I recently stumbled upon Johnny Harris’ video from a few years ago titled “What I learned by befriending Iranians on Facebook”.
In it, he talks about how, in an effort to better understand the situation in Iran in 2015, he reached out to a couple dozen Iranians online to hear their stories. This act of befriending, talking with, and hearing stories of Iranians — a group that Harris admitted he had viewed through the West’s media lens as militant and hateful to a large extent — ended up humanizing the Iranian people in a way Harris wasn’t expecting.
I’ve been pondering and loving this idea.
If you think about it enough, there’s almost definitely a group of people you’ve viewed as your “enemy” or demonized in some way. You probably have a “them” whose ideology you see as at least somewhat threatening.
But… how often do we hold that view about “them” without actually knowing someone who is “one of them”?
When you think of your “them”, can you think of any true friends you have who hold that ideology?
Have you truly heard your “them” out, and tried to understand why they believe what they do?
Have you had a meal or a coffee with them?
Have you hurt with them over what they’re hurting about?
Maybe you are indeed right, and they are indeed wrong to believe what they do (but, let that keep you humble, because you’re wrong too); but, it’s worth hearing them out on equal playing field… as a friend.
It’s easier than ever to make friends with your enemies, if you’re willing to try.
Every subculture you might think of has a forum, a subreddit, a Facebook group, a Discord, or some online meeting place that you can find, where you can meet people and get to know them.
Examples like Deeyah Khan — a Norwegian lady with Pakistani ancestry, who has made documentaries where she meets, befriends, and has conversations with Neo-Nazis and Jihadists, both groups that collectively hate her and what she represents — or Dylan Marron — host of Conversations with People Who Hate Me, where Marron meets, befriends, and interviews “People Who Hate Him” in order to work better towards peace — are inspiring to me.
I’m sure there are thousands of people and communities out there who have much less publicized attempts at befriending and making peace with the “Them"s in their lives and societies. But the efforts of Khan and Marron are especially noteworthy and beautiful to me.
In so many ways, the internet has become a hate machine, full of propaganda steering us away from peace and well-being.
But, that doesn’t need to be the case.
Like Khan and Marron, we can also make use of the tools at our disposal to better work towards a world where our empathy can collectively overcome our anger. We can, as author John Green puts it in his book “The Anthropocene Reviewed”, be part of an
“us that doesn’t require a them.”