This week’s Reader Rant comes from Skept-artist Brian George.
My new project is offline grassroots skeptical outreach. In my endeavor to save the world with skepticism, I have to remember that sometimes it’s important to not be a huge asshole when talking to people. We’ve all done it. Sometimes not intentionally, but anyone who’s been a skeptic for more than a few weeks is likely to have offended someone with a flippant remark about a “stupid” belief or an outright dismissal.
I actually do this far more than I’d like to admit… and I know others who do it far more than I do. And if you’ve paid any attention to reader comments around here lately, you’ve probably caught on the Skept-artist is a pretty nice guy. If he can fall into the being-a-dick-trap, anyone can.
While an anecdote may not be evidence, it can still serve as a valuable lesson.
Was it Something I Said?
Do you guys remember the time when we were at that party and there was a woman talking about how she had a friend, who knew a guy, who had an alien implant removed from his body? And I started sputtering and was like, â€œUh, yeah. Seriously? That canâ€™t be true. Who was this? Someone you know? Uh, right, huh.â€
* Spittle flying from my mouth *
And then the woman got up and walked away?
No? You donâ€™t remember that?
Unfortunately, I do.
Now I could blame my behavior on the fact that I had quit smoking recently and was all testy because of it. I could say that I was hungry and therefore cranky. I could just tell you that I was most probably right, so who cares? Or I could just own up and tell you that I was a newly molded Skeptic and therefore I had to let everyone know in the most annoying and aggressive ways possible.
Before I had ever considered myself a Skeptic, I already loved arguing with people. Not necessarily in an aggressive way, but I liked to have honest discussions because it really helped me learn. However, when I discovered skepticism and the skeptical movement a few years ago, my style of argument became what I can only describe as â€œRabidly Overzealousâ€ (Redundant, but accurate).
Happily, this phase didnâ€™t last for too long, because I recognized that I was being a huge jerk. Having accurate and interesting information to share with people is one thing. Shouting that information at people with a smug, misplaced sense of satisfaction? Yeah, thatâ€™s a horse of a different color. Thatâ€™s not the kind of person I was before, so there was no reason why that should have changed.
So Iâ€™ve tried to dial back the casual over-arguer in me.
Iâ€™m much happier now just sharing a bit of information if someone wants it, without feeling like I have to stick it in their craw. Does my blood still squirt out of my ears when I hear a bunch of garbage. Oh sure. Can I fly off the handle if the situation calls for it? Yep. But in daily conversation, with someone who might even come to understand a point I have, and change their mind, why shouldnâ€™t I try my best to be, at least, polite?
I should mention that I did end up apologizing to that woman at the party. I felt really bad. Because even if I thought I was being skeptical when I was talking to her, I wasnâ€™t really. I just dismissed her, out of hand. I didnâ€™t ask any questions. I didnâ€™t listen to her story. I just told her she was wrong, without even the courtesy of a conversation.
Maybe I could have asked her some questions. Maybe she would have admitted that she thought the claim was far-fetched and she didnâ€™t really buy it. But Iâ€™ll never know, because I was fucking rude.
Brian George is a visual artist who lives and works in Brooklyn.Â He graduated fromÂ the School of Visual Arts in 2000 with a BFA in Illustration. Â In 2005 he co-founded the Subject to Change artist collective which aims to interact with the community through the arts.Â After rediscovering his love of science, he started a blog â€œThe Art ofÂ a Carbon-Based Life Formâ€ which focuses onÂ the promotion of science through art.
He will happily make art for you if you would like to pay him.
The Skepchick Reader Rants,Â posted every Wednesday at 3PM Eastern, is a feature where you, the Skepchick readers, get to tell the Skepchick community what you think about whatever you want! Â To be considered, please submit an original rant, preferably unpublished anywhere else, to skepchick(at)skepchick(dot)org with the subject: My Rant.