If I’ve learned anything over the past week, it’s that no matter how genuinely respectful your tone, no matter how much practice you’ve put into avoiding becoming a didactic ass, no matter how much you yourself may be a stakeholder, no matter how much the extent of your empathy, no matter how much you’ve read on the topic, no matter how much charity of interpretation you’ve already extended to parties who’ve otherwise been denied it, no matter how many times you’ve kept quiet so someone else could have their say, and no matter how much good faith has been invested in your inquiry, some people are always going to regard the fact of your opinion differing, or you’re coming at a question from an unfamiliar angle, as condescending. For some people, anything less than silence or uncritical agreement is going to be treated as condescension, not because it’s actually condescending, or politically suspect, but because you’re dealing with narcissists and their enablers, and your differing assumptions, no matter how tentatively stated, and no matter how small the difference, are in disharmony with their particular articulation of a set of protected beliefs – their brand.
Egos get conflated with causes. Cronies get conflated with activists and allies.
People forget that the specifics of their protected beliefs are works in progress – works often by other, un-cited people – and that these protected beliefs only came about in the first place because people were afforded the (often rare) opportunity to criticize and disagree. And still, there was always the opportunity of a greater authority figure taking that opportunity away, while the lesser, often self-appointed authorities engaged in smears and shaming.
If you’ve given one of the latter-day versions of these authority figures a narcissistic injury, good grief you’re going to pay for it. Or at least, that’s the commitment some people will adopt, albeit behind a tissue-thin veneer of denial.