Diplomatic Immunity

If you’re going to be an iconoclast, be a nice iconoclast.

John Darnielle, the front-man (and sometimes only-man) for The Mountain Goats, says that the reason he doesn’t curse in his lyrics is because his lyrics are controversial enough without giving people an additional reason to dismiss him out of hand. That’s a good lesson for anyone who likes to be able to speak controversially, at any time.

Rage and spit and fire and brimstone don’t convince anybody. They might intimidate people into disagreeing with you silently instead of publicly, but disagree with you they still shall – and in fact, probably more vehemently than before. And you’ll have no ability to maneuver that disagreement because you won’t even know it.

Tactics of rhetoric like screaming and flailing and getting all fired up can make people who already agree with you do so more fervently, or whip them into a particular course of action. But if your goal is to sway, then remember that swaying is an inherently gentle act.

The most controversial voice in the room always should be the calmest. Your first debate is with your own emotions, and you have to win in order to proceed to the next round. Truth and wisdom alone have gotten plenty of people stoned to death. If you want to be able to speak your mind, potentially convince people, and remain immune to the worst of the fates of the pariah – then be nice.

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