Now that the riots have tempered down in the Middle East and the offender ran off to hide in his hole, I’d like to cautiously offer a line of communication. We’ve come to a point of mutual misunderstanding between our societies. You can’t understand how we can allow anyone to smear the name of a prophet; we don’t understand how one man’s rhetoric justifies murder and mayhem.
We’ve had 236 years to understand what it means to live as a vocal society. Our nation was born on the backs of England’s radicals. Their offspring were the ones who dared to fight for the independence of our country. Sometimes the radicals change history for the better and sometimes they’re nothing more than crazy-house-crazy.
Billy the Kid, the KKK, the Black Panthers: American history has always, always, been peppered with those who like to sizzle over the edge of the status quo. We’re currently dealing with the compound cults, the bunker hunkers and the clinic bombers and trust me; they’ve all got something to share.
Does the notion of giving a radical a voice scare you? Are you afraid that their wrong will somehow become your right? It does happen after all.
Back in 1848 a group of women started spouting that “liberty and rights for all” included them. There they were, out on the pavement, waving their signs, yelling all sorts of demands. The government locked them up, abused them and still they would not shut up. But then people started to listen and agree, more women joined in, men joined in. Momentum changed, their rhetoric became the acceptable and now the notion of women voting is so common place a large percentage of us don’t even bother to do so.
The same process happened in 1962 with Rachel Carson who wrote a little book. Silent Spring was anything but silent. She’s directly responsible for the recycle bins in my kitchen and the solar panels on my house.
Yes, sometimes a single person with a radical notion can shift the norm of a society. I can see how that scares the hell out of you because it can still scare us. It’s not always clear when you’re dealing with a radical like Martin Luther King or a radical like Hitler. Both convinced their societies that they were in the right.
What I don’t think you understand yet, because you haven’t had as much time to experience this democracy thing, is that when you gift everyone an equal voice you light up the entire spectrum of the human experience. It opens the doors of opportunity and forces us to ask, “How are we going to evolve?” It provides a confidence that out of all the opinions, the best choice will be found.
Why do we give everyone a stage (even if it is a street corner)? Because it empowers brave souls to shine a light in dark places as they search for injustice. As many times as a single voice has altered our society there were an equal number of times we should have listened to the street preachers instead of walking by (the leper colonies, the Japanese internment camps).
Yes, this means some dude is going to stand on his cooler in front of the city animal shelter screaming that puppies are the embodiment of the devil and should be grilled up and served to cats. But that same freedom offers someone else a step in front of city hall to ask why we are not doing more for our returning servicemen. Yes, this offers one person a video camera to smear God. But it also allows another person to video tape dolphins being slaughtered in a bay, and poultry farms where chickens never see the sun, and school systems suffering under tenured teachers.
There’s another freedom we’ve clung to over the last few centuries in this democracy. It hasn’t been declared, no one gave their John Hancock to legitimize it, but this freedom has as much value as any other: the freedom to ignore. If you don’t like what someone has to say, don’t buy their book. Keep on walking. Change the station. Toss out the paper. Block their Facebook feed.
The balance between knowing when to react and when to ignore is something that each individual has to discover and gauge for themselves. There’s a fine line between listening, arguing, protesting and flat out ignoring someone. With today’s technology we are constantly relearning where these lines are. Democracy isn’t the stone statues decorating the Washington lawn, it’s a morphing organism.
Every time I write an article, every time I get on social media I’m balancing my freedom to speak against my freedom to ignore. If you want to see the full spectrum of human experience, check out my Facebook feed. I’ve got a Democrat yelping, followed by an image of a naked woman, followed by a feminist imploring liberty, followed by a Republican rant. Have I become desensitized to all this social ranting? Yes, to some degree. Why? Because I can’t become emotionally charged over one person’s perspective. If I burned down a building and killed a handful of people every time someone offended me, San Francisco would look like a war zone.
There is a time to argue, there is a time to protest and then there’s a time to walk on by. Nothing can be more disempowering than to be ignored. I suggest, the next time someone paints their opinion over Mohammad’s image, that you give it a try. Allow their narrow minded negativity to be smothered beneath the voices of those who love and respect your truth.
Of course, that would be my opinion.
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.