If I continue my chatter about political conversation for the next ten years, I don’t think I will be able to make a more convincing case than this exchange for the benefits of maintaining a solid sense of your own values when provoked by an angry, abusive conversation partner.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day earlier this month, an Internet troll tweeted: “In honor of MLK day today, I’m taking a vow to use the word “nigger” as many times as possible and in the most inappropriate times.”
Ignoring the usually wise advice to avoid feeding the trolls, Ijeoma Oluo responded with a quote from Dr. King: “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
The troll, Mrscrotum21, replied predictably: “Oh, so you’re one of those nigger lovers, too?”
Eighteen tweets later, Mrscrotum had used every common technique to try to get a rise out of Oluo, and Oluo had responded with nothing but appropriate MLK quotes. Oluo then wrote: “I wish you peace and love and freedom from the hatred that hurts your heart.”
Mrscrotum21 broke his string of abusive, offensive tweets. “Who is that a quote from?” he asked.
“That’s me, sending love and hope to you,” Oluo responded.
Of course, Mrscrotum21 wasn’t done trying to find ways to provoke or insult Oluo. “I have plenty of that,” he wrote.
Read through the rest of the discussion, and watch how Ms. Oluo’s relentless willingness not simply to express her values but to illustrate them with her own conduct took the conversation from an outburst by a profane Internet troll to this:
Mrscrotum21: “You are so nice and I am so sorry.”
Oluo: “Thank you. Today is about forgiveness. People do shitty things when they are hurting. Send me a message if you need to talk.”
That’s how to mend tears in the fabric of democracy.
That’s how build a fellow citizen’s capacity for participating constructively in self-government.