What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better. And that starts when you turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.
Next, each of us can make a commitment never to treat others with contempt, even if we believe they deserve it. This might sound like a call for magnanimity, but it is just as much an appeal to self-interest. Contempt makes persuasion impossible — no one has ever been hated into agreement, after all — so its expression is either petty self-indulgence or cheap virtue signaling, neither of which wins converts.
What if you have been guilty of saying contemptuous things about or to others? Perhaps you have hurt someone with your harsh words, mockery or dismissiveness. I have, and I’m not proud of it. Start the road to recovery from this harmful addiction, and make amends wherever possible. It will set you free.