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Today, Ed Kilgore posted a blog called No More “Enemy Turf”, about the importance of not writing off any potential allies in your fight for what you believe in:

Yes, certain demographic categories may be “lost” to conservatives if you insist on a winner-takes-all definition, and no, aggressively pursuing support among such voters isn’t worth it if it involves abandoning key principles or essentially adopting the opposition’s point of view. But reducing the margin of defeat on “hostile ground” is often achievable simply by paying attention and not wilfully repelling voters, and in the end a vote is a vote whether it comes from a segment of the electorate that progressives are “winning” or “losing.” […]

A vote’s a vote; reducing unnecessary losses on “enemy turf” has enormous political value; and progressives need not concede, explicitly or (by silence or evasion) implicitly, religious or military voters. It’s good to see these simple lessons are being taken to heart.

I think that’s a lesson that’s vitally important in all aspects of life, not just the portion of it labeled “politics”.  Where you think there are only enemies, you are missing vitally important allies.  They may not (and probably will not) always agree with you on things you’d really like to convince them of, and they may even try to convince you of some things you really aren’t on board with.  But so long as that doesn’t get in the way of coming together to work toward much-needed help for those who need it, the work itself will provide you with the common ground you need to move forward.

And that’s the sticky point: where we feel others’ actions or beliefs are antithetical to what we hold to be self-evident, it can be awfully hard for us to give up the habit of “I’m Right, They’re Wrong, and that makes this Their Fault”.  It becomes a default mental and even neurochemical response to throw up the barriers between “Us” and “Them”, creating an addictive feedback loop that works both ways.  So instead of taking responsibility for bridging those barriers and doing what we can to create new solutions, we either get bogged down in tracing blame or just abandon “them” entirely.  Gay Hendricks’ The Chemistry of Blame is a great article to read in full regarding how this works in terms of personal relationships and “becoming a conscious creator”-style approaches, but here’s the quotes I feel are most relevant here:

There is a great fundamental issue that overrides many of the things we can do to heal ourselves and the world: the human tendency to step into feeling like a victim and blaming others, instead of taking personal responsibility.

Usually in couples therapy, the first issue to be addressed is: Are you willing to make a commitment to solving the problem? One of the most typical responses is, “Well, I’d be committed if she were.”

“Are you willing to stay completely away from blaming anyone, and instead make a sincere commitment to resolving all the issues we confront?”

There’s only one solution, and that’s to take 100% impeccable responsibility – and create a space for the other person to take 100% impeccable responsibility as well. Responsibility has a contagious effect.

As a therapist, I point out repeatedly, “Okay, having said that your husband is a worthless piece of shit, tune inside. Do you feel happier?” The person begins to recognize that although they feel that “glee-gotcha” feeling that comes from assigning blame, they don’t feel happier.

“Do you choose being right or being happy?”

It’s the same with mastering personal responsibility. Once a person shifts out of glee and experiences the real joy of claiming responsibility, everything is changed.

Like it or not, “those people” are in this boat with us, and we’ll sink if they do.  It doesn’t matter if we think we’re the only ones trying to bail ourselves out while “they” are poking holes in the hull.  It doesn’t matter if “they” feel the same way about us.  Because in reality, there is no “Us” that excludes “Them”; there’s merely “We”, all in the same boat together.  And while we’re busy getting angry or despondent or vindictive or even just exasperated, the boat is slowly sinking.  It doesn’t matter who’s right, it just matters who’s getting their hands on deck to pull our ship out of the storm.

And the thing is, at the core, we generally want to steer our ship down the same basic course.  The problem isn’t that our values are different, it’s more that we’ve gotten so sidetracked by our different perspectives on why they’re important.  Once we can set aside those differences we can free our energy to finding ways to work together toward our shared values, even if it means taking our hat in one humble hand to hold out the other.  As I wrote in Fighting Fire with Water: The Christian Role in the War on Women:

[T]he answer to the War on Women isn’t to fight back against our perceived “enemy” with the same condescension, derision and dogma we feel assaulted by.  We can’t win by returning anger with anger, and fighting fire with fire.  Instead, we must fight fire with water, returning their anger with patience and love.  We must struggle to develop new ways to show them how we’re ultimately on the same team.  We want the same things: a peaceful world where families can grow up happy and healthy and complete, cared for by each other and their community.  We need to show them how their actions are preventing these values from bearing good fruit.  We need to find better ways of working together to make our shared goals real.

And we won’t build these bridges toward our shared goals by trying to convince them their values are wrong, nor by refusing to understand how they can be as sure of their rightness as we are of ours.  This is especially difficult because in today’s world, the strongest dividers of “Us” and “Them” are on religious grounds, with the American Political Theater cycling through nonstop reruns of The Righteous Religious Right versus the The Superior Secular Left.  Each side is constantly being poked and prodded with how dangerously unhinged the other side is, and how the only way to stop them from destroying our world is through political (or literal) scorched earth tactics.

But this story has worn thin, and more and more, people are waking up to the holes in it.  I wrote When Atlas Shirked to explore how this “Us Versus Them” plot is breaking down, and share the narrative of what happens when the characters are ready to fix it.  A very young, very patriotic Christian American learns from those of other faiths who are working to strengthen families and communities, bridging the gulf where others may have widened it.  Those of other/no religions find her Christian group to be staunch allies who tirelessly give of themselves for the hungry, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  After learning of all the many (very familiar) corruptions and injustices plaguing her Orwellian American dystopia, she and countless others set aside their differences to start the heavy lifting of building a better world.

It’s a fairy tale, sure, but it’s one that I sincerely hope could come true.  I truly believe that we each have the means to make our corner of the world a better place, simply by committing to finding ways to take responsibility for our place in it.  And we don’t have to storm a capitol or go all that far from home to do make this difference.  There are opportunities all around us to help those in our very own back yards.  The more we look for these opportunities, the more they’ll show us ways we can pitch in.  It doesn’t matter if we can give only a little at first; this is one of those times where every little bit quite literally does help.

Don’t be surprised if the opportunities might be with those that others might call “your enemy”, because there are no enemies when it comes to doing what’s right.  There might be good times and ways to gently share your perspective without having to call theirs wrong, but that’s not what’s important about doing good.  The most important thing right now is to make sure that good gets done.

People are hungry.  Children are being kicked out into the streets.  The sick and the hopeless are being abandoned.  They need our help, not our ideologies.  They can’t seek shelter under our philosophies, and they can’t eat our prayers.

So there we have it: it’s our job to do what we can, with whoever will join our efforts.  The task now isn’t to bar the doors against those “on the other side”, but to open our own doors, and knock wherever we think we see a light on.  Some will get slammed in our faces, and some will open for a while, only to slam shut again.  That’s okay, it’s not up to you to make anyone else do what they need to do.  Just keep taking full responsibility to do your part.

When you’re working to fulfill your part in all this, you’ll know it’s less important to convince people of what you think is right.  You know that what’s most important is to get out there and do what’s right.  The rest will follow.

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