Conversation with heckler seasons my climate protest


Sept. 24: a warm Friday. I departed Oak Park around 1:30 p.m. to attend Chicago’s Fridays for Future march, a popular worldwide event dedicated to promoting a green future. Departing the train, I felt at home yet also in awe viewing my home city. Three young people were playing rhythms on buckets with drumsticks on the street corner.

We were all to meet at The Bean in Millenium Park. When I arrived, hundreds were there. I am sure not all were protestors — some may have been tourists. My group and I from Oak Park congregated with dozens of others near a fountain. A few had speeches planned, and I took some photos. People of all ages attended the event. One person brought a list of chants, and a few had bullhorns. As we marched, I heard a heckler.

He caught my ear, and eye, when he interrupted one of our chants with his views about immigration.

I believe his name was Ken, an immigrant in his late 50s. We talked for over an hour, and we ended up agreeing on the righteousness of a clean planet, the importance of civil liberties, the necessity of self reliance, and that the government often wastes our money. Both of us were rather libertarian when it came to state influence, however, we differed on economics and social values. We ended up exchanging emails and shaking hands, and he called me a smart young man. I felt this was a productive conversation that restored a piece of my faith in politics.

Can all people be reached through polite dialogue? No. Hecklers are often more confrontational than this man, and often are prone to using personal insults instead of being thoughtful and attentive.

But are many hecklers also shut down just as fast for minor dissent when expressing their opinion? Yes. By shutting people down, you miss out on a wealth of knowledge and perspective that could make you wiser.

Remember, people are walking contradictions, including you. Your brain, and everyone’s brain, is filled with sound bites from all political views and philosophical movements, and we pick when we want to listen to each part. This is why you might hear someone support union rights, but also say millennial workers are entitled and soft. We are irrational beings. If you’re patient, you can expose the contradictions in someone’s beliefs, and they will have to find which belief they truly value more.

Second, I strongly recommend you start any conversation by asking for their values first. This way, instead of lecturing them on your values, you can say: “Hey, it’s neat you value this, perhaps this policy I like will help.” It’s subtle, but it makes conversation seem more like a discussion than a lecture.

Lastly, have you ever gotten someone to open up with hostility? A calm demeanor will lead to more rewarding discussions than bitterness. Even though I sometimes thought the heckler was being ridiculous, I recognized enough compassion in him that could be drawn out if I acted with good faith. Once again, not everyone can be reached with good faith; sometimes people will just yell at you, but if you wish to open people’s hearts, you need the right key—the key of compassion.