This week, I’m dipping my toe in politics (Gasp! I know, right?) based on a FB post I wrote last week in response to the Donald Trump statues. It’s actually not really a political post though, as I identify as an Independent (so don’t worry, and please read on, because I think it’s important, and I think you’ll like what you read.)
It’s perhaps from that non-partisan perspective that I can better see things that show up as red flags. In response to my post, I heard from friends on both sides of the fence (fiercely loyal Republicans and Democrats alike), and both agreed wholeheartedly with what I wrote, which caused me to pause and reflect on what’s truly going on, if two opposing sides can agree.
Here’s the original post.
So…can I just chime in for a second… Because this is funny and all, and it’s always a good joke to poke fun at someone we find insufferable, right? But… if it were the other way around, if naked Hillary statues were placed around the country, would it be as funny? Or would we be outraged? Because if it wouldn’t be funny to you, then maybe this is not actually funny.
I just want to make a tiny reminder that double standards are the breeding ground for things like racism and privilege. Just something to think about from the social worker in me. Thank you.
Followed by this, in the comments during an ongoing discussion:
The downfall of this election will not be (I fear) who wins or loses, it will be the American people more divided than ever. No matter which candidate wins, we all lose. Spreading division is a sure fire way to create the lowest morale and systemic emotional illness, from which it will take years to recover – which then means that neither candidate will win, because they will inherit an emotionally diseased country, of their own making. PS: It’s called the UNITED states, and they/we are making it the DIVIDED states.
Discussion ensued, and I started to see the pattern that initially gave me pause. Basically, the act of publicly degrading another human being feels like a violation of our core for the majority of people, regardless of party politics. Why? Because it is.
It’s a simple truth actually. If we witness someone acting out negatively toward another human being, we either a) become enraged, or b) become sensitized to it, and ultimately accept more “bad” behavior. How we then choose to act is dependent upon our initial reaction.
I had a real-life “example” in grad school with a friend when we were sitting in a coffee shop watching a mother disciplining her child, rather cruelly but without physical abuse. It was that very fine line of what is acceptable and what is not as a society. It lasted less than a minute, and neither of us wanted to step in, but both of us were angered and upset as we sat dumbfounded trying to figure out what to do. What was “right?”
Of course, we couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer, but our awareness had been heightened by the experience and ensuing discussion, which, for me, resulted in a greater sensitivity to seeing the forest from the trees. That basically means that when I see something go from individual to systemic a HUGE red flag rises in my mind’s eye, and that’s exactly what happened last week.
Back to the Trump statues. Let me be clear that I don’t agree with the divisiveness and hatred that Donald Trump has espoused this past year, so this article isn’t about defending Trump. Nor is this article about condoning Hillary, as the Democrats have historically also been responsible for divisiveness and mud-slinging. Neither party is innocent of this type of debasing behavior.
This article is about defending humanity and our civilization.
In one comment on the statues, it was suggested that it was “okay” to mock Trump with the statues because satire has always been a part of politics, and it’s our right. In another the mockery was justified as “deserving” because of Trump’s words over the past year.
This is where I took issue.
At what point does mockery become a threat to society? At what point do we stop and say, “no.” to that sort of behavior? This is where we have to guard against the slipper slope of mockery. Where I suggested the statues went too far for myriad reasons.
The responding comment suggested that this was not a time to take the “high road,” to which I wrote:
…for me it’s not about “the high road” – it’s about focusing on the bigger picture, which is that this type of behavior fuels more of this type of behavior, and if I condone it in one, I must condone it in all. No reason justifies it. That would be like saying, a person who was abused is ok to then abuse others. It’s not. It never is. It might explain why someone has abused someone else (as it often does), but it doesn’t make it ok on any level. Not for me, at least.
….And into that very dangerous ground we tread. The minute we can start rationalizing and justifying demoralizing behavior, we are losing. As a society and as humanity.
…If we start segregating people based on this thinking (they deserved it) we have reverted as a collective. Who is to be judge and jury? It’s all subjective. And the loser is always society.
The discussion ended there. Though a few days later, a friend had shared similar thoughts to my original post on her own timeline, and she received backlash. Again, those who would justify or rationalize (two major red flags, as I described in my book What if..?) the demoralizing statues as “deserving” voiced their opinions. My friend, courageously suggested that kindness should begin to rule our words – especially politically – to which one of her friends suggested civility, at least. I chimed in again:
…it’s more than kindness – it’s civility. But for me, it’s more than that – it’s humanity and civilization. As we lose our sensitivity to unacceptable behavior – that behavior becomes the “norm” and the threshold is moved. It’s one of the most slippery slopes we have actually, and if we don’t stem the tide, it will become a tsunami. And then all of humanity, civilization, loses. We ALL lose, regardless of party allegiance. I’m in the camp that we are already losing, but not in the camp of “beyond hope” for systemic change. But it has to start somewhere, and ideally it has to be bookended – from both above and below. Those in power, and those that elected them, both have to change how it’s done. Both have to have a fierce no-tolerance policy for degradation.
You see, historically (and even currently) I have always aligned with the policy of laissez-faire, or “let it do” (aka: let go). I don’t believe any one person has a right to impose their beliefs on any other person, myself included. I wish to be free to explore my beliefs, my thinking, my studying and change my mind/actions/presence accordingly. And I want the same for everyone else. Where beliefs overlap, I want those individuals to be able to form community and fellowship, celebrating the overlap and the joy in connection. This is my ideal society.
Overall, I think we have been living this way in America for a long time. It’s not perfect, but it has functioned, mostly well. The reason it functioned, I think, is because the majority had adopted a civil and moral code of conduct that was unwritten, but understood. Therefore, when I see the system sliding away from that invisible moral code and crossing a threshold into transforming unacceptable behavior into the “norm,” I get concerned. Red flags rise everywhere, and it becomes time to speak up and speak out against this type of behavior.
I think if you asked most citizens of this country if they believed in basic human rights, and the desire to be free to think as they choose without having their beliefs imposed upon, they would agree. Nobody wants to be scorned. Nobody wants to be shamed. Nobody wants to be mocked, ridiculed, or degraded. I doubt you would find one person willing to subject themselves to such behavior. Why then, do we do it to others?
Why is it ok to mock, shame, scorn and degrade another human being, when we don’t want it for ourselves?
The simple truth is: it’s not.
It’s not okay, and it never will be okay – but the more we do it, see it, witness it without speaking up, the more acceptable and “okay” it becomes through progressive rationalization, or desensitization. And that’s what we witnessed last week with the statues.
Yes, politics and satire have always been bedfellows to an extent, but at what point have we crossed the line from satire into degradation? At what point do we draw the line and choose to reverse the problems this type of behavior has created?
I would argue that that point is now, and it’s up to all of us to simply say “no, I don’t accept that behavior,” when we see it, and then offer a different way. The important distinction is to comment on the behavior, not the person. Behavior is something that can be changed. It’s not a statement about a person (ie: “I don’t accept that person,” which is problematic for myriad reasons), it’s a statement about something a person has done. That can then lead to discussion, relation, and connection – which ultimately leads to positive change for all.