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Dylan Marron talks with people who hate him
And shares how you can have better conversations with people you disagree with, too
✨ New episode alert! ✨
This week on the Cruel Summer Book Club podcast I talk to writer, actor, and podcast host Dylan Marron. His book, Conversations with People Who Hate Me, inspired and challenged me to have hard conversations with people I disagree with, and to approach them with kindness and empathy.
Dylan Marron made a career out of doing something few of us will ever do: talking to internet strangers who said awful things to him online.
Some of you may recognize Dylan from his viral video series, including Every Single Word and Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People, or maybe you know him as Carlos from Welcome to Night Vale. Having a popular online presence practically guarantees one thing: anonymous hate. So Dylan started taking screenshots of the hateful comments people left and saved them in a “hate folder” on his computer.
One day, Dylan had a polite Facebook chat with an 18-year-old man who had left an anti-gay comment on one of his videos. That chat led to a phone call that became the remarkable second episode of his podcast, Conversations with People Who Hate Me, and—a few years and many hard conversations later—his first book of the same name.
In the book, Dylan runs through 12 things he’s learned from talking to internet strangers. He’s learned a lot about how to have genuine conversations (not arguments) and connect with people who have very different ideologies from his own—and how you can too. He writes about the people he’s talked with:
“Frank is a man who has a dog named Cinnamon. He also called me a piece of shit. Josh is a teenager whose high school experience reminds me of my own. And, yes, he also said I was a moron. Anna is a teacher who, very relatably, deals with mental health issues. Anna also happens to find my videos condescending and off-putting. Matthew is a person who reminds me of myself, a queer liberal artist who finds ways to discuss social issues through his work. He also thought that I represented “some of the worst aspects of liberalism.” And Adam is a college student, eager to start friendly conversations with strangers on the internet. And he has also been taught some very homophobic ideas.”
Since 2016, I’ve found myself further enshrouded in my own ideological bubble, and increasingly unable to have meaningful conversations with those I perceive as on a different “side” than me. That has felt paralyzing and sometimes devastating, especially when those people were loved ones. Can you relate?
Dylan’s book, and our podcast conversation, showed me how to zoom out and notice how many of the people I “other” are not much different than myself, and that kindness, empathy, and some bravery can allow me to have better conversations with people I may have previously written off. As Dylan writes, empathy is not endorsement, but it can make a huge difference in allowing us to see the full humanity in everyone, from someone who hurt you to a family member you disagree with to an internet stranger.
Test the boundaries of who you feel comfortable speaking with without compromising your safety or energy. We don’t need to reach out to our most distant opponents, or our most hateful detractors, but simply those whom we feel are worth our time, yet still challenge us to step out of our comfort zone.
Whomever you choose to speak with—whether it’s a family member, a partner, a coworker, a neighbor, or even your own internet foe, and no matter what distance you are attempting to traverse—whether it is ideological, political, digital, geographic, or generational, all of these guidelines can still apply. One conversation will not heal the world. Empathy alone will not cure what ails us. Inspiring words will not protect us from harm. But in an era when we feel increasingly isolated, when we speak to each other on platforms that divide us by rewarding competition over connection, conversation is a tiny, enormous, mundane, epic, boring, thrilling, simple, complex act of rebellion that builds a bridge where there wasn’t one before.
Keep having the hard conversations. They matter.
Some other interesting things we discuss in this episode:
The book-writing process and the power of the “shitty first draft” (55:33)
Why Dylan was two years late turning his book in and how he recovered to get it over the finish line (53:48)
Two books that helped Dylan write: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (1:03:46)
What “empathy is not endorsement” means (36:42)
When Dylan took 13 months off social media, and how that reshaped how he exists online (46:55)
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Extra special thanks to:
Logo artist Jaymie de los Reyes
You are not alone!