“I learned something recently,” my friend Wendy said to me during her visit to Australia. “Some things are just big black piles of shit, and they’re everywhere, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that, so sometimes you just have to turn your back on it. You have to face the other way. Towards the light.”
We were talking about how much rage we both carry in us, about discrimination and harm in the world, in all its many forms. We’re both prone to shoutiness in this regard. (Actually, we’re as prone to joyful shoutiness as ragey shouting, and I’ll come back to that.)
Wendy is absolutely correct. Many of the things that reduce us to rage and despair and shouting are heaping mounds of stinking, fly-blown ordure. The comment trolls spitting venom online; misogynists making rape threats against women who dare to have a voice; bigots spewing venom about refugees and the queer community. Gunmen full of fear and hate. Hypocritical leaders who condemn the violence while encouraging discrimination through legislation and denial of human rights, thereby creating environments in which hate is allowed to flourish through tacit agreement that these or those human beings are only second class.
Wallowing in the mire
The trouble is (well, one of the troubles is) that too often, we get caught up with those mounds of excrescence. We go and read the comments; we share the awful and cruel things that someone just posted and point at it saying I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CRETIN SAID THIS THING! We give oxygen to the haters and let everyone know what the haters said and how outraged we are by it.
Basically, we run up to the big smelly turd and look at it from every angle, sniffing in the toxic stinking stinkiness of it, complaining the whole time about how AWFUL it is – and offering other people a whiff of the proof that such ugliness exists in the world.
And okay, sometimes there’s a good point in paying attention to the pile of poo. Sometimes, knowing that it’s there, it’s possible to pick up a shovel and start mucking out that particular stall.
It’s good and right to fight against this stuff stinking up the world. To lobby politicians to change the law, to add your body and your voice to the protest marches and the gatherings in support of vulnerable people – often those buried under that awful shit. That kind of presence and activity is incredibly important. Representation is important. Whether you’re fighting for your own rights, or are an ally of those struggling for them, it’s good to be seen to be out there. Refusing to be silent is powerful.
It’s true, too, that some people siding with the stink piles simply lack information. Maybe they’ve never been challenged. Maybe nobody has ever gone through the issue with them. They’ve been surrounded by the stink so long they don’t know it’s possible to live in fresh air. So sure – engage with them if you believe you can win an ally from it. If there are people who are willing to listen, be willing to talk, to converse – not to browbeat but to share ideas that may be new to them. That’s a noble undertaking too.
Cutting off the air
But sometimes, paying attention to the haters is just lavishing attention on garbage. When we acknowledge what they say by paying attention to it at all, we’re giving oxygen to outdated and vile viewpoints. We’re feeding the trolls.
And it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening at best, soul-crushing at worst, to expend energy on arguing against people who have no logic to stand on in the first place. They won’t be turned into allies. They’ll just enjoy watching your blood pressure rise, and the fury in your eyes turn to despair and hopelessness at the awfulness of the world.
Sometimes, I think we’re at risk of making those smelly mounds of ignorance, fear, hatred and viciousness bigger and more important than they should be.
Sometimes we should note that there’s a stink and instead of sticking our faces close to inhale it deep and then rage about the stench, we should turn our backs to it and face the other way. Maybe they’re only heard because of the shouty rage that is spreading word of the awful thing they said. Deprive them of oxygen and attention. Turn away.
But don’t turn off.
Don’t shout down – lift up
If you can turn your back on the smelly, time-consuming, attention-demanding turds, you’ll see other things. Not necessarily sparkly rainbows and ponies. Brightness is in the world too, of course, but that’s not what you look for.
What you look for is those who, like you, are half broken by the awfulness of that shit that’s everywhere in life. Look for anyone who needs the air that got taken up by the stink you’ve turned your back on, and give the air to them instead.
Raise your shouty voice to say: I belong here too! Raise it to say: I deserve my space and I’m taking it back!
Raise your shouty voice to say: I hear you! I’m your ally – how can I help? I will fight for your rights too, because human rights are everybody’s business.
Spend your energies on listening and learning. Get behind projects and ideas and voices that counter the vile stenches, and lift them up.
Shovel the shit away when you can; but don’t roll around in it. Don’t stick your face in the fumes and make your eyes water with it. Don’t try to shout down the ugly voices who just love to shout back and never learn a damned thing, because they revel in the pain they cause.
Use your passionate voice to lift others who need lifting. Use whatever you have to encourage, affirm, support, and give and give and give to those who need encouragement, affirmation, and support. Help the ones who need lifting to be heard and seen above the miasma of the stink-makers.
Wendy and I have taken to reminding each other of this choice we’re making. When we’re full of rage and distress and despair that there’s so much hate, we remind each other to turn our backs on it, and to try in whatever way we can to give something to the love, to face the light
To listen and to learn. To steal our oxygen back and breathe it – and sometimes shout it joyfully – into something that grows.
Image: Celestial by johnhain
CC0 Public Domain