Here’s a question for you: Is it possible to speak the truth, to advocate for causes, to call out harmful actions, without at the same time being hate-full? (Hyphen intended.) Or is anger, disgust, and disdain a required part of the work?
As we build out Forward Kentucky, we intend to speak the truth, to call out harmful actions and harmful policies, and to advocate for good government and progressive causes. We intend to do all of these with a strong and forceful voice. But at the same time, we are going to be vigilant not to fall into the trap of Othering.
Let me explain.
Putting things into categories or boxes is a common practice among humans. We separate the spoons from the forks, the shirts from the pants, and the foods we like from the foods we don’t like. In the latter case, we are not shy about voicing our opinions about those foods. (“How can you stand that stuff?”)
We often do the same with people, consciously or unconsciously. We categorize them, and sometimes, we proceed to demonize them based on the categories we’ve assigned. In extreme cases, we abuse people in certain categories, or even kill them.
Obviously, we do this in politics. We self-identify as one party or the other, and then proceed, in our two-party system, to demonize the other party. Or, we self-identify even further, as a “progressive Democrat” or a “conservative Republican,” which gives us even more people to dismiss as obviously uninformed at best, and evil at worst.
Labels can be helpful. They can serve as a form of shorthand; if you tell me you are a progressive, or a Libertarian, or a fiscal conservative, I immediately know your basic political philosophy and some of your positions, without having to spend a long time explaining. So far, so good.
But if we move from “OK, I know basically where you are coming from” to “so, you’re one of THOSE people,” then we have started down the path to Othering. And that path leads to division, and anger, and hate. And those things ultimately destroy.
So, how does this work in practice? Here are two examples:
- “Neo-liberal economic policies are destructive of the middle class” – or – “Neo-liberals are destroying the middle class.”
- “Senator Gasbag misses the boat, splashes about wildly in confusion” – or – “Senator Gasbag is obviously stupid.”
- “Those actions are evil.” – or – “Those people are evil.”
The basic principle we are going to try to follow is to discuss/attack the actions, and not the person. This doesn’t mean being weak or wimpy about calling things out. It DOES mean figuring out a way to call things out without at the same time denying the humanity of people with whom we disagree. And, it means realizing that we can disagree about one thing, and still agree about other things, and perhaps even work together to change things.
Obviously, this is harder in practice. And, we will not always get it right. But as we build the voice and movement that is Forward Kentucky, we are going to work to get it right. We are going to work to find that path – the path of speaking the truth without being hate-full.
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