Friday, January 12, 2018

"You Just Don't Get It"

There’s nothing “wrong” with anything. “Wrong” is a relative term, indicating the opposite of that which you call “right.” Yet, what is “right”? Can you be truly objective in these matters? Or are “right” and “wrong” simply descriptions overlaid on events and circumstances by you, out of your decision about them? And what, pray tell, forms the basis of your decision? Your own experience? No. In most cases, you’ve chosen to accept someone else’s decision. Someone who came before you and, presumably, knows better. Very few of your daily decisions about what is “right” and “wrong” are being made by you, based on your understanding. This is especially true on important matters. In fact, the more important the matter, the less you are likely to listen to your own experience, and the more ready you seem to be to make someone else’s ideas your own.

--Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God, Book 1

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

--Joseph Heller, Catch-22

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.

--George Bernard Shaw


Rarely do I begin a post with three, count 'em, three epigrams. Yes, folks, this one is important.

I read something on Facebook today, not for the first or last time, that...well, you might say it triggered me. It was this, from a Trump supporter: "YOU LOST, GET OVER IT".

That was his response to a criticism of Donald Trump. "You lost, get over it".

It's helpful, when reading enraging things like that, to take a few mental steps back and realize what's happening. This is a stonewalling technique -- what John Michael Greer calls a "thoughtstopper".  (See here for a very valuable lesson on thoughtstoppers).

They are everywhere just lately, thoughtstoppers. Politics is even more replete with them than usual, and they're cropping up elsewhere in my life, too. Another one would be the title of this blog.

"You just don't get it". Well, then, why don't you explain it to me? "You'd never understand". And bingo-bango-bongo, an entire topic is closed, walled up (with stone, naturally) and left to die. What's really infuriating about this technique is that people on both sides of an issue use it on each other AT THE SAME TIME. The "coastal elites" just don't get the concerns of Americans in flyover states and vice versa. The harried father will never understand his wayward teenage son--but nor will that son make the slightest attempt to understand what his father is trying to tell him. And so communication breaks down, issues fester...eventually war breaks out, in one form or another. All because neither side would make any effort to engage the other on the other's own terms.

WHY won't I ever get it? One reason often cited is that I'm not American/not a parent. Does that, in and of itself, disqualify me from stating an opinion on America or parenting? I hope not. A high school dropout can have very good ideas on how to run education, believe it or not. Maybe if her ideas had been implemented when she was in school, she would not have dropped out! I'm not American, but being just one country up, I kind of have a vested interest in what the fuck is going on down there. And I'm not a parent, but it's not for lack of trying--and the social worker who ultimately quashed our dreams of BEING parents first made a big, big deal of how "sound" our philosophy of parenting was.  Your house doesn't feel like a house with kids in it...that was the most effective thoughtstopper ever used on me. I couldn't formulate a reply to that for days.

"But her emails"....

I heard that one countless times, too, from Trump supporters. As a defence of anything Trump does, it's beyond laughable: um, can we stay on topic here? But the thing is: it's not meant to be a defence. It's meant to be a thoughtstopper. Changing the subject stops thought for both parties in a discussion. Often, this is done with maximum venom. The venom itself adds a layer to the thoughtstopper, because now, not only has the topic changed, but you have to calm somebody down. And, subconsciously or even consciously, that person is hoping by the time you've expended energy to calm him down, you will have forgotten the original topic entirely.

"My" side engages in thoughtstoppers, too, of course. Saying Donald Trump is "literally Hitler" is rather disingenuous. Hitler had a political philosophy behind him, as odious as it was. Trump is an opportunist who will adopt pretty much ANY position wholesale if it will get him the approval he craves. (That's probably one good reason the man has not been and will never be impeached: he signs anything put in front of him, and is therefore an exceedingly useful idiot.)

"Literally Hitler" is an exaggeration--seriously. There are no concentration camps in the United States and until I see them being built, I'm going to dismiss "literally Hitler" out of hand. It's hard enough to discuss the meanness, pettiness and general ineptitude of Donald Trump...we don't need to exaggerate it.
But we live in an exaggerated world now, don't we? The people on both sides of any argument, be it political or personal,  are not just WRONG, they are STUPID and they are EVIL. And of course, being stupid means "they'll never understand"; being evil means you don't want them to.

Let's take a step back, and let's for a moment pretend that the person who is "WRONG" is NOT stupid or evil. Let's just talk about wrong.

There is no such thing as right or wrong, you know. They are wholly arbitrary value judgments, and they change, often dramatically, over time and space. Does this mean "anything goes"? OF COURSE NOT.

There is no "right" and no "wrong", but there is "what works" and "what doesn't work", given what you're trying to do. To adapt the example used in Conversations with God, if I set out from Waterloo with the intent to go to Toronto, and I go west...well, you know, given world enough and time, I will get to Toronto eventually. It's probably not the best use of my life--but hey, maybe I wanted to take a trip around the world. To be less extreme, I could go north or south before I go east--and I might have compelling reasons to. Maybe I don't like the 401. Maybe there's a huge accident around Milton. Maybe I want to stop at Flapjack's (no maybe about that, I want to go back there badly). It's out of my way, but often out of my way is precisely the way I want to go.

What's happening in the United States right now is tragic not because there are two opposing sides, but because both sides are so obsessed with calling each other WRONG, STUPID and EVIL that they have forgotten the rules of the "game"...and in many cases, the very concept of the "game". They are, in fact, just out to get each other, to score purely political points.  So let's dispense with "wrong" for a moment, too, and ask ourselves

What are we trying to do?

Politically, this is a very involved question. Entire books can be written on one tiny piece of it. Do we want a society in which gun deaths are minimized? We can debate different approaches to that end goal, but the status quo IS NOT WORKING.  Shutting down debate by saying things like "you just want to confiscate all the guns!!!" OR "you gun-toting yahoos are a bunch of redneck murderers!!!"? Thoughtstopper.

Personally, this can be every bit as involved. What do I want to do with my life? What do my children want to do with theirs? (You don't, as a parent, get to make those two things the same question with the same answer; sorry, but you don't.) Is what's happening now working? Yes? No? If not, why not? And let's do try to avoid anything that might stop thought.

I'm terrible for that--I let ill-defined fears stop me in my tracks every time. Fear of rejection, which I equate with wasted effort plus ritual humiliation. Oh, fuck, THAT'S appealing....and thus is my thought --and motivation -- stopped dead in its tracks. If I strip all emotion out of it (usually an advisable thing to do), I can intellectually grasp that rejection letters aren't published all over the world and that rejection doesn't mean I fall behind, it only means I don't get ahead in that direction. Maybe I need to go EAST... Yeah, I get it. And then the emotion floods in whenever I even think of -- never mind, the thought stopped.

What makes discourse difficult verging on impossible nowadays is yet another thoughtstopper, to wit: confusing the judgment of an action ("does this work, given what I'm trying to do?") with judgment of a PERSON ("you're wrong, stupid, and oh, yeah, evil"). Any criticism, no matter how gently couched, is thus perceived as a personal attack, and THIS MEANS WAR!

I see this playing out on a large scale in America today. Things have become so hyper-emotional, so tribal, that actual honest dialogue has been weaponized and attempts to actually engage are greeted with suspicion...often outright hostility.

No. No, no, a thousand times no. Smart people can do ... disadvantageous ... things. It doesn't make them stupid people. It doesn't even make them "wrong", necessarily. There may be, and often are, compelling (or seemingly compelling) reasons to drive west instead of east.  Fear is a big one, the very fear that generates all the thoughtstoppers. A desire to keep the peace is another big one; that's what causes good people to remain silent too often in the face of actual evil.

Don't judge people. Just don't. We're all trying to do the best we can with the tools we have. Complicating things: not too many of us get all the tools, and in the manner of all things missing, we don't even know what tools  we don't have Judge actions if you must, but always from a baseline of love, and bearing in mind that sometimes, we don't even know what it is we're trying to do.

We may not know what we want, but usually we can quote you chapter and verse on what we DON'T want. In which case, we can still ask the question: is what I'm doing perpetuating the state of affairs I claim not to want?

Maybe the answer is scary. Maybe you've elected a President who is clinically insane. Maybe you feel like you wasted your life to this point. That's its own thoughtstopper, and a potent one--I call it the Poor Me Derailment. What's past has passed. Trump is in the White House and your life is what it is. Instead of lamenting, why not focus on "what do I do now?"

"Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right's not the end." --Fernando Sabino, often misattributed to anyone from John Lennon to Oscar Wilde by way of Paolo Coelho

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