The harder part of this whole thing is living values and navigating what to do when the values conflict. It happens to all of us at one point or another and, most likely, we all fail to negotiate these instances cleanly and compassionately. I certainly didn’t the week of Charlottesville and, though I’m far from alone in that, I know I can do better and I know there are better ways.
The picture above is part of the Wiccan Rede, the part that I could fit on a parchment sheet for a project in school creating our own versions of illuminated texts, like The Book of Kells. There is one part I really need to work on: “Speak you little, listen much.” You’re probably nodding right now. Yeah…. shush, you.
Lucky for me, one of the lessons to be learned in Taurus is the value of patience and hard work. I just have to get past the stubborn side or maybe even use it keep at this. I am also lucky in that my Sun is in Virgo, because the archetype for Virgo is the Analyst, “piercing thought and winning eloquence” (she flatters, but I like it much better than the “critical bitch” we tend to get labeled with). Also, both Taurus and Virgo are Earth signs, meaning we are all about the practical and the physical. Words and intentions are nice and all and, yes, they matter, but when it really comes right down to it, what am I doing with it? What am I manifesting in this world?
It comes back to the question I asked in Part I. How do I both show tolerance and stand against intolerance without making things worse or being a hypocrite? So, I’ve been watching videos and reading articles that look at hate and extremism. Two, in particular, have been really helpful: one is an article by Christian Picciolini, a former skinhead, and the other was a TedTalk by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. They left their groups over time, but mostly because they were able to see the Other as human through conversations – one through music and the other over Twitter. And both of them found communities afterward with the people who they originally targeted for hate. I think Ms. Phelps-Roper sums up public discourse perfectly:
“We write off half the country as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist, misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity.”
She also has a solution:
“The good news is it’s simple. And the bad news is that it’s hard. We have to talk and listen to people we disagree with. It’s hard because we often can’t fathom how the other side came to their positions. It’s hard because righteous indignation, that sense of certainty that ours is the right side is so seductive. It’s hard because it means extending empathy and compassion to people who show us hostility and contempt. The impulse to respond in kind is so tempting, but that isn’t who we want to be.”
There were four things her online conversationalists did that helped her to look past the rhetoric she had learned, 20 years of hate learned since infancy, and the elements of what she is talking about have shown up in talks by Christopher Picciolini as well.
Don’t assume bad intent.
We forget that people may actually have reasons or experiences that have led them to where they are. Are they representative of a whole? No, but no one has a whole picture. If we assume good or neutral intent, it’s a much better framework for discussion (paraphrasing here).
It goes both ways and it needs to be an actual question rather than one asked in irony or asked rhetorically. We can’t refute what we don’t understand and we need to be open to hearing the flaws in our own argument to move forward toward understanding and reconciliation. Toward building something lasting.
It’s easy and sometimes even satisfying to bite back, but it’s not productive. Refusing to escalate is hard, it can feel like we are conceding, but it can help. Suggestions given are changing the subject, telling a joke, recommending a book, or even just gently excusing yourself from the conversation. This is kind to both you and the person you are speaking with, giving you both a needed mental break. It’s one of the best communications skills listed in The Ethical Slut as well. As hard as it is to stay calm, we are talking about breaking down ideologies and that can leave a person lost and defensive. It’ll take time and kindness.
Make the argument.
We assume that our position is clear and right. That the other person should just instinctively get it and, if they don’t, they’re stupid, wrong, evil. We have to take the time to explain what our side is and the evidence for it. We have to allow for other people to poke holes in our arguments as well.
None of these things are possible with memes. Don’t get me wrong, a good political meme can be really funny, but I’ve lately taken to really analyzing them and not sharing them. It’s too easy, it’s not nuanced, and the automatic reaction is anger if it singles out a group you identify with. And, let’s be real here, there are big inconsistencies on both sides. Ideologies, much like people, are complicated. Memes can be funny, but not productive if we want resolve differences and build a future together.
I really believe that we are much more the same over all than we are different. We are all human, for all the good, the bad, and the neutral that means. A large portion of the talks I listened to are based on our tendency toward dehumanization of the Other. There was one more talk that affected me deeply over the last two weeks. Even the title made me uncomfortable: Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation. It involved a man and a woman, and the talk revolved around the day he raped her and the 17 years it took for the two of them to reconcile. It was so important for me to watch, because it took an act that, for me, produces a gut level reaction of disgust and anger and made the person who committed it human. Even so, I was relieved that the reconciliation was not a romantic one, but literally a healing experience, so they could both move on with their lives.
They admit their reconciliation would not work for everyone. It requires that both parties be able to have honest, open, and difficult conversations. It is hard work. Not everyone is ready or willing to do this work. But it is important to try. Thordis said something about the terms used in the sexual violence discussion, however, I think it is applicable to the political divide as well:
“How will we understand what it is in human societies that produce this violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it…?”
This does not mean that I think I can talk to a neo-Nazi and simply reason them out of hate by being nice to them. Far from it. There are studies that show that reason doesn’t work in these types of arguments. It may even legitimize that their hate into a further feeling of rightness. However, I don’t believe that everyone who voted for Trump, or even everyone who continues to support him, even after everything, even as unfathomable as it is to me, is a budding neo-Nazi or KKK member. Nor do I think I am going to talk any hard-core antifa members out of meeting violence with violence, partially because I can honestly see their point, even if I don’t agree.
So, here’s what I have done this week:
- I have apologized to most of the people I have attacked over the past few weeks with pointed comments made in response to memes. Mild as I may have considered them to be, they were still unfair to the people I have known for some time. There is still one I need to talk to, but I am still working up to that.
- I have read the Platform and About Us sections of both the KKK and Black Lives Matter websites. I have also read up on the various forms of neo-Nazis and antifa, which is harder because there are so many versions of both, some organized, some not. I still hold the same opinions about the groups as I did when I came to their pages, but the major difference is I can see how similar some of the talking points are to other platforms of people I actually know and know well. It wouldn’t take much misinformation or a few bad experiences with a group for these extreme opinions to form. Between you and me, that’s scary af.
- I have decided the best place for me to start my need for listening and conversation is in healing the divide that has come up between me and my own family and friends; the people I know who are part of the 90% in the middle rather than the extreme tails on each side.
So far there is still frustration, but overall I think I am having much better and more productive conversations. But, perhaps more importantly, I feel much more at peace and comfortable in the sense that I am actively practicing my values. I highly recommend the talks I have linked and also the information put out by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. They are non-partisan and have a lot of information on how this stuff works as well as links to other sources.
I am still exploring the best way to get involved moving forward, but, for now, I’m working on the “speak you little, listen much” portion of my beliefs. Thank you for reading.