the way you do. I suspect you think the same of me. I guess we just have to continue talking with one another, with goodwill.

        Regards to the canines.

        • No. Especially no, since it is now so difficult to get balanced and minimally useful information from the news media, and to avoid the pollution of one’s bubble. Since I was raised to be an iconoclast, an individualist and a contrarian, the bubble never affected me too much, though the greater culture did.

      • People who love Donald Trump scare me.

        *sings*
        A new Argentina, a new age about to begin
        A new Argentina, we face the world together
        And no dissent within

        It’s kind of funny your last interaction with Zoe about Covid had me singing Morrissey.

        And if a double-decker bus crashes into us
        To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die
        And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us
        To die by your side well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine

  9. Disgusted? Following your account it seems to me you have no reason to feel ‘disgusted’ with yourself, other than perhaps that you feel a duty to ‘confront’; a signature sign in my view of unreasonable certainty. You don’t point to any factual error. Your neighbour’s view is not clearly irrational. It just happens to be different to yours.

    Should you not accept with grace that there is room for a difference of opinion? Perhaps you might even enjoy exploring why your views differ so much? Isn’t such dialogue important? You don’t have to agree.

    You have been quick in previous posts to point out the silliness of ‘whataboutism’ and here you seem to be doing just that. Disapproving of Donald Trump’s behaviour does not necessarily imply approval of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, or JFK or FDR. Of course your account may be incomplete, but there is no reason here to imply that your neighbour is a hypocrite or senile.

    More broadly I am mightily saddened to hear of so many relationships fracturing because of differences of opinion. The working conclusion that those holding views that differ from mine must be stupid, corrupt or misinformed is rarely totally convincing.

    • There have been no “charges.” If one doesn’t comprehend how a woman can support misogynist Trump, then one must no t be aware of the irrefutable evidence of sexual harasser Biden. If one is bothered by rape-accused Trump, then one must be either unaware of the rape accusation against Biden. If a woman is absurd for supporting Trump, why isn’t the a woman equally absurd for supporting the Party that enabled and excused Bill Clinton from 1992-2016?

      Operate from the same set of facts, and I’ll accept a difference of opinion. Demonstrate an ignorance of facts that make your opinion unsupportable and ridiculous, and that’s not respectable…and should be confronted, in a vacuum.

      And friends shouldn’t let friends stay ignorant.

  10. It’s funny. I didn’t hear any rebuttal from Red’s cousin. Seems Red is the wimp. Has he ever had the backbone to have a conversation with her? Is she wrong for “loving” Trump? Does he truly believe he is “right” in his hatred for Trump? We can all “prove” we are right, but is God convinced? I think not.

    It’s not Jack’s fault or responsibility to mend or change Red’s way of thinking. With some people, we must just be kind and neighborly, and there I think Jack continues to make the right choice.

  11. Jack, my next door neighbor is about ten years older than I am, and I’m no spring chicken. He is everything one could want in a neighbor – fun to be with, generous with time and tools. We share garden advice and each spring I bring him started plants he hasn’t tried; this year, it was tomatillos and celery root. He loved them both.

    When my mother was still alive (I moved into her house) there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her, including some stuff that was actually kind of pointless (such as boarding up windows before storms in which the wind comes from the other side of the house). In many ways, he’s an inspiration to me.

    And several weeks ago, he went off on a rant similar to the one you describe, driven by the same horrendously unethical news reporting. I didn’t challenge. There would be no point in it. I wouldn’t have changed his mind, and doing so would have served no purpose and it could well have damaged a friendship that I value.

    Is picking one’s battles an unethical concept?

      • Aye, and there are times when he and I HAVE talked politics. He’s a relatively open-minded guy, once I share info the local parrot cage liner ignores. There is a time and a place for everything. That encounter? Neither.

  12. One reason I wrote this post is that I have been so emphatic in past posts about our duty to combat disinformation, misinformation, indoctrination and bias, all of which flourish if we hesitate to correct the record for fear of animus and hurting feelings. Social media is the obvious battlefield: I’ve been yelled at, blocked and de-friended for commenting on friends’ Facebook pages when they advance Big Lies and outright false narratives. “How dare you go on my page and tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about?’ they protest. “How dare you spread lies and misinformation?” I respond.

    Red’s kind, smart wife went of a rant months ago about Kyle Rittenhouse, and how gun laws let teenagers buy “automatic weapons” and just wander the streets with them so they can shoot blacks. How many false data points in THAT statement? I let that one pass too, and it was on my mind when I listened to Red.

      • I don’t wear any garb that makes statements, especially ambiguous statements. And I’ve got better things to do than fending off assholes who want to harass me because of teh hat I’m wearing: when I was in Yankee Stadium, I left the Boston cap in my hotel.

        I also believe that nobody should be dissuaded from giving their opinions, as long as it’s an informed opinion, or they are willing to hear why they are full of crap.

        • I don’t wear any garb that makes statements, especially ambiguous statements.

          You have in the past written here about buying and wearing a MAGA hat so I have to ask when exactly you decided not to wear statement garb?

        • Jack wrote, “I don’t wear any garb that makes statements”

          I’m right with you there. I also don’t were anything that advertises, I won’t even buy Nike shoes because of the unremovable “swish” logo. The last thing that I wore that had writing on it, said ARMY or U.S. Army and my name, that was a very long time ago.

  13. I don’t think you have to go full on confrontational. These conversations generally don’t go like the street corner preacher yelling people to repentance. I’ve met ONE reasonable progressive in my life who is capable of nuanced thought, and it is delightful to have a conversation with him…he even will admit Trump has done some good things and doesn’t even come close to the vapors that most progressives do.

    Any other progressives I encounter that want to discuss politics, I don’t go into full argument mode I merely demonstrate to them that a reasonable and rational person can entertain at a minimum, “no matter how bad you think Trump is, no bad person is 100% bad and no good person is 100% good, and that while Trump may be a buffoon, he simply, by definition can’t be all bad.” Then I gauge the reaction to planting the seed to see if they can go further and accept talking about *reality* and not their fantasy of Nazi takeover.

    If they can’t, I leave it at that.

    Minimal confrontation – see it as a movement to contact and if the front line troops meet too much resistance, you shoot back a little then break contact. If it’s an engagement that allows for an advance into the narrative they’ve been abused into believing, then you move further.

    But a full on argument won’t do much in the fragile mind of a brainwashed progressive but further give evidence that you’re somehow a full on neo-nazi and Trump is as bad as they believe.

  14. My Grandmother, who I loved very much, had a religious streak that often delved into the extreme.

    She had been saved, you see. She was a morbidly obese woman until she had some kind of attack (I was never told what exactly, but taking my family history into account, I assume it was a heart attack.) and she saw an angel. Then she dropped 150 pounds, picked up a bible, and never looked back. The problem, I think, is that she, like I, see the inconsistencies between different sects of Christianity, and she wasn’t sure which one was right. She, unlike I, attempted to do as much as possible from as many different faiths as possible, often dipping into the absurd. She kissed the cross with the Ukranian Catholics, Danced up a Storm with the Pentecostals, bought an amazing amount of rubbish from Morris Cerullo, and tried her damndest to teach me the “And Also With You” responses at Roman Catholic mass. It was like she couldn’t say no; Any of these things could be the gatekeeper to heaven, and so she had to try all of them.

    There was a time when I was coming home from Fort McMurray, 1300 kilometers away from home (800ish miles) and the whole family showed up. I mean my immediate family of five, all five of my aunts and uncles, their kids, grandma and grandpa. And the 20 of us wanted to figure out where to eat, so we went through the list of local restaurants. Grandma was being belligerent about where we were going, restaurants were too expensive, too gaudy, too cheap, too greasy, not big enough (which might actually have been true), eventually one of my aunts got fed up, “Mom… You’ve said not to literally every restaurant in town except Pizza Hut, so I guess we’re going to have to go there.” This was both true, and the worst way possible to pick a restaurant, but I digress. We were hungry and frusrated. When we got in, we eventually ordered multiple family meals, had them bring out 6 pizzas, a bunch of pastas and salads, and breathed a sigh of relief… Food was coming.

    Grandma flipped her plate upside down.

    Apparently, she didn’t actually have problems with all those other restaurants, she was fasting, hadn’t told anyone, and was apparently too embarrassed to admit it before getting to that point. I got fed up, “Grandma, I drove 1300 klicks to get here. We got the whole family together. This isn’t going to happen again for years. We eventually settled on this restaurant after you veto’d literally every other place in town, and now you’re going to flip your plate upside down and not eat with us? No. Flip that plate back over, because you’re eating with us.

    Grandma flipped her plate rightside up.

    And maybe this is just nostalgia, but she actually looked like she enjoyed the meal. She definitely ate, and she was definitely engaged. It was like she needed permission to do what she actually wanted to do. Regardless, afterwards, my mother had words for me:

    “Jeff, you shouldn’t have spoken to your grandmother like that.”

    “Probably not, but someone had to”

    “Probably, but you two have a good relationship, this worked out this time, but if you get between her and God one too many times, you might end up not having a relationship. So pick your battles.”

    Which is the counterargument of the duty to confront: Sometimes you have to play nice to get along, and does it really matter?

  15. I’ve thought for a while about how I wanted to word this, here’s my opinion. No need for replies.

    Initiating a personal face-to-face discussion knowing that it could result in hard feelings is a personal risk but everyone must remember that there is also the chance that the discussion will not result in hard feelings; everyone is motivated to do nothing or do something, either negatively or positively. In this particular instance Jack was negatively motivated to do nothing.

    Here is what I use to guide me.

    • Challenge yourself to take the risk.

    • Be respectful and listen to others and at the same time insist that you are respected and listened to.

    • Trust yourself, you may surprise yourself at what strengths you have.

    • Values are our personal bottom line. Let your values guide you.

    • Be honest and be truthful.

    • We reap what we sow; the golden rule. This principle is true in physics, philosophy, business and personal relationships.

    • Allowing someone to continue to believe that which is known to be false is not respecting them. “If we take people as we find them, we may make them worse, but if we treat them as though they are what they could be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

    • Keep calm, it’s only a discussion and it’s fine in the end to agree to disagree.

    My public message to Jack is this; your ethics, compassion, intelligence and integrity will guide you through these kinds of conversations, it’s okay to take the risk.

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