Attention and Details

I’ve never been a big fan of the “atheist verbally spars with a Christian/whatever” genre of public talks. I personally think that people—so long as they are not hurting others—should be able to believe in whatever deity they please, and don’t really feel an urge to take that away from them. But it’s also because nothing ever comes out of them.

Just like every time The History Channel releases a new commercials bragging that they might’ve uncovered Jesus’ tomb, you can pretty much count on nothing budging at the end of an non-believer vs. believer talk. A lot of yelling, a lot of righteous indignation on both sides, and everyone’s heels buried a little deeper in their own camp.

But as Janet Mock faced backlash for her announcement that she would be interviewing Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, creators of “Girls,” on Mock’s MSNBC show “So POPular!” I found myself wishing these fellow Mock fans had the same trust in their speaker as atheists seem to have in Richard Dawkins.

As a journalist, welcoming a dialogue with someone you disagree with isn’t tacit approval of their work. It’s part of the job description. Especially in the case of someone as polarizing as Dunham, whose highs in her career are drowned in her improving but still very white feminism, a conversation around why controversial career choices are made and why options are passed on (like, say, the lack of any POC in season one of “Girls”) can be illuminating.

Like any atheist scrabble, not everyone will come out of such an interview with a changed worldview. Myself, I frequently find Mock’s questions to be a bit too shallow, and surprisingly shying away from conflict. Nevertheless, Mock (who is friends with Dunham) needled at points I haven’t seen journalists—high brow culture writers or no—get at, to Dunham’s (and Konner’s) face.

Unfortunately that needling isn’t as commonplace as it should be, but Mock clearly didn’t shy away from dark corners, and like Stephen Colbert, interview-whiz and human extraordinaire, engaged in a real dialogue that left its viewers with a better vantage-point on the subject—for better or worse. I’m no Dunham or “Girls” fan, but Mock’s interview gave me a lot of things to think about.

So feminists, Mock-fans, and those who like watching journalists interview people, learn this from the vindictive, die-hard atheists that show up for these town hall interrogations: Trust in your speaker. Trust they may not have overlapping views, and also that they won’t let their subjects off the hook. But unlike these atheists, when your speaker is done listen also to the subject. Don’t be afraid to reexamine your own thoughts, even if you come to the same conclusions. Maybe even take this as an opportunity to grow.

But don’t mistake creating dialogue with pure attention.

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Except for Donald Trump. Fuck that guy.

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