What is the most moral way for me to treat or respond to someone who acts in a way informed by less progressive values, given that they may not have had the opportunity, resources or upbringing to learn how to question their own thinking and biases?
This is going to be a lengthy question with many considerations.
To give you some background: lately at my university, I've gotten involved in a social group that espouses and discusses more 'liberal' values (I swear it's not negative in Canada.) While I've been extremely pleased at how well their thinking aligns with mine's, and have been enjoying our discussions on feminism, gay rights, disability rights and so forth, I have been somewhat bothered by their treatment towards those who may not hold the same set of values where they often label those who act in a way that they perceive as discriminatory as "bad people". While the obvious examples of Westboro Church are thrown around, I feel that they have been bringing up more morally ambiguous examples as well - for instance, I found myself raising an eyebrow at the idea that student politicians at my school were "bad people" because they didn't go out of their way to learn about marginalized groups but largely represented the majority. To me, this felt somewhat privileged - just because we had the fortune to grow up in and be in an environment that fostered free thinking and demanded that we question our viewpoints critically, doesn't mean that everyone else would have. My thinking was also reinforced by the testimony from a Metafilter post lately on an ex-member of the Westboro Church
- I found myself being really touched by the extent that the woman had to struggle to break out of her culturally and socially imposed thinking patterns.
But at the same time, I can see the counter-point. Just because someone has an excuse doesn't mean that they are any more entitled to act in a way that may potentially harm the freedom or rights as others.
To aid in my thinking, I would like to hear answers or look at resources providing answers on the following questions:
- Ethically, what is the best way to treat someone who acts in a less inclusive and open-minded fashion as a result of their way of thinking?
- Does the answer to this question change if their behavior informed by their way of thinking is harmful to others, and if so, if they are aware that they may potentially be hurting others or not?
- Similarly, does the answer to the question change if you are judging them on a stance that may not have a single "right" answer, e.g. political viewpoints?
- Should their background circumstances factor into this? For instance, if I know that someone comes from an extremely conservative town, should I be modifying my expectations and reaction based on that, or is that a double-standard?
- To what extent does human psychology play a role in the expectations that we may have of others? E.g. The development of in-group seems to be well documented in this field - does this provide an argument for xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc. being the default mode of human thinking?
- I understand that grouping and stereotyping is an extremely useful tool given the limited cognitive energy that we can devote to assessing others - for instance, if someone tells you that they're a member of Westboro, you may be justified in assuming that they are closed-minded. Yet, I also see that these categories can be harmful to those we categorize. Is stereotyping to derive assumptions necessarily a bad thing? Where is the fine line?
- Is there a baseline in regards to how far we should expect someone should go in informing themselves on an issue? What about interest - how much should we expect someone to be interested in an issue? How do the two considerations intersect?
- How can I identify when I am being unfair to someone under the above constraints I have given? How do I react when I see someone else being unfair to another person for their way of thinking under the above constraints?
- How can we recognize when we're imposing our own ways of thinking upon another person's actions? For instance, in the Metafilter post I linked, the article quotes the girls as saying "“I definitely regret hurting people. That was never our intention." Should I be taking this statement in good faith given her background, or am I justified in expressing disbelief given my own background? If I am imposing my thought patterns on another person's behavior, to what extent is that fair?
- What are other constraints and considerations that I may have missed here that should factor into a final critical assessment of how we should be reacting?
Ultimately, my goal is to give the diverse range of people I'm bound to meet in life as fair as a treatment and assessment as possible. Please help me figure out how I can make this happen!