Growing up, I often heard there were two things you did not talk about openly, religion and politics. Sadly, it’s still true today. If you want to see a mind close quickly, strike up a conversation on those two topics and you will see chest bones rise along with a good amount of passion and anger. I’ve never understood the anger but, as I now like to say, it is what it is.
Last year, after hearing of the DNC’s plot to shut down Bernie Sanders, I knew then Clinton didn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning. I told a few friends of my observations and conclusions. Oh, did my words meet with much hostility and that for me was concerning. When we stop talking openly and civilly and begin hitting each other over the head with insults and passive aggressive statements, we lose, all of us lose.
Many, many years ago, a friend of mine offered up an edict to me. I call it an edict because she wielded a certain amount power and/or knowledge of how things worked in certain circles. She asked me not to bring up certain subjects, questions, concerns while in the company of her friends. Further, she wanted me to hold any questions, comments or concerns I had for later conversation, with her alone, and she would address those questions, comments, or concerns.
One day she and I had a rather contentious conversation regarding a statement made by one of her friends. I wanted to challenge the statement but was quickly shut down when I felt her foot hit mine. When did it become okay to not challenge or correct someone? When did the lively art of conversation devolve into only what I believe it what matters? As I drilled down on my argument against dissent, she threw a label my way, followed by yet another label and then another. I looked at her and said, “you are trying to bend my will to your will and it ain’t gonna happen.” Using a phrase she so loved, I told her she was “using the master’s tools.” Those tools: “divide and conquer.” Once you start labeling people, you have effectively placed that person(s) in the position of “the other” and you shut them down and stop listening to their perspective.
When you shut people down they will rise against you with their own set of labels for you. They will rise against you and against their own best interests just to stick a knife in you, just to go against you to prove a point. Nothing good can come of that as anger derives from fear, the fear of rejection derives from a lack of understanding and all of it becomes a weapon for destruction. Not only will they hurt themselves, by extension we are all hurt.
Divide and conquer is a capitalist tool and, to use the words of a mythical Willie Lynch in his letter or speech to capitalists, i.e., slave owners, he cautioned them to not waste their product (the slave) by hanging them from yonder poplar tree. Instead, he urged they separate the young from the old, the house negro from the field negro, the light from the dark, etc. In that way, they’ll argue among themselves and won’t notice what the master is doing. That scenario has been played out for centuries and we keep falling for it.
During this election cycle, I saw moderates versus progressives, boomer versus millennial, white versus black, old versus young, everyone versus “the other,” women versus men, the educated versus the non-educated, rich versus poor, name it, it was out there. There were divisions in both parties as many standard bearers became mysteriously silent. On the side of the Democrats, the silence was loud and palpable. It foretold what was to come.
Most disconcerting for me was the loss of compassion. I saw many good people morph to become the very thing they professed to hate. How did this happen? Arrogance perhaps?
I am backing away from all things political today because all of this could have been averted. Unfortunately, what I am seeing is a rise in people trying to bend someone’s will to their own will, belittling someone for not believing as they believe, no discourse or conversation, lots of put downs and lots of hurt feelings. Will we ever rise from beneath this heavy load? Yes, but it will only happen when we turn our heads in the opposite of fear and/or shame to talk with someone with different views and thoughts and, more importantly, listen.
I loved what Van Jones did, albeit a little too late in the game, but at least he did turn his head to talk with others and I appreciated his effort. I know many who lambasted him for doing so but, when we all start doing this, getting past our egos, self-righteousness, or our so-called high moral ground – which sounds like some of the worst kinds of Christians – we may finally get to a place where we no longer see those with whom we disagree – “the other” – as someone to disregard. In the meantime, we are sheep being led to slaughter and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I’m at a place now where I’m looking at folks pointing to the speck in the eyes of others without seeing the 2×4 coming out of their own. It’s sad, but then again, it is what it is. My seatbelts are buckled.
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