It Begins As A Reaction
People who are hurt and angry sometimes give in to two unproductive natural urges:
- Hurt the other back so they'll think twice next time
- Disconnect oneself from the other to build distance emotionally
Maybe it's these two urges together that drive people to go to categories instead of keeping the context of an interpersonal struggle between two people.
It leads to using pejoratives related to the other's race, gender, age, sexuality, religion, etc, probably because these are known sore points, probably because they are shocking (and so speak to pain), and probably because they also leave the other categorized as 'less than'. It satisfies both urges.
We don't have to give in to those twin urges.
Most of us have given in at some point in our past.
When I look back far enough into my past I can dredge up an example or two. I would like to make excuses, but I know it was ignorance and willfulness and that I knew it was wrong at the time. No "get out of jail free" card for my past.
It All Looks The Same From The Outside
It is deucedly hard to tell an angry retort from a real, deeply-held "ism" like those we see playing out in the world this year.
Does the epithet reveal one as a bigot/chauvinist/racist or does it only show that they the person knows how badly bigotry, chauvinism, and racism hurt?
When one does go to categories, to the person receiving the epithet and to everyone else listening, it looks like act of true, chronic, systemic, heartfelt bias.
This breaks off relationships with people who don't share that bias.
Worse, it draws people who do.
To someone who truly carries the "ism," hearing it spoken is an encouragement. It builds their sense that "we're all thinking it" and that other people simply "lack the courage to say it out loud." It tells them that they are among kindred spirits. It emboldens them.
It is likely that the one speaking neither truly intended to cause permanent damage, nor intended to incite others to violence, nor intended to reinforce systematic suppression or dehumanization of others.
And yet, the consequences and appearances are the same.
We Can Do Better
We need to find new ways to process hurts.
We truly need to relate to other humans as individuals, even and especially when we are hurt.
This is necessary if we want to see a decline in the normalization of racism and hatred.
Maybe we can redirect others from categories to a human connection and a human context when it happens, maybe others can redirect us if (God forbid) it happens with us.
It doesn't mean that we give in to others who are hurtful, but that we don't go to war with them in a way that damages us in the eyes of others, calls up deep hurts in others that we can't really appreciate, and encourages the worst biases and behaviors in our fellow humans.
It means that we keep our personal business and our personal upset on a level where we can either resolve it, fight about it, or leave it where it is, rather than escalating to battles of categories where it is (seemingly) unsolvable.
Going to categories is trouble.
A small start
I have a small and simple idea. You can memorize it. I can probably fit it on a sticker. It's a promise to myself and to my friends and to strangers. It's not much, but if we start here, maybe the idea can go much further and deeper into the world. I don't pretend it will fix deep schisms, but after all peace begins inside us so the first "fix" has to be in our own hearts and minds.
Here is my pledge:
Expect respect from me.
If you don't see it, then help me.
We can do better.