I’ve seen it on social media. I’ve noticed it in personal contacts. I’ve even seen it on the cable news. People today seem to be bristling with buttons, just waiting to be pushed, that will ignite a raw fury such as I haven’t seen before.
It can be a slip of the tongue, a misplaced word, even a simple facial expression — and suddenly, the person you are communicating with snaps. They become defensive, outraged and, sometimes, downright mean.
What is going on?
My hunch is that the tenor of what passes as discourse coming out of Washington is affecting the entire country — and not in a good way.
The toddler sitting in the White House regularly throws tantrums, fires off inflammatory tweets and makes insane pronouncements on his way to his helicopter. His barrage of hateful and unbalanced rhetoric is wearing on everybody, to the point that we are all feeling vulnerable and on edge. It’s hard not to feel that way when it has become painfully obvious that there is a mentally unstable man with his finger on the nuclear button.
No wonder our own buttons have such hair triggers.
So, while we wait and, hopefully, work to disarm the threat in Washington, we perhaps should do some soul searching and look at our own emotional armaments. I, for one, will freely admit that I have more than once bitten the head off a friend or ally because of a perceived slight. It did not help my mental or emotional wellbeing, and it almost alienated a good friend and ally.
As a cisgender white man, I often forget the privilege I have. Granted, that is somewhat mitigated by the fact that I am queer. But still, the deck is stacked in my favor. Even so, I find myself being ultra-sensitive to any characterization that might play into stereotypes of gay men.
I once snarled at a friend who used the adage, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” Sissies?! Looking back, I suppose I was also peeved by the reference to “growing old.”
The sentiment was not intended as a slur against gay people, and I should have let it slide or, perhaps, used a humorous response to make my point. Instead, I shamed my friend for using the stereotype in an analogy.
In the modern parlance, I guess I was guilty of “cancelling.”
A lot of that seems to be going on. Someone who is not as politically “woke” as others makes a slight gaff, and they are tossed aside.
The problem with that is it discards a lot of well-meaning folk who just haven’t kept up with the latest vocabulary coming from academia. Not everyone has their finger on the pulse of current trends in social justice.
All this is not to make excuses for genuinely hateful folks, like the guy in the White House. He and his minions are genuinely pushing our country towards some version of fascism that would appall our country’s founders. They deserve every bit of anger and animus we can muster, and I sincerely hope that translates to either impeachment or a landslide against the current version of the Republican Party.
What I am seeking is a kinder and gentler approach to the people who support social justice and progressive causes but might not have shed all the vestiges of their various privilege. Remember, it took them a lifetime of living with that privilege. And until recently, they probably never realized it.
I met a very wise woman named Loretta Ross at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit a couple of years ago. She founded an organization called SisterSong, which advocates for reproductive justice for women of color. She spoke eloquently on the need to “call in” instead of “calling out” when it comes to allies and potential allies.
“Calling in” means speaking to someone privately and lovingly as opposed to blasting them all over social media and “cancelling’ any further contact with them.
In this time of Nazi resurgence, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia and the general hatred that is infecting our country, we need the idea of “calling in.” Speaking personally to someone and letting them know how their speech or actions have affected people they know and care about will go further than ostracism and shaming.
Rather than letting people push our buttons, we would be better served to disarm ourselves — and them — by actually speaking with them. A heartfelt conversation will affect change much better than subjecting them to a public pillory.
Realizing that we are all living a bit on edge today, showing a little compassion and consideration might help take the edge off and model a better way of dealing with conflict. It will also let us save the righteous anger for the greater threat rather than wasting it on people who are more likely to listen to a reasonable voice than a loud shout.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com