August 17, 2012

Civility and projecting one's voice

So, civility - and the lack of it - is a daily struggle in activism.

I'm listening to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech right now. There is nothing conciliatory about it. He was absolutely clear on right and wrong, on who was responsible, and what needed to be done. His demands were deeply threatening to many, and gave hope and strength to many others. Now, looking back, they seem inarguable.

Standing up against intolerance and prejudice is not a matter of beating others up. There is a line between standing up and stomping on, and it is even more important that we speak up when our allies go too far as it is those we disagree with.

I do try. I was raised to believe that losing your cool only hurts your cause. I was also schooled to know that if you are saying something unwelcome your opponent is going to take refuge in anything you do that is less than 100% on the high road.

Keeping my cool is hardest when I feel someone is being manipulative, hurting others, using me, or hurting themselves. I've watched as people have lost their cool, and others kept it, under a lot of provocation. I really get the losing it - even envy it: I'd love to "go off on one" as a friend would say. I can't though, because a lot of people are depending on me not to. "But they deserve it!" is sometimes true. Other times, I don't share the affront but do sympathize.

Once upon a time, parents and other dissidents in the world of eating disorders had no voice at all. Now, there is a voice for almost anyone who wants it, but it isn't always calm or measured or even right. I am in the position of criticizing fellow heretics, and being criticized by association.

No matter how "right" you are, no matter how provoked, it is possible to go too far. In fact, it is probably inevitable. I do cringe, and I do plead with allies to reconsider their attacks. These kinds of exchanges just devolve into competition for being the most victimized and misunderstood. They are a distraction from the issues at hand. But never forget that people who dismiss an idea because there are people who take it to the extreme didn't want to have an honest exchange - they're looking for an excuse to dismiss you. It's best not to give them that excuse, but it doesn't change the responsibility to respond.

MLK was criticized for being too patient, too cooperative, even while he was alive. Yet those wishing to go further, faster, by "any means necessary" at that time seem pretty tame now. Ten years from now ALL of us will be obsolete. Meanwhile, I am more of the MLK school. There are times to shout, times to whisper, and knowing how far to project one's voice effectively is an evolving art.

4 comments:

  1. Five years ago, Tom Insel asked the eating disorders profession to declare a day of atonement. He specifically criticized the profession "for how badly [it] has done by parents" by separating individuals from families and blaming families for the problem.
    http://www.bulimia.com/client/client_pages/nl_edr_18_4.cfm
    Any progress on that?
    CB-US

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  2. Insel didn't ask the profession to do that. He said "we" should, by which I think he means society. It was rhetorical, but it was also deeply moving and sitting in an audience where many people left the room out of lack of interest and lack of respect as he started to talk his statement brought tears to my eyes.

    It meant a great deal to have someone of his stature and wisdom say it. But it isn't actionable in some grander way. People don't change their minds by being told to, or even by being given evidence. Some won't change their minds at all.

    I think we have to each set our sights on how we can have an impact individually and in groups and over time. As angry and frustrated as I get about the slow pace of change if I knew of a better way I'd do it, you know that. I have used my judgement to figure out how I personally can do as much good as I can. You may not respect or agree with my judgment but I've done my best and I'm proud of it.

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  3. Your best is more, much more than food enough

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  4. Whoops. Freudian slip courtessy of new keyboard. You best is more than Good enough

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