Sunday, July 29, 2012

Facing Upsetting Truths

"What he'd thought of as a personal strength--he was happy to know about her only what she wanted him to know--was something more like selfishness. A childish willingness to remain in the dark, to avoid distressing conversations, upsetting truths. He had feared her secrets--or, more specifically, the emotional entanglements that might come with knowing them."

-Joe Hill, as character Jude,
Heart Shaped Box

I was struck by this quote when I was reading yesterday afternoon (sidebar: I only read this book in daylight hours, btw, because it's too scary to read after dark!).  I was surprised to find philosophy in the middle of my ghost story, but it's spot-on. It describes a trend that is rankling me:  a general unwillingness among so-called adults to step up and have necessary confrontations.

The jerks of the world allowed to continue on their jerky way, shoving the needs of others and even simple courtesy to the wayside simply because no one will call them on it.  They do it because they can. We stand there watching them go by, our broken pieces of precious things in our hands, just gobsmacked that people will be so rude. But do we do anything? Usually, no.

We give up before we begin. We don't think it will do any good.  Maybe we're afraid of having that anger and self-righteousness directed at us.  Maybe we're trying to have a live-and-let-live attitude and feel it's not our place to question someone else's choices. Maybe we wish we had the balls to be such blatant aggressive assholes ourselves. We're kind people, raised right, with an awareness of our needs in relation to needs of others. We take others into account. Or as the bullies would say: we're wusses.

Bullies depend on that. On innocent bystanders continuing to stand by. On people turning a blind eye because it's "not their business." Remember this?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemöller 

We've learned nothing. 

It's not just in the big world that this comes into play. It's rampant in the small stuff, too. The day to day.

I watch coworkers afraid to offer any kind of criticism to coworkers, even clearly warranted and arguably necessary criticism that can avert disasters on small and large scales. I see bosses lecturing the whole staff rather than taking a problem up with the person who has the problem. I know parents afraid to enforce limits for their children, unable to face the tantrum.

I think, really? You can't face the wrath of a five year old to help create a better future adult?

When I'm most cynical, I think it's a symptom of how messed up society at large is. I know that I personally have never voted "for" anyone, just "against" the other guy. I am starting to truly believe that a person who can survive to be elected to high office in our country should therefore not be elected, because, obviously they are slippery, sly and not to be trusted. They are players.

Maybe it's really that, when the entire world is an upsetting truth, it's hard to open your heart and engage with any of it. There's just so much. It can swoop in, wash you down and drown you before you can extend the hand you intended to help with. It's dangerous, facing upsetting truths. But it's even more dangerous to pretend they don't exist.

So, let's start small. You don't have to start by taking on Congress.  How about calling your friend on it the next time she slams a gay person in your presence? How about telling a colleague that he is monopolizing the meeting? How about saying "no" and sticking to it even when your kiddo wheedles and whines like a champion?

The truth is often upsetting. It's not easy to face. Facing it might require something of you. But that's why they call us the grown-ups. Nothing will get better if we don't do something about it.
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Now, put your big-girl panties on and get out there!

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