A little while ago, after witnessing hostility over differing views, I decided that I would never call someone crazy when I disagreed with their opinion. It can only hurt my relationships with people and stunt personal growth.
Then I met a flat-earther. While actively pushing away any judgment of him, I listened. Turns out, because his ideas were so radically different from mine, it was interesting. I not only got to learn about his views, but how he got there.
I asked him all sorts of questions and challenged lightly on different points. He told me about the edge of the earth in Antarctica, the glass dome, conspiracies committed by NASA and governments around the world, CGI fabricating satellite images, and more.
The conversation, honestly, was fascinating – even though we completely disagreed. We swapped numbers, and I asked him to send me a video he’d referenced. When I watched it, my eyes were opened.
From the video, it seems like the idea that the earth is flat serves as a gateway. The flat earth theory allows skeptics to believe not only are we being lied to by NASA, but that everything said by those in authority (government, school systems, world leaders, mainstream media) are lies designed to control us. Let’s call this side 1.
My eyes were opened to this: People that follow the crowd on the opposite side do the same thing. Cancel-culture and mainstream media has created a group of people who take everything said by those in authority (the media specifically) as the truth – enter side 2.
Between extreme rejection (side 1) or extreme acceptance (side 2) of mainstream ideas (to get political, extreme left and extreme right), it’s easier to pick a side. It’s safe. You can belong to a group that informs your beliefs, and that confirms their own biases repeatedly so that you don’t have to do the research or think for yourself. You also get to be mad at the other side.
It is much harder, then, to step away from people’s perception of you and pick apart everything you hear and see before developing an opinion. If you don’t belong to either group, they’ll both stereotype you as the “other side” for not conforming to all of their beliefs.
If we can practice healthy debate, learn to attack arguments instead of people, and challenge ourselves to engage with those who oppose our views – maybe we can bridge the gap enough to avoid dismissing and dehumanizing each other when arguments escalate.
When we’ve called them crazy for their views, our issue with them is not that they are a flat-earther. It’s not even extremism. The problem is closed-minded extremism – deciding on someone’s character and value based on their views, and refusing to hear anything they say. Either you’re doing this to them, or are feeling defensive because they’re doing it to you.
I challenge you to pause next time someone says something you disagree with. Consider their side, and present ideas and challenges with patience. After all, they don’t have to be right to deserve your respect. And if you’re the one that’s wrong, you have an opportunity to learn.
The man I spoke with is a flat-earther. He is also excellent at his job. He likes to wear cool shoes. He’s an amazing guitarist, comparable to some of the best, and he loves his wife and kids.
There is more to people than the disagreements we have with them. On top of that, they can teach us to keep an open mind and to better articulate our own side.
The video he sent me: