I’ve been examining what got and has kept me so motivated, so agitated, so troubled over the last few years. In ways that are new for me. Big picture things. During that time, I’ve looked at what parts of my “shadow self” I might be witnessing being projected through the behaviors I observe.
I’ve sought out and worked to understand the what and why of the people who act and say what they do, and those who support them. I’ve read professional journals. I’ve studied history. I’ve consulted with colleagues. I’ve engaged in conversations with those who enthusiastically, unapologetically and unashamedly supported some, if not all, of what I have been witnessing.
Despite all of that, I just didn’t get it. Until a morning, not so long ago. That morning I saw a leader of our country mimic a body slam that a member of Congress had done in real life, on another person, and heard him say, in effect, “Now, that’s my kind of guy”, laughing and smirking as the crowd roared in approval. It reminded me of scenes from the gladiator arenas I’ve seen in movies, where the victor is cheered for killing his opponent.
It’s the violence that’s been troubling me. Not just the fisticuffs, not just the shootings, not just the cars running over people, not just the torches and the slogans and the desecrated houses of worship and cemeteries. Not just the children locked up in cages. Not just the murders of innocent Americans as a result of hate crimes, not just the…Or perhaps it has been the cumulative effect of all of those things that I just can't ignore.
Any one of those things, in and of themselves, should have been enough to register as “it” with me. But they were not enough. That morning, it finally came to me. It’s another kind of violence. It is the words. It is name calling, ridiculing, mocking, snide remarks, belittling, making fun of, bullying. That kind of violence. Verbal and emotional abuse. The kind that gets people in trouble, usually.
These have been the motivational tools that the leaders of our country have historically engaged in to demonize enemies in war time. Designed to move the citizens of our country to protect our country. To give up their lives. During my lifetime we’ve done it to the Germans, Japanese, Vietnamese, Middle Easterners, Central Americans, Africans, and now it is a kind of violence directed, not at some perceived foreign threat, but at Americans.
This violence is done with immunity. With impunity. It happens most every day. New targets or old. It is applauded by millions of my fellow citizens (the ones not on the receiving end of the taunts and barbs). The perpetrators are cheered and urged on; fed by the laughter and applause and ratings.
I choose to believe that none of us would ever want and/or if we could help it, allow one of our loved ones to be targeted like this. We probably would do whatever it takes to stop these beatings. Verbal or otherwise.
It’s the violence of the spoken and written word. It’s not about policies. Both “sides” of the political spectrum participate in it. However, it is not an even fight. One side has a larger pulpit. One side enjoys greater power. One side appears on every news channel, media outlet, and social media platform.
Just as knowing that the symptoms I am experiencing means I have the flu, not Ebola; understanding that I am living through an era and as a member of a family (America) that exhibits the symptoms of domestic abuse provides some comfort. At least I know how to make sense of it and find some comfort in knowing and naming what I am experiencing.
I’m told by some that they don’t see/hear anything of the nature that I speak of. That they have no idea what I’m talking about and wonder out loud if I’m not making things worse by suggesting such a thing.
I’m told by others that they believe we, (our way of life, our country, our future) are in a battle for our very existence and such things as these and their consequences are nothing but unfortunate collateral damage that is a part of any total war (up to and including dead bodies; that our CIC is our very own General George Patton).
I’m told by some that the reason their side is doing it is because the other side started it. It is excused as the price of entertainment, progress, good economic times, being from a particular part of the country, the person doing it is socially challenged, and justified by some, as simply fighting back.
I’m told by others to just be quiet and ignore it.
So what am I doing about it? A passage from a conversation between Bell Hooks and Pema Chodron ("Beyond Right and Wrong" The Sun Magazine, June 1997) defines it. "Accountability means being honest, incredibly honest. You see that harm is being done. You see someone harming another being. You see that clearly and you wish to lessen that suffering. Then the question becomes one of how to proceed so that the person you see as the problem becomes accountable, willing to acknowledge what he or she is doing. You realize how hard it is for you to acknowledge what harm you are doing in your own life. Seeing how much it takes to become accountable yourself, you try to find skillful means to communicate with this person so that barriers come down, rather than get reinforced. It has everything to do with communication. How can you each hear what the other is saying?"
This is incredibly difficult. We all have a mechanism that allows us to ignore facts that are inconsistent with our ideology or worldview. Much time and energy go into creating each of our own model of the world. Given that large investment, we are extremely reluctant to change our model. Our worldview includes our sense of self, ideology and tribal identity. If you bluntly challenge my beliefs, you naturally will encounter fierce resistance.
When a dependable lifelong belief set is confronted by contradictory facts, the result is a hardening in those positions, not a change. Not only are my beliefs not “corrected” by fact checking, but the attempt at correction with facts increases my misperceptions. When my deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, those beliefs only get stronger. Facts may be stubborn things, but minds are more so.
Lecturing doesn’t help. Listening does. Instead of sermonizing, listen. Listening forces the speaker to consider their underlying beliefs and knowledge. The process forces them to think critically about their belief system. It leads to better hypotheses by helping to identify and eliminate those beliefs that were weak or problematic.
All of our "world views" have incredible gaps in logic. If I listen to others well enough, they will run into them and self-correct. They are more likely to modify their model of the world when they reach a conclusion on their own. The only drawback is that this requires thought, preparation and patience. And don't expect to be listened to in return. If you are asked your point of view and the other person listens to you as you did to them, that's a miracle. I have never had that happen.
At a recent workshop, after hearing all of this, someone asked "Why do I have to be the one to listen?" I told them, "You don't". I wish I would have said, "But if you don't, who will?"
The sheer amount, frequency and volume of verbal and emotional abuse I suggest I see and hear on a daily basis (and, suggestions that physical abuse in some situations is ok too), can decrease my sensitivity to it, but I need to remember that it doesn't decrease the damage. If I allow it to decrease my sensitivity to it, I am more likely to do it to others or normalize it as others are victimized by it.
I’m wondering how you see all this and what you do with what you see?