3 unsung heroes who helped society overcome division
The true course of progress is not only charted by great men and women, but also by ordinary people having conversations.
- History's great men and women may enjoy name recognition, but everyday heroes can be anyone willing to talk.
- We profile three everyday heroes who helped society overcome adversity through civil discourse.
- Their stories validate John Stuart Mill's belief that good things happen when you converse with people with whom you disagree.
If your history class was like ours, it focused on the great-man view of history. We learned of generals who stormed the battlefield for a decisive victory. We memorized the speeches of powerful leaders preaching lofty ideals. And we remembered great inventors who updated our world to v2.0.
But the great man theory of history misses the point: History's course is charted by everyday people. A powerful leader may offer an era its rallying point, but true progress advances when ordinary people engage in civil discourse to change minds one person at a time.
Here are three people who helped others overcome entrenched, bigoted divisions. They didn't win a war or make a speech before an audience of millions. They engaged in conversations that helped remind others of our common humanity.
Gordon Hirabayashi (left), Minoru Yasui (center), and Fred Korematsu (right). These three civil rights activists took their arguments against the internment of Japanese-Americans to the Supreme Court.
A lawyer from Oregon, Minoru Yasui was an integral figure in the fight against the United States' internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yasui attempted to join the army but was rejected because of his race — despite having obtained the rank of second lieutenant through a Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the military to set curfews, designate exclusion zones, and intern American citizens based on ancestry. The order focused mainly on Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, but German and Italian Americans also faced these discriminating policies.
Yasui immediately hatched a plan to test the order's legality in the courts: He deliberately stayed out after curfew to be arrested. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In Yasui vs. United States, the justices determined the curfew and executive order were valid. Yasui was released from prison in 1943 with time already served and ushered to a Japanese internment camp, where he was held until 1944.
With his court case lost, you would think Yasui would have been defeated, but he wasn't close to being finished. As he once said, "If we believe in America, if we believe in equality and democracy, if we believe in law and justice, then each of us, when we see or believe errors are being made, has an obligation to make every effort to correct them."
After being released from the camp, he worked diligently for the remainder of his life toward redress of the inhumane treatment of Japanese Americans. As a senior leader of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), he called for reparations and a legislative guarantee that the constitutional violations put upon Japanese Americans during WWII would never happen again, to any American. His and others' convictions were eventually overturned in the lower courts in 1986, the year of Yasui's death, and the JACL's redress campaign culminated in Congress passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which called for reparations and an official apology from the president.
President Obama posthumously presented Yasui with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Daryl Davis shows a robe given to him by a Klansman who left the KKK. Davis keeps this and other robes he's been given to remind himself that conversation can reduce hate in the world.
Daryl Davis is an R&B and blues musician. Nothing brings people together like great music, so Davis could have made this list on his virtuosity alone. But we've added him for another reason. As a black man, he made it his mission to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis met his first Klansman while playing piano at the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Maryland, more than three decades ago. The two struck up a conversation. The Klansman was surprised that a black man played in the same style as Jerry Lee Lewis. Davis informed him that Lewis's musical idols were black musicians, a surprising revelation for the Klansman.
"The fact that a Klansman and black person could sit down at the same table and enjoy the same music, that was a seed planted," Davis told NPR. "So, what do you do when you plant a seed? You nourish it. That was the impetus for me to write a book. I decided to go around the country and sit down with Klan leaders and Klan members to find out: How can you hate me when you don't even know me?"
Over 30 years of conversations, Davis has convinced about 200 people to quit the Klan. When they leave, they give him their robes, which he keeps as a reminder that his efforts have measurably lessened racism in the world.
"Establish a dialogue," Davis told the Daily Mail. "It's when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting. When two enemies are talking, they're not fighting."
How one black man convinced 200 KKK members to quit the Klan
Former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper has left the church and now advocates for the power of conversation.
Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. At the age of five, she began to picket with her family, hoisting up signs that read "God hates fags," "Jews stole our land," or "God sent the IEDs." Later, she became the voice for the hate-filled organization on social media.
For most people this would be a nonstarter for any conversation, and for many, it was. Twitter responses directed at Phelps-Roper were typically filled with scorn and loathing. But through the noise, some conversations took shape. Phelps-Roper and a few of her detractors began to have open, civil conversations about their opposing beliefs.
"There was no confusion about our positions, but the line between friend and foe was becoming blurred," she said during her TED talk. "We'd started to see each other as human beings, and it changed the way we spoke to one another."
Thanks to her conversations with her cultural "enemies," she left Westboro in 2012. Today, she speaks publicly on the power of conversations to overcome divisions.
"My friends on Twitter didn't abandon their beliefs or their principles — only their scorn," Phelps-Roper said. "They channeled their infinitely justifiable offense and came to me with pointed questions tempered with kindness and humor. They approached me as a human being, and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain, and violence."
The power of conversations
Of course, there are many unsung heroes whose quiet efforts have made this world a better, less divisive place, and we should celebrate them where we find them. As Sarah Ruger, Director of Free Speech Initiatives at the Charles Koch Institute, argues:
"How can we promote a culture of openness in society that makes us, as individuals, receptive to engaging with even the most deplorable views with the goal of changing them? At the end of the day I'm a John Stuart Mill nerd; I think nothing but good things happen when you engage with ideas with which you disagree. You either learn how to better defend your position, maybe you move closer to truth, maybe you persuade the other of a given view, but either way you've all learned something and been made better by that encounter."
These three people show us the truth of John Stuart Mill's belief. Engaging and debating with ideas we find wrongheaded or deplorable can not only help our society overcome division, but make us a stronger, more cohesive whole.
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims. But has it done more harm than good in the last few years?
- SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (allow States and victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. They were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018.
- The implementation of this law in America has left an international impact, as websites attempt to protect themselves from liability by closing down the sections of their sites that sex workers use to arrange safe meetings with clientele.
- While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
What is FOSTA-SESTA?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="723125b44601d565a7c671c7523b6452"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WBaqDjPCH8k?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (allow States and victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018. There was some argument that this law may be unconstitutional as it could potentially violate the <a href="https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-1/" target="_blank">first amendment</a>. A criminal defense lawyer explains this law in-depth in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoWx2hYg5uo&t=38s" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">this video</a>. </p><p><strong data-redactor-tag="strong">What did FOSTA-SESTA aim to accomplish?</strong></p><p>The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims. FOSTA-SESTA started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. Targeting websites like Backpage and Craiglist, where sex workers would often arrange meetings with their clientele, FOSTA-SESTA aimed to stop the illegal sex-trafficking activity being conducted online. While the aim of FOSTA-SESTA was to keep people safer, these laws have garnered international speculation and have become quite controversial. </p><p><a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180321006214/en/National-Anti-Trafficking-Coalition-Celebrates-Survivors-Senate-Passes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to BusinessWire</a>, many people are in support of this bill, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and World Without Exploitation (WorldWE). </p><p><em data-redactor-tag="em">"With the growth of the Internet, human trafficking that once happened mainly on street corners has largely shifted online. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 73 percent of the 10,000 child sex trafficking reports it receives from the public each year involve ads on the website Backpage.com."</em></p><p>As soon as this bill was <a href="https://www.pivotlegal.org/sesta_fosta_censoring_sex_workers_from_websites_sets_a_dangerous_precedent" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">signed into law</a>, websites where sex workers often vetted and arranged meetings with their clients could now be held liable for the actions of the millions of people that used their sites. This meant websites could be prosecuted if they engaged in "the promotion or facilitation of prostitution" or "facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims." </p><p><strong data-redactor-tag="strong">The bill's effects were felt around the world - from Canadians being unhappy with the impact of this American bill to UK politicians considering the implementation of similar laws in the future.</strong> </p><p>Heather Jarvis, the program coordinator of the Safe Habour Outreach Project (SHOP), which support sex workers in the St. John's area, <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/heather-jarvis-website-shutdown-1.4667018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explained to CBC in an interview</a> that the American bill is impacting everyone, everywhere: "When laws impact the internet — the internet is often borderless — it often expands across different countries. So although these are laws in the United States, what we've seen is they've been shutting down websites in Canada and other countries as well."</p><p>Jarvis suggests in her interview that instead of doing what they aimed to do with the bill and improving the safety of victims of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, the website shutdowns are actually making sex workers less safe. </p><p>While <a href="https://gizmodo.com/the-uk-wants-its-own-version-of-fosta-sesta-that-could-1827420794" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one UK publication</a> refers to FOSTA-SESTA as "well-intentioned but ultimately deeply-flawed laws", it also mentions that politicians in the United Kingdom are also hoping to pursue similar laws in the near future. </p>
Has FOSTA-SESTA done more harm than good?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxMzY5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2ODUyNDc4OX0.dSEEzcflJJUTnUCFmuwmPAIA0f754eW7rN8x6L7fcCc/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=-68%2C595%2C-68%2C595&height=700" id="69d99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4acd2a0b3c21e20e2d05d7901ed30d35" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sex worker looking online for a job FOSTA-SESTA sex trafficking law" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark?
Photo by Евгений Вершинин on Adobe Stock<p>While <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180321006214/en/National-Anti-Trafficking-Coalition-Celebrates-Survivors-Senate-Passes" target="_blank">supporters of this bill</a> have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.</p> <p><strong>One of the biggest problems many people have with this bill is that it forces sex workers into an even more dangerous situation, which is quite the opposite of what the bill had intended to do.</strong> </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-anti-trafficking-activists-cheer-but-sex-workers-bemoan-shutdown-of/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Globe and Mail</a>, there has been an upswing in pimps sending sex workers messages that promise work - which puts sex workers on the losing end of a skewed power-dynamic, when before, they could attempt to safely arrange their own meetings online. </p> <p><strong>How dangerous was online sex work before FOSTA-SESTA? </strong></p><p><a href="https://www.beyond-the-gaze.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/BtGbriefingsummaryoverview.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The University of Leicester Department of Criminology</a> conducted an online survey that focused on the relative safety of internet-based sex work compared with outdoor sex work. According to the results, 91.6% of participants had not experienced a burglary in the past 5 years, 84.4% had not experienced physical assault in the same period, and only 5% had experienced physical assault in the last 12 months. </p> <p><a href="https://www.pivotlegal.org/sesta_fosta_censoring_sex_workers_from_websites_sets_a_dangerous_precedent" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PivotLegal</a> expresses concerns with this: "It is resoundingly clear, both from personal testimony and data, that attacking online sex work is an assault on the health and safety of people in the real world. In a darkly ironic twist, SESTA/FOSTA, legislation aimed at protecting victims of and preventing human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, will do the exact opposite."</p> <p><strong>Websites are also being hypervigilant (and censoring more content than needed) because they can't possibly police every single user's activity on their platform.</strong> </p><p>Passing this bill meant any website (not just the ones that are commonly used by sex traffickers) could be held liable for their user's posts. Naturally, this saw a general "tightening of the belt" when it came to what was allowed on various platforms. In late 2018, shortly after the FOSTA-SESTA bill was passed, companies like Facebook slowly began to alter their terms and conditions to protect themselves. </p> <p>Facebook notably added sections that express prohibited certain sexual content and messages. </p><p><em>"Content that includes an implicit invitation for sexual intercourse, which can be described as naming a sexual act and other suggestive elements including (but not limited to):</em></p><p><em>– vague suggestive statements such as: 'looking forward to an enjoyable evening'</em></p><p><em>– sexual use of language […]</em></p><p><em>– content (self-made, digital or existing) that possibly portrays explicit sexual acts or a suggestively positioned person/suggestively positioned persons." </em></p> <p>Additionally, sections like this were also added, prohibiting things that could allude to sexual activity: </p><p><em>"Content in which other acts committed by adults are requested or offered, such as:</em></p><p><em>– commercial pornography</em></p><p><em>– partners that share fetishes or sexual interests"</em></p> <p>Facebook wasn't the only website to crack down on their policies, with the Craigslist classifieds section being removed and Reddit banning quite a large number of sex-worker related subreddits. </p> <p><strong>Is FOSTA-SESTA really helpful?</strong> </p><p>This is the question many people are facing with the FOSTA-SESTA acts being passed just a few years ago. Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark? Opinions seem to be split down the middle on this - what do you think?</p>
When someone is lying to you personally, you may be able to see what they're doing.
- A study uses motion-capture to assess the physical interaction between a liar and their victim.
- Liars unconsciously coordinate their movements to their listener.
- The more difficult the lie, the more the coordination occurs.
The tell<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxMTc4Mi9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjMzNTA2Nn0.P8A66bC1ap7gsg5dUXuml4niIQk5_Fv7LzgvZA1osm4/img.gif?width=980" id="71a62" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fb3a98d431e7c14752d558f4024f338" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="953" data-height="587" />
Credit: Duck Soup (1933), Universal Pictures<p>The tell? Someone who is lying to your face is likely to copy your motions. The trickier the lie, the truer this is, according to experiments described in the study.</p><p>The researchers offer two possible explanations, both of which have to do with cognitive load. In a <a href="https://www.scimex.org/newsfeed/telling-a-really-big-lie-turns-us-into-copycats" target="_blank">press release</a>, the authors note that "Lying, especially when fabricating accounts, can be more cognitively demanding than truth telling."</p><p>The first hypothesis is that when a liar is lying, their brain is simply too occupied with the subterfuge to pay any attention to the control of physical movements. As a result, the unconscious part of the liar's brain controlling movements defaults to the easiest course of action available: It simply imitates the motions of the person they're lying to.</p><p>The second possibility is that the liar's cognitive load deprives a liar of sufficient bandwidth to devise a clever, effective physical strategy. Instead, while lying, their attention is so laser-focused on their listener's reaction that the liar unconsciously parrots it.</p>
Experimental whoppers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUxMTc5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTgwOTY0NX0.3GYcJFPaeUrPE_NXYkadkUKi66IGLLH4wdTk2oo0AiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="77e98" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8f9cd644cf3362f49ba9ad7c96939153" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="954" />
Credit: Niels/Adobe Stock<p>The phenomenon is referred to as "nonverbal coordination," and there is some existing evidence in deception research that it does occur when someone is under a heavy cognitive load. However, that evidence is based on observations of specific body parts and doesn't comprehensively capture whole-body behavior, and little research has mutually tracked both parties' movements in a lying scenario.</p><p>Nonetheless, say the authors, "Nonverbal coordination is an especially interesting cue to deceit because its occurrence relies on automatic processes and is therefore more difficult to deliberately control."</p><p>To track nonverbal coordination, pairs of participants in the study's two experiments were outfitted with motion-capture devices Velcroed to their wrists, heads, and torsos before being seated facing each other across a low table.</p><p>In the first experiment, a dynamic time-warping algorithm analyzed participants movements as they ran through exercises in which one individual told the truth, and then told increasingly difficult lies. In the second experiment, listeners were given instructions that influenced the amount of attention they paid to the liar's movements.</p><p>The researchers found "nonverbal coordination increased with lie difficulty." They also saw that this increase "was not influenced by the degree to which interviewees paid attention to their nonverbal behavior, nor by the degree of interviewer's suspicion. Our findings are consistent with the broader proposition that people rely on automated processes such as mimicry when under cognitive load."</p>
Mirroring<p>There is, it must be said, a third possible reason that a liar copies their target's behavior: Maybe liars are subconsciously reinforcing their credibility with their victims using "mirroring."</p><p>As Big Think readers and anyone familiar with the art of persuasion knows, copying another person's actions is called "mirroring," and it's a way to get someone else to like you. Our brains have "<a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/mirror-neurons-smiling" target="_self">mirror neurons</a>" that respond positively when someone imitates our actions. The result is something called "<a href="https://imaginehealth.ie/the-psychology-of-mirroring/" target="_blank">limbic synchrony</a>." <a href="https://www.scienceofpeople.com/mirroring/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Deliberately mirroring</a> a companion's movements is an acknowledged sales technique.</p><p>So, how can you tell when mirroring signifies a lie and not benign interpersonal salesmanship? There is an overlap, of course — lying is one form of persuasion, after all. Perhaps the smartest response is to simply take mirroring as a signal that close attention is warranted. No need to automatically shout "<a href="https://64.media.tumblr.com/7a549060a9b05fc0a94d50dfe0bcbd9e/tumblr_n24teywDbO1tv5oaqo1_250.gifv" target="_blank">liar!</a>" when someone copies you. Just step back a little mentally and listen a bit more carefully to what your companion is saying.</p>
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