What Twitter, one of my best friends, an anti-vaxxer and a cat taught me about the current division in our societies

(Photocredit: Mevrouw Hatseflats for Unsplash)

It must be the full moon that brings up so much emotion this week, I caught myself thinking at my home in Bali where the calendar is based on the lunar cycle. Balinese spirituality attracts lots of Westerners looking for healing themselves in some sort of way. There are different communities of foreigners on the island, those who believe in detox but not in masks, those who enjoy the Bali life without realizing their privilege, those who organize parties to increase their Instagram following without complying to the COVID-19 rules and together with all that, people who have opinions about all those people, from a ‘morally charged Western point of view’, including me myself and I.

Tired of my own opinion

I found myself writing in a direct message to one of my Twitter colleagues that ‘I’m tired of all the opinions, including my own’. It is easy to judge each other from behind our laptop, it’s much more courageous to start a conversation with people who aren’t aligned with our opinion. The outcome of those conversations can be surprising, that’s what I discovered a few months ago when I decided to address someone’s behaviour at a beach club in Sanur in Bali. The man was celebrating his birthday with his family when something in their food and drink order went wrong and seriously frustrated him. He took it out on the staff of the place in a very patronising and demeaning way. Once I figured out his name, I discovered he earns his money by inspiring people and companies globally as a speaker, coach and author. To cut a long story short, he wasn’t really practising at the beach that day what he was preaching in his slick looking online presence. So I sent him a message sharing my confusion about that with him. The first response was defensive, him saying to me:

“If you would really know me, you would understand that I’m all about love”.

Compassion towards other opinions

And what I did with this particular man happens to me also the other way around. An audio message from one of my best friends totally caught me off guard this week. We’ve been friends for almost thirty years already and she feels more like a sister to me. Maybe that’s the reason why the ‘food for thought’ she gave me based on a meeting she had had with mutual friends, totally came across the wrong way at my end. ‘You’re often judgemental and don’t leave space for other people’s opinion’, ‘you say you’re easy but you’re actually not’ and ‘you sometimes think you discover something new that’s been there already for twenty years’, she said with a little bit of a nervous voice. My first response — which I obviously didn’t share with her — was to never talk to her again.

“‘Friends come and go’ I heard myself think. And ‘what a nerve for someone who never sends me a message anyway’.”

Don’t think though that I’m willing to compromise on the issue of racism, what I’m saying is that trying to persuade people without compassion only pushes them further away from me. Sometimes I decide not to engage and end our friendship if there isn’t any willingness for contemplation. But I also understand these encounters are the ones that I shouldn’t step away from. As a matter of fact, we need much more people who keep the conversations going and decrease the division in our societies.

Arguments that originate from critical thinking

An online conversation with an acquaintance who doesn’t believe Covid-19 exists and who is an anti-vaxxer, proved to me again that listening to each other’s point of view is essential. She raised the following question on her Instagram:

‘How come people who are pro mask and pro lockdown still smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and eat processed food while that lifestyle damages their health even more than the coronavirus does?’

The interesting thing was that during our long chat the actual commonalities between us seemed bigger than the differences. We both think the governments should pay more attention to the mental health issues as a consequence of the lockdown and to the healthy lifestyle solutions that decrease the risk of getting very sick through Covid. We agreed on the fact that the lives of the young people should be valued as much as the lives of the elderly and that some governments — including my own in The Netherlands — should have taken better action at the beginning of the crisis. When it comes to the solution for this crisis, our opinions differ. And I also observe a distinction between her being completely convinced of her own truth and me creating arguments that originate from critical thinking, allowing for doubt and not-knowing.

Her determination probably creates a disturbance in her private life, when friends find it hard to discuss this topic with her and distance themselves for that reason. The start of a division. Exactly that happens with my friends when I’m not open to their opinions. Again, we should not compromise on topics of human rights abuse, don’t get me wrong. Instead, we should refer to the International Human Rights Law more often because that is our common ground. Only by reaching out and genuinely listening to each other, we will discover that the values we hold in life are most of the time fairly similar.

Animals can sense your feelings

And then there is the cat I’m taking care of in the house where I’m living at the moment. Our relationship isn’t easy. From the first day I met her she was wounded so I wasn’t just a new person in her life, I was also the stranger who hunted her with antibiotic cream and disinfect shampoo. Not the best introduction to any new friends I guess. Luckily her wound healed naturally and I could slowly get to know her better without unintentionally hurting her. After three days of biting and scratching she would also lie on my chest and let me pet her. I deliberately held some distance, not forcing to stroke her or leave her outside of my room because of her unpredictable snapping. Showing her trust, staying calm myself and acting responsible (giving her food on time) was eventually the trick to make her like me instead of hating me. Her being injured made me insecure at the beginning, not sure if I was able to heal her.

My underlying self-doubt had an unmistakable effect on the energy I gave off.

Click HERE to SUBSCRIBE to the Inclusive Journalism newsletter and receive the (free) guide on ‘journalistic storytelling’ for Instagram.