dialogue: speaking the truth

a few days ago, we talked here about the rejection of jay’s six-word story because it was supposedly not g-rated. jay’s and jennifer’s comments on it were so thought-provoking that i decided to post my replies to them here.

this is not just about one incidence. it’s about how to best deal with the lack of knowledge about the realities of people who are part of minority groups; it’s about communication; about language; about peace.

so here is my open letter to jay and jennifer. i’m looking forward to seeing how this unfolds …

jay, thanks for your very public signs of affection! really, that warms my heart.

and i am equally warmed by how both you and jennifer show goodwill and friendship in the way you phrase your comments. this is what peaceful communication is all about.

jay, you said

“i believe that when you asked me what did calling robert a bigot serve, i can say it served my truth.”

it occurred to me that the word “bigot” may truly have a deeper meaning for you, jay, than for other people, like me, who are not painfully exposed to bigotry as often as you are. i imagine that you’ve spent much more time thinking about this word than i have.

when i first read you write “bigot”, all i could hear was, well, namecalling. that’s how that word is used most often. i can’t see how namecalling can be anyone’s deepest truth.

but then – aaaah! you actually used the word in its dictionary meaning. and perhaps (i’m guessing now, from what i think i know about you so far) you didn’t didn’t just drag in that dictionary meaning in order to justify bad manners.

according to several dictionary definitions, a bigot is someone who is intolerant of ideas or population segments that are not his or her own.

i wonder what would have happened if you had said, “robert, you are intolerant of transgendered people.” would that have been your truth, too? would that truth have sounded different?

a question that i’m chewing on in connection with all this is – who gets to use what language with what definitions, and to what purpose? let’s assume that you used the word “bigot” in its dictionary sense and not just to be namecalling – but how would robert, who seems to live in a different language community, know that?

of course we could say that in the interest of good communication, the best thing to do would be not to call robert a bigot because in the mainstreatm culture in which we live, the word bigot is generally used in a derogatory sense.

however, do we really always want to use language according to mainstream use? is that not just another form of oppression?

perhaps what you did, calling him a bigot and then explaining to him the dictionary meaning was one way of dealing with it. except that the damage was already done.

(which, of course, was a reply to the damage that was done to YOU.)

questions, questions, questions. this ain’t easy.

let me turn to jennifer now. maybe i have something more conclusive to say in response to her comment.

“sometimes opening others’ eyes means feelings get bruised – certainly as a therapist i would imagine this is a concept with which you are intimately acquainted. i am partnered to a counselor and appreciate and understand the humanist impulse to embrace everyone, all the time. BUT…conflict can also be healthy!”

i would say that stating one’s truth is always healthy. and sometimes people need to state their truths very loudly because otherwise they don’t get heard. it is when there is an intention to bruise people’s feelings that i start to object. namecalling always carries this intention.

sometimes, of course, bruising is a byproduct of that loud truth. it seems to me, though, that one needs to put effort into causing as little bruising as possible (similar to how police are told to shoot only when necessary, and then only to incapacitate).

“perhaps the startling experience of being exposed for harboring previously well-hidden prejudices may shock bob into thinking about how language makes meaning, and about how frequently people hide behind linguistic constructs to protect themselves from truly being known by others.”

in my mind, there is no question at all that language makes meaning and that people hide between linguistic constructs. and not only to protect themselves from truly being known, but also, and more obviously, to protect the status quo.

there is also no question in my mind that this meaning-making quality of language is something that most people don’t reflect on very much, and that the world would be a better place if there was more reflection on that.

however – being shocked into thinking something? that works sometimes but not very often. and it carries a degree of violence that i cannot work with.

my elementary school teacher thought that applying the rod would shock students into doing their homework. that didn’t work. however, the image of her hitting the hands of poor little hans (in the honest and true belief that it would make him a better boy) has forever burnt itself into my memory and, interestingly, brings forth in me the same feeling of sadness and outrage that i felt in jay’s story being disinvited from robert’s blog. so i’ve learned something – but not what my teacher wanted me to learn. it was only much, much later, on my own accord and with the support of teachers who i saw as being completely on my side, that i truly learned about the usefulness of homework.

ok. so how do we translate all of this to the situation at hand?

i think it would be interesting to invite robert to a friendly dialogue. maybe we could even interest the people from the centre for nonviolent communication in this.

lastly – coming back to “truly being known by others”. i am very aware of the fact that this open dialogue lays us bare to our readers, makes us more vulnerable than we were before. i am aware that we can critique each other here BECAUSE we lay out our thoughts on this for all to see. from a certain point of view then, this can almost turn into a “blame the victim” story. so i’d just like to reiterate that this dialogue here started because jay’s story was rejected. and i decided to run with this dialogue not because i think robert is a bad boy but because what happened there is just one tiny example of something that happens every day, and i’d like it to stop.

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