Patience, Tolerance, and the Punchy Clown
As we all already know, the waiting is the hardest part.
I don’t doubt that I’m a good recruit, but that in no way prevents me from wondering if I’m going to be denied access to my final guild of choice. I used to be part of a guild recruitment machine – twice, in fact, I was – and I virtually never turned people down, but, and here’s the kicker, sometimes I did.
Most of the time it was people who clearly weren’t going to be a good fit, people who were overtly loot-obsessed, were clearly, to be frank, too good for the guilds I was in, or people who were clearly immature. But I still wondered then and now whether or not a written application could really assess a person.
I work in the field of writing, so I know firsthand how hard it is for many people to clearly express their ideas in writing. Sometimes the lack of prosody – the tenor and tone of speech – can make something that sounded great in your head read completely differently. It’s hard to communicate that to novices; they haven’t been asked to imagine a reader other than themselves, but it’s lead me to become hyper-aware of both the potential perceptions of my own writing as well as the potential mis-perceptions I may have of others’.
Of course, that’s life; there’s little that can be done.
I always considered myself good in interviews, too. I have a nice radio voice (if you don’t believe me, listen to this episode of the Double O Podcast – my voice’s bass makes my laptop speaker vibrate), and I’m pretty friendly and easy to get along with. That, too, has been recently shaken, though, as I had such a hard time getting a job and was finally taken aside by my ally at the community college after nearly-failed Skype interview and told that I needed to read up on how to conduct oneself in an academic interview. Apparently friendly doesn’t mesh well with corporate’s or academia’s expectations.
So I don’t know. My trust in my ability to judge who should or should not be part of a group has been shaken a little. Luckily, with my students, my default position is that everyone belongs as part of the group, of the team, and that we should all conduct ourselves as such. It makes it much easier. I wonder if that shouldn’t be the default for everyone in all groups all the time. After all, as it says in The Power of One, a book about the atrocities of Apartheid, “Inclusion, not exclusion, is the key to survival.” Since Apartheid’s gone, that seems to have proven true.
Twice recently on Twitter I’ve had to hold my digital tongue as I saw people who I generally respect tweet-lashing someone else over their right to be a part of a group. In both cases, I’ve felt a bolt of righteous indignation shoot down my spine, but I don’t have any desire to accidentally start a Twitwar – which of course no one ever wins – and have just made general statements to everyone about the problems with exclusion and censorship. Both reminded me of the coda to Fahrenheit 451, which if you haven’t read, you can, here.
Linking this won’t win me any friends, either, as it’s a rather blunt instrument for a discussion that requires a steady hand, but it communicates something that I feel at a primal level – that I have felt at a primal level for a long time. I saw it in print years after the notion came to me, spoken by the head of the American Library Association:
“Tolerance is meaningless without tolerance of the intolerable.”
Let me be clear. This does not advocate inaction; hopefully you, dear reader, know me well enough by now that you know my feelings on proactivity and action over just talking. It also doesn’t mean you have to like ideas you disagree with. It doesn’t mean you have to give them any credence, or even that you cannot take action to try to change them or to prevent them from coming to pass, but it does mean that everyone must be accorded respect equally, regardless of what they believe. When you start to ostracize or tear down others because of their beliefs, no matter how backwards, racist, sexist, or otherwise horrific they may be, then you’ve become a part of the problem.
In other words, when you start attacking racist bigots or chauvinist jerks because of what they think or start trying to push people out of groups for who they are instead of engaging them in intelligent dialogue and trying to change their minds (which you likely will never do, but there’s never fault in trying), then you have embraced the very thing you’re fighting against: intolerance.
It’s hard. It’s so hard to try to keep that respectful dialogue going in the face of willful ignorance. And it’s so easy to slip, to start making attacks against people who are clearly more stupid or ignorant than you, but when you do, you invite arrogance and self-righteousness in, and those can be very hard symbiotes to remove, because they will empower you, they will make you feel very good about tearing down these weak-minded simpletons and they will win you allies who think it’s funny or cool to be so mean, but you’ll be tearing yourself down at the same time, and in the end, someone just like you will come along and be able to destroy your argument.
Instead, you have to keep your cool and show respect to the other person, even when they deserve none, especially when they deserve none.
It’s far easier to let people destroy themselves than it is to do it for them. All it takes is time, which you’ll have more of than you feel like you do when you’re in those moments of near-heated argument.
I’ve never had an argument with a student, even my oft-moody 8th-graders. I’ve never engaged in a verbal sparring match where the stakes were more than killing some time and entertaining the audience – in other words, play-dueling for fun. It’s far easier to be the punchy clown, to take the hits and keep popping back up, smiling and unchanged, until the other side has completely eroded all support it had.
On the Internet, that can take time. In fact, with an audience so large, it may never happen. But what will happen is that the moment will pass, attentions will turn elsewhere, and the other person will have lost some standing in the eyes of some of their peers, and you’ll have earned it by staying positive, polite, and respectful throughout.
From a historical point of view, this is what Jesus meant when he advocated turning the other cheek. In his historical context, that invited the aggressor to use his left hand in public, which would be a shameful act. It wasn’t advocating non-action, but advocating letting the other person make himself look bad through his actions, while you just keep popping back up. I’m not particularly religious one way or the other, but that’s a strategy I can get behind.
Still, it’s so hard to do. But if can be done. And the spaces in which we find ourselves, cyber or otherwise, will be improved for it.
Stubborn (and waiting)