Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Right Wing,
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Left Wing,
Dear Everyone Else,
PREAMBLE: I think it is fair to point out that you do not need to view me as a brother or sister; however, to be consistent with my own inner moral compass, I view you as such, and out of fairness I will let you know where you “stand” in my moral sphere. If you reject or do not reciprocate that sentiment, I do not deny you that, and will seek only that you act according to your own personal standards, whatever they be, and whatever consequences they engender.
I am writing this to settle some issue. It is an issue of what to do about the world, if anything. I am very unhappy with society, as are many of you. Setting aside optimism or pessimism about the future, or the various interpretations of the past- I am unhappy with the present. Many folks try to respond to this sentiment and I find their responses woefully inadequate. Thus, I am writing to settle the matter.
I will not overwhelm you with facts, for that is an unnecessary power ploy. I will not overrun you with metaphors, for that is an emotive technique. Given that human language is often expressed in fact and metaphor, I will find this an interesting and engaging challenge to exclude those. But here I go, and if you give me your attention, I will give you mine.
To begin, let me introduce myself to you, as I see myself (not as the various facets of the world see me; nor by my successes or mistakes). I simply want you to know how I see myself, and see the world, so that you will be at an advantage when responding to or seeking to understand me.
I am not one person, but several. I find that every face I look upon, I see a part of myself staring back, and I am filled with a sense of raw empathy and concern for the other- no matter whether they are the “worst” or the “best” of humankind. Such an experience could be easily forgotten, or passed over- but my own personal inclination pushes me to delve deeper into that feeling. And the deeper I delve the greater my concern becomes. However, I cannot voice or express these concerns because deep love is shunned; especially since I care and seek to understand the “outcasts” as well.
I am a frustrated person. I disagree with the “bullying” of those who are deemed terrible people, and I cannot make friends with those deemed wonderful people without hiding the depth of my love. Why is it so hard to love? But, it is. It is much easier to hate, and lie, and exploit. It is almost standard to do these things. They seem to convey a sense of power over others, and thus most discussions or debates nowadays seem to degenerate into just that: hatred, lies (hypocrisy), and exploitation of weaknesses.
To love is to be honest, and to understand, per my own experience. Honesty and understanding is valued by many of you. I wish to be honest with you, and understand you- and also promote this between you and others. I do not mind if you do not agree with others- but if we cannot understand or be honest, then we might as well fight it out right now, may the man-with-the-best-weapon win. What are the odds you will win this? What are the odds everyone will lose? What are the odds you will wake up in an afterlife with regret? Being unsure of the answers to those gives me pause.
SOCIETY AND ME:
Back to my frustration—I notice that love is not encouraged. To love is to seem vulnerable; but I have found, if you know your strength, showing your belly is not inviting attack- it is inviting company. And company does not imply you AGREE with everything about the ones you love. It simply implies that they are safe. It does not imply they are always safe- but for a short period they are invited to an exchange. I invite you to an exchange.
Do you feel safe? I have heard liberals and conservatives both express fear and that they are being targeted or attacked. I have heard this from those who are religious, various religions, and those who are atheist. From the wealthy, and the middle class, and the poor. I have heard this from the outliers, and the normative. I have heard this from so many people that it is evident to me that the world is not a safe place.
Further, it is evident that (given the discomfort of folks), that feeling “unsafe” is not a “normal” experience and that humans think they ought to feel safe more times than not. Feeling “unsafe” is therefore often, or always, accompanied by the feelings of “injustice” or “unfairness”. Lack of safety seems wrong, and so, from that I decide to take my definition of wrong. I cannot argue philosophically or scientifically or morally these things. I will simply take what is felt by others and put that on my pedestal of “current reality”.
Thus, a lack of safety is unfair, and it is wrong. And many in the world feel this way within society. Whatever benefits that your adversaries or opponents or “others” seem to have, they still feel unsafe, and fearing a lack of justice leads many to act. I see the present state of the world as consisting of droves and droves of human beings scrambling for safety in possibly all the “wrong” places. Wrong because, in the long run, they do not confer more safety.
What people do find is power, and power is defensive, allowing one to dream of and anticipate a future of safety. It is hard to act without hopes and dreams, and the hope of things being better or “right” can propel people along their chosen life paths. Sometimes, for some people, the dream can only be realised in another life, or in the future, or by others- even then, the hope is powerful enough to drive them to do great things.
Now that you understand me, my point of view, and how I view the world- let us discuss what we shall do about society.
WHAT TO DO:
My qualification for involving myself in this discussion is simply that I am a member of society. If there were less people per community, it would be easier to take more points of view into account. We no longer have small communities in most of the world. We have big societies, and since it seems implausible to care about what everyone feels or thinks, we tend to generalise, and seek conglomerate representation. I suppose it is a kind of solution- but changing the structure of society does not change human nature, and it is possibly human nature to “express with the assumption we might be at least considered“.
Not everyone can freely express. Granted, part of living in society is that we need to not only express, but also accept that there are consequences for such expression. Whether those consequences are “just” or “prejudiced” is up to the community, and also a personal interpretation. But, we must accept that consequences exist so long as people are free to respond to one another. If you do not accept this, there will still be consequences. Acceptance however, gives us leeway to negotiate. Take it or leave it.
Regardless, not everyone can freely express without their safety being threatened. This leads people to not express themselves. Does the need to express go away? Not in my observation. Humans sit with their unexpressed thoughts and feelings, and they seethe. Do you know what happens when you feel you cannot express something out of fear? You develop a sense of shame, of loneliness, of powerlessness.
When one realises the source of their discontentment is society’s suffocation, then comes along resentment and anger. Many activists act from this place. Many terrorists do too. Many unlabeled individuals perform their most regretted actions while in this place; while others find “positive” and “negative” ways to feel powerful again. Resentment and anger are harsh qualities; useful when harshness is needed. Harshness appears needed when one feels that without it they will not be safe. This is one reality of society.
SOLUTION 1: We need to allow expression, and seek understanding.
I am not referring to arguing whose philosophy of life or humanity is best. That is a ranking game. I am talking about showing our bellies, inviting each other to talk and address things, and allowing ourselves to consider an experience. Given that this is seldom done nowadays, it is likely you will confuse my meaning. Allow me to illustrate:
After someone does an act to bring attention to their cause/expression (regardless of how noble or righteous the cause is or isn’t)- do we deal with the act or do we address the cause/expression?
In my experience, we mainly deal with the act, hence those seeking a platform will often do so in a disruptive manner because that action will turn heads. Why should a disruptive manner be necessary? Why couldn’t Anders Behring Breivik feel heard without mass murder? Part of the answer to that lies within himself, the other part lies within what society “tolerates” from human expression. Why do people riot? Why do people attempt to “shut down” cities and governments?
We seem to prefer addressing “acts”, preventing “acts”, and controlling “acts”. And maybe we could even do this all decade without once considering that the expression behind the acts is “human”.
We must address other points of view because they do not develop in vacuums. They develop out of experience (direct or vicariously through others), through acceptance of certain facts or assumptions (whether or not they be the “full facts”), and in response to the sensation of injustice (whether or not their identified source of injustice is the true source). All of these are entirely human ways to develop a point of view. Refusing to listen does not nullify them. It simply renders another person invisible. Whether or not you agree with someone, rendering them invisible is not ideal– why? Because the consequences are very great.
I should clarify: It is not that the points of view need to elevated at face value per se—it is more about how they are received. Are we receiving them in a way that fosters understanding or reconciliation? We tend to be poor receivers of feedback nowadays, I think. We tend to react to those with different points of view with hostility, or by disregard. How is this working out?
Seeking understanding is the most effective way to really prevent acts we find disruptive. Understanding does not dictate what change or accommodation we make, if we need to make any. What it does require is openness, and trust. Do you trust someone who thinks differently than you? With trust we can foster a sense of safety on all sides- enough safety to allow time for us to get to know one another. And it takes time.
We are all prejudiced and unfair towards other people, right up until we love them.
I have a saying: We are all prejudiced and unfair towards other people, right up until we love them. I say this because I have seen it to be true. Do not allow yourself to assume you are a fair person, or that human nature is automatically unprejudiced. This is a fallacy. We need to understand our own natures before we can understand others.
SOLUTION 2: We need to understand ourselves.
Do you know yourself? Have you explored things you find interesting? Do you have a sense of your temperament and what foods affect it? Do you know what determines a good day for you? Questions no one has time to answer- it would seem. We ought to be free to explore ourselves and understand who we are as human beings. I am not talking about excellence, but just simple familiarity.
Understanding ourselves is something we must self-direct. Just as we directed ourselves to learn things like language and walking (as a child), our growth must continue. Self-awareness is uniquely a self-motivated pursuit. Granted, certain things in life can present formidable distractions to this awareness, but whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, we must make space to explore our own natures, to see ourselves in a broader picture.
Helpful things in this pursuit include: clarity of thought; lightheartedness; a sense of humour; allowing oneself to imagine. It’s actually quite fun. But given that many do not seek to understand themselves, my meaning will likely be mistaken. Allow me to illustrate:
When one’s activities are dictated by the shame and boundaries put forth by society, people tend to explore their “worth”, not their selves. Exploring ones worth is taking into consideration the judgement of society and what will make one feel more secure and safe, and then building from that place. Building a career, building a public image, building a certain kind of family, building an expertise, et cetera, out of a sense of increasing value. This is not the self-exploration that I mean, although “value” can be an unintended result.
What I am speaking of is what one would do if they did feel safe, secure, and free within society to explore the things that truly intrigue them, and to push their adventure or imagination without needing pre-approval. What results from this is often unique to each person. This is the space where many innovations and exciting creative projects take place. This is exploring ones interests without necessarily needing to devote a career to it, or without needing to create a standardized product. Ultimately it is assuming “worth” is intrinsically present, and so not worrying about it.
We are together in the world. When we make a decision to do something or express something, we must accept that there are consequences. That is because, response is also expression, and that should be allowed. If you insult someone, they will insult you back, is it not? They do not have to, and may choose not to, but even if they do not, they might feel unsafe. And a lack of safety leads to other undesirable and desperate things.
For the people receiving an expression, if we choose not to respond or to respond by ignoring someone, there are consequences to that as well. Our best responses, or our optimal responses will occur when we do so in a space of safety, and openness to understanding. This is most possible when we are already cultivating the same space within ourselves. Just like in airplane safety videos, we must be working on ourselves already in order to tackle anything having to do with others. At last, there’s a metaphor for you (I could not resist).
Basically, its not WHAT we do, but how we do it. We have many theories and ideas about what would make society better, or sustainable, or good. But whatever we think, the way we build our society will truly determine its present, and future. We cannot build a society when people are feeling widely unsafe, and acting out of disruptive anger and resentment. That society is being rejected even as it is being constructed.
EPILOGUE: Thank you for considering my thoughts. I bet my “solutions” seem too simple. I assure you they are not. They cost time, energy, and likely will lead to mistakes being made. But it seems that the desirable consequences are far more important to us than their cost: a sense of safety, security, and understanding (Not forced). From there we can creatively foster our own communities, in whatever way is best for each. And with each generation, we can revisit one another to make further developments. A far better foundation for life, in my imaginary experience.
Essay Copyright 2018 by Saying Sooth 2018.
Photo by Saying Sooth, Fall 2017.