Bad things can happen when we take shortcuts to judgement. I am reminded of one of my favourite films, Match Point, where a young former tennis pro marries into a wealthy upper class family after carefully playing to their assumptions. I recommend the film to anyone who wants to understand how fixed, ready processed ideas can leave us vulnerable to manipulation. Skyfall‘s villain, played by Javier Bardem, tricked MI6 into handing him their entire database. The ploy was convincing because he was difficult to capture and lives were sacrificed to protect his identity.
A person can deliberately take offence to what was said in order to create dissonance and use the heavy mist of emotions to avoid speaking in truth about the real issues in question. Dramatic cosplays may backfire if the other person is wise to that strategy. Let me explain why that stuff does not work on me. First, consider three non fiction essays I’ve published here: One called GOYA; another about how to act SMART and most recently, one called Bread. Second, notice that in practice, they work in harmony, like this.
I happened on a poem from a writer, in which he identified himself as “racist.” I didn’t accept that he was one. That was me giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Even so, I was stung that he wrote how if a dark skinned male passes by his open garage door, he feels that the person will jump him. I have dark skin, so I felt unfairly judged.
This is how I reacted.
I asked him if the feelings were real. He said, yes. Then, we had a short discussion about the differences between the privileges afforded by his superficial identifying features and the privileges I’ve enjoyed after working hard to earn them outside of my comfort and safety zones. I said something like, I have learned to take control over my environment as a result of not having everything handed to me. I also let him know that even if we don’t have the same ideas, we can be decent to each other. I extended my best wishes and invited him to delete my comments if he found my presence on his blog disconcerting.
His response may surprise you. He thanked me for my comment and said, “I need more dark skinned friends” after inviting me to read and comment on his blog. I accepted his invitation and found out that we both enjoy fine wine. This discovery warmed me and so did his recommendation for a place to sample some delicious wines on my next trip to the United States.
The reason I’m posting this commentary here is to say this. Welcome to my universe. In it, I can make the choice to not jump down someone’s throat, be offensive, unkind and disparaging just to be confrontational just because something seems provocative. On this occasion, I may have met a fascinating person. I still feel some tension but I am willing to give this a try.
To whom this may concern,
When I am aware of an assumption of mine, I test it by asking the other person to present their side. A stranger, who does not know me and could have tossed out my opinion, chose instead to engage in conversation on a sensitive matter.
We could have torn each other to shreds with words. We chose not to do that.
Why not you?