Reflection 83: Listening to the “Bad” Guys

The author of this Reflection is my son, Jeremy Garson, a Millennial born in 1987. Jeremy is an associate with the Washington, D.C. law firm, Woodley & McGillivary LLP, a union side labor law firm, currently on assignment with the International Association of Fire Fighters. He is an occasional contributor to the Reflection series. See, also, Reflection 71, Dad As An Exception, and Reflection 86, Having Confidence You’re Average.

You can direct comments and reactions to Jeremy at

Listening to the “Bad” Guys

I am a Millennial, and like many Millennials, I spend a decent amount of time on YouTube. I rarely record videos. Instead, I like following certain “channels” that are funny, interesting, etc. One of the channels I have followed for awhile now belongs to a young man who calls himself Captain Sparklez.

Captain Sparklez is in his early 20’s and has made a name by recording himself playing online games. It may seem like a weird idea to watch other people playing games (though I have enjoyed doing this since I was young), but that’s a discussion for another day. What’s important is that most of these games are adversarial. Sparklez is playing against other people and trying to defeat them.

Last night, I watched Sparklez play in the championship game of a “Team Fortress” tournament. Team Fortress is basically a five-on-five cartoonish war game where each player is a soldier character and the two teams try to destroy each other. In this particular tournament, the first team to win seven games won the match.

As a fan of Sparklez, I was naturally rooting for his team to win. The other team was named “7-0” (implying that they wouldn’t lose a single game), and I took that as a sign of arrogance. I watched from Sparklez’ perspective as they slowly, but methodically, pulled out a 7-5 victory. Sparklez and his teammates would comment on the other team’s strategies and try to counteract them. The other team seemed calculating to me. I made up during the course of the match that they had a specific game plan in mind for each round, and that Team Sparklez was the underdog trying to find weaknesses. In the end, the good guys won and all was well.

Out of curiosity, however, I looked at the description under the video and saw that Captain Sparklez had posted a link to “the other team’s perspective.” I had just watched the entire match, so I already knew the outcome. But I was interested to see how it played out for the “other team.” So I clicked.

It turned out that the “other team” hadn’t actually intended for their name to be “7-0.” Additionally, one of their players was having trouble with the controls. They talked about strategy somewhat, but not much. In fact, most of their discussion was focused on Team Sparklez’ strategy.

What was most interesting to me, though, was my visceral reaction to the video. While I wasn’t rooting for them to win (I already knew the outcome and still like Sparklez), I did sympathize with them when things went bad, and I enjoyed watching them keep things competitive. In other words, the perspective switch led to a very real emotional switch as well. They were no longer “the bad guys” but, simply, another team of 20-somethings trying to win a video game.

This type of perspective switch is – in theory – relatively easy to achieve in the modern world, including in the political arena. Turn on the TV and you can watch Fox News or MSNBC. Go to a newspaper stand and you will have the choice of the Washington Post or Washington Times. Go on the Internet and you will have an almost unlimited selection of perspectives on all topics.

However, it seems like people rarely take advantage. Either they only pay attention to their preferred provider, or they selectively listen to the other side’s most “offensive” comments.

This latter strategy is especially ineffective for achieving a true perspective switch. Most people are reasonable most of the time. However, if you put a camera and mike on a person every day, they will eventually say something stupid. It doesn’t mean they don’t hold that opinion, but it’s not their entire story. Unfortunately, my Facebook newsfeed is often filled with liberal and conservative friends posting articles about some stupid thing that a conservative or liberal commentator said recently (and not just a Millennial!).

Those articles make the “other side” seem stupid, ignorant, full of bad intention, and [insert other negative adjective]. While certain commentators do seem to be actual morons, most are likely decent people who just happen to have different opinions on a few select topics.

The problem: Understanding people takes time, especially when you disagree with them on issues that are important to you (unlike computer games). While the information age has made the other perspective available to us easily and quickly, we still only have 24 hours in a day.

As any adult knows (and as I’m learning very quickly), time is a precious commodity. Therefore, when given the chance to listen to somebody with whom you vehemently disagree or do something that is either necessary or gives you pleasure, the logical thing to do is not to listen. It makes perfect sense. Why waste your time on some jackass who is going to give you heartburn when there is no immediate payoff?

So how do we solve this dilemma? We know it has to be solved – at least to some extent – because the problems we face in this world are too large to confront without cooperation, and cooperation requires understanding. A large part of the solution lies within the confines of Radical Decency and specifically relates to the need to treat others decently.

As my father has said, understanding and decency goes hand-in-hand. If you refuse to listen to me, that is being indecent. You don’t have to agree with what I’m saying, but I expect you to hear me out. Unfortunately, for the reasons outlined above, it’s very easy to pay lip service to this mandate. It’s not listening if you are preparing your counter-points while I’m still talking. It’s also not listening to take a single thing I said out of context and blast me for it.

Instead, listening is to see the world from another’s point of view. When I watched Team Sibby (Captain Sparklez’ opponent), I heard their thought process in each battle and I watched the battle take place from their perspective. While I still don’t know Sibby very well, I took 20 minutes to view him as he chose to be viewed – and without responding.

I do the same thing when I listen to my conservative friends talk politics (or at least I try to). I get a feel for their value system and I ask them questions to translate their perspective into something that I can comprehend. I often get upset, but I try my damndest to find the bedrock principles that form the foundation of their philosophy, because I usually have a shared value system to some significant extent.

When a friend tells me that welfare makes people lazy (I have had these conversations), I don’t accuse them of hating poor people. Instead, I ask them what they mean and what they would propose doing differently. I find out that they want a system that incentivizes people to contribute to society, which I think most people would agree is a great goal. I may not agree with the approach they would take, but that isn’t the point. The point is understanding – which can lead to cooperation.

As I wind my way through this Reflection, I realize that the best solution has nothing to do with listening to the Rachel Maddows or Bill O’Reillys of the world. Those people are on the air as personalities to sell and market, which isn’t a bad thing (it is their job). Instead, engage with your friends and/or family members that you disagree with. Find out what makes them tick without trying to convert them. Pretend that, like me, you are watching them on a YouTube channel. Try to see the world as they see it. Ask them where they got their information so that you can look at it yourself.

I promise you this will be difficult. If you are like me, you will begin to have a visceral reaction if you truly disagree with the person and you will want to respond. But don’t. Let the person explain where their head is and only ask questions to clarify what they mean.

If you do this, not only will you be able to strengthen your point of view (because you will learn the other side’s arguments and values), but – and MUCH more importantly – your relationship with the person will be strengthened. It is a compliment to hear somebody and respect them enough to take the time, effort, and patience to understand them. And once you do, they may be more willing to listen to and understand you, which, as mentioned before, can lead to cooperation.

This, then, is the overarching message of this piece: Cooperation STARTS WITH YOU. Don’t expect people to come to you because your side is more logical. First, listen. Second, understand. Third, show them you understand. Only at that point can cooperation begin. Otherwise, you are just watching your own YouTube channel, and that’s going to get repetitive very quickly.