The Sound of Silence: Shame.
I got a new follower the other day. Yay!
Hello New follower!
So, it got me to thinking … which some say is always a dangerous thing … maybe I’ve neglected my blog too long.
Why did I neglect my blog so long, someone may ask?
Bear with me. As usual, I will progress from the personal to the general, and after a brief autobiographical anecdote, I will draw a line of reasoning from me to how this relates to the world at large.
Well, there’s a bevy of excuses: my involuntary stay at the hospital where I had to pay the ransom of one inflated and discontented gall bladder for my release, my new job (which I love), etc.
But the real reason is that I was shamed. Not “ashamed,” but shamed by another person – retaliated against. A variation of the situation has happened before, and it didn’t sway me one way or the other. But this was different. My husband was pulled into it, even though he doesn’t involve himself in my writing at all. I don’t have much patience for people who try to stir up unnecessary trouble between a husband and a wife.
It almost worked.
It seems a disgruntled family member of a family member, despite my clear avoidance of her for nearly a year, found and read my anonymous (I write under a pseudonym) blog (her right) then complained to anyone in the clan who will listen. Then of course, a representative/mediator (every family has one, not a bad thing if handled well) went to my husband to “discuss” how the post upset the fragile little old ladies of the clan who are about as fragile as the Dowager Countess of Grantham and Leona Helmsley. But, as we know, my husband is the U.S. Regulatory Compliance & Complaint Commission for all things me.
Some people might conclude that since directly shaming me didn’t work, there were hopes an end run using my husband might quiet me down. After all, here in 1894, we all know people can rely on the men-folk to Keep Their Women In Line.
Wait, what? It’s not 1894? I can say what I want? Write what I want? Have my own values? Have a say in how the money I earn is spent? I don’t need the permission from The Elders or my husband for any of that?
Get thee to a sanatorium because I know that’s just crazy talk.
Still, the price my marriage had to pay seemed too high, especially with my husband caught in the middle as an innocent victim.
No matter how proud a person is, how confident, the right arrow at the right time, aimed at the right vulnerable spot can have a daunting effect. Even as I started to write this post this morning, I was filled with apprehension. It was my distaste for petty drama, my dislike for how my husband was treated in all of this, and I must admit my indignation at the gall on everyone else’s part that kept me away. I just didn’t want another petty drama in my life, and I want my husband and myself to be happy together, in spite of the punishment we both get for his decision to marry me.So, though I knew it was wrong not to post, though I betrayed what I believed in by keeping silent in response to one disgruntled and unfulfilled trouble-maker, I still kept quiet.
Me! Who aspired to wield my keyboard against evil with all the fierce determination of a Carol Pelletier.
But that’s how bullies work, isn’t it? They don’t care if they frighten you, harass you, shame you, whatever. They don’t care who they hurt or what they take down with them. They just want to make whatever you’re doing (even if it’s just occupying their shared piece of the planet) is such a pain in the ass that you will stop and comply with their values and edicts, no matter how imaginary their superiority is, or how destructive to others (or even themselves in some cases) their demands are. They will involve anyone and everyone – regardless of the harm they do to others or their relationships – in the advancement of their agenda. Sometimes that agenda extends no further than sameness.
And for a few weeks that had worked on me. Thank goodness that bullshit’s over.
Apparently, besides pissing me off, the situation pissed my gall bladder off enough to nearly explode and land me in the hospital. (I’m just joking here, but at some point, said critic will probably read that, take is seriously, then stroll through the next Social Gathering with a bell announcing how I publicly blamed her for my gall bladder removal. Welcome to Reality of the Absurd.)
So, when the pain and the painkillers (highly overrated, by the way) wore off – I set before myself the task of wanting to write about this, but in a way relevant to readers.
Well, it was quite the Labyrinth of choices I had before me: the cultural, the political, the social. Everywhere I looked I seemed to see the dynamic: if someone says something a group of don’t like, that someone is subjected to a barrage of berating shame. There were the incidents of college student micro-offenses[i] [ii] [iii], a trend that inspired Dr. John (Jay) Ellison of the College at the University of Chicago to write a “trigger letter,” which essentially explains to incoming students that the protections and rights of free speech extend to people whose viewpoints you don’t like.
Then, of course, there’s the current political discourse.
Social media has gone nuts. I’ve seen threads where one person’s view, albeit an offensive or biased view, elicits a mob reaction of demeaning insults that mimic a witch hunt.
It seems that whenever someone says, or holds a viewpoint another person doesn’t like, well, it’s time to retaliate. Hard. Even my much-beloved liberals and once-beloved Huffington Post seem to have adopted the stance of rancor, and a passionate contempt for people with opposing views seems to have replaced the contempt we are supposed to have for those ideas only.
Does everyone really think we all need to think the same thing, believe the same thing and anything different lands us in the madhouse, or worse? Are we now all agents of sameness, wanting to make sure we place our ideological pods next to everyone’s bed at night while they sleep?
However socially prevalent this trend may be, we are all able to be more than the product of our societies. We are able to rise above the lowest common denominator and seek out and strive to reach some moral high ground. Hell, these days I’d be happy to see a half-dozen or so people standing around chatting on the moral kind-of-halfway-up ground.
For me, that ground, either high or merely higher means respecting the boundary between what I believe or think, and another person’s right to autonomy. Our ideas, values, opinions – however objectively or subjectively determined, no matter how data-driven or emotionally-driven they are – are not weapons.
No one appreciates the freedom of speech ideal more than I. I’m notorious for my practice of it. I love a good debate and there are no hard feelings at the end of a good airing of ideas. However, there’s a time and a place. There’s also a distinction between my abstract opinions about the world, and passing judgment on someone’s actions that have nothing, or little, to do with me, and have everything to do with the other person’s welfare. While we all tend to judge privately, there’s a line in the sand – or at least should be – when it comes to using that judgment to try to enforce someone to conform to my personal values, or insulting, offending or belittling them for having values different from my own. I try not to cross that line.
If we want to change the world for the better, and there seems to be a current huge disagreement over what that “better” looks like, beating people up with moral superiority is hardly ever a) effective or b) humane, regardless of which side of the aisle you’re sitting on.
Long ago I realized two important things: First, that having feelings that I don’t like is a part of life, and I don’t have to do something about each and every thing that comes along that makes me feel bad. One great gift (and so totally not worth it – more of a consolation prize, really) of tragedy and adversity is that you come to realize just how transitory and insignificant most of the little dramas we all regularly encounter are. Feelings (unlike men at my age) are indeed like buses: if I just wait it out, another one will be alone in thirty minutes. There are things that I can just dislike and leave alone.
The second is the point of my post: I have the right to dislike and/or disagree with someone, and other people have the right to dislike and/or disagree with me. It may be unfortunate if that happens (then again, maybe I’ve dodged a bullet), but that doesn’t give either one of us the right to be unkind to the other or muck about in each other’s lives. In fact, we can agree to leave each other alone.
(Let me clear up one thing as an aside: there is a difference between being kind and kowtowing. There are those who will try to convince you that the latter is really the former. It’s not. Benefit from the wrinkles I earned picking that up on the school yard of life.)
Sadly, however, I’ve learned the hard way that kindness and courtesy are often mistaken for weakness, and as one person put it “weakness is often seen as an invitation to attack.” Merely tolerating offensive views, or personal aggression, are often mistaken for actually condoning either or both.
This has been a huge stumbling block for me and gotten me into numerous problems great and small, tragic and incidental. My willingness to ultimately “live and let live” gets misconstrued as weakness and vulnerability. Then, when I prove more strong and intelligent than previously suspected, all hell breaks loose. Gnashing of teeth, wailing, the whole thing. Not pretty. Huge pain in the ass.
So, thanks to more recent epiphanies, I’ve extended my principle so that while I strive to avoid being unkind to others, I strive even harder to avoid unkindness from others, as is not only my right, but my responsibility.
And yet, everywhere I turn around I see people, groups, etc., so rancorous that I wonder if they’ve even lost sight of the ideologies they’re espousing. Maybe the true goal is really just conflict or conquest into conformity. Either way, nothing ever gets better.
Just to continue the example of conflict for conflict’s own sake: the post that caused this last drama? Though assuredly not the last. I wasn’t even thinking of that woman when I wrote it; I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in eight months (intentionally). I had in mind some corrupt public servants and two rather dogmatic writers I’d known. Even so, the truth didn’t matter and it wouldn’t have mattered to her. Disruption had been achieved.
Really though, even if this is the current climate all around us these days, can’t we set the bar a little bit higher here people, and create some better goals for ourselves?