Imagine that you start to receive hate-filled emails and tweets from someone belonging to an extremist group on the fringes of society. Most of us would probably block such a person’s emails, or possibly respond in kind. But imagine that instead of responding in knee-jerk fashion, you engaged in dialogue with this individual. And imagine that as a result of the dialogue, the other person begins to question their hate-filled belief system, leaves the extremist group, renounces their causeless hatred, and ventures forth on a new path. It sounds too incredible to be true, but this transformation actually happened. You can hear more about it in a CBC interview of the parties which aired recently on WNYC and is available here: http://www.cbc.ca/q/2013/03/19/leaving-the-westboro-baptist-church/.
During the interview, Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Greg Phelps, the infamous founder of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, admitted that she had sent a nasty tweet to David Abitbol, a Canadian web developer and founder of the “Jewlicious” blog, because he was listed as one of the most prominent Jews in the blogosphere. Instead of ignoring the tweet or blocking her, David responded to the tweet with humor and deflection. Megan continued to tweet with David, eventually having longer conversations by email. The two actually met in person while her family picketed Jewlicious events. David continued to engage her in dialogue during those meetings, and even provided her with snacks.
As a result of their conversations, Megan began to question some of the contradictions in her church’s doctrine. She began to think for herself, and that led her to question whether her church’s view of the world was the only view. Last November, she and her sister Grace took a huge leap of faith, leaving the church.
As David said during the interview, “you can have an argument on the internet, and change hearts and minds.” The key to the process is to keep the door of dialogue open. The message here is not to overreact to a person’s extreme stance (as difficult as that may be). If you can present a different view of facts and continue to let your own humanity shine through, we have the chance to witness a miraculous transformation.
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