Friday, June 24, 2005

Thinking Before Speaking

Earlier today, I was reading this post on IMC Hamilton. Now, normally it's not the sort of thing I'd link to or talk about. It's a post that was meant to spark discussion in the comments section, and it succeeded in doing so. The subject is one that interests me -- the reality and perceptions of the role of violence in social change -- but there isn't much about the discussion that I would normally feel compelled to bring to the attention of others.

Except I was reading through the comments and I was struck by the fact that one particular commenter, who has adopted the nom-de-net of "Kimberly," in her multiple comments manages to regurgitate quite a number of the things that people working for social change always hear from others who don't agree with us. I've seen them couched in a lot of different language and deployed in a lot of different ways, some sincere and some just to "take the piss" (to borrow a British expression). I've heard them shouted from the windows of passing cars, said with patient tolerance by friends, and muttered angrily at family dinners. They aren't always an actual invitation to dialogue, and the structure of any particular interaction may severely limit our ability to respond in a thoughtful, engaged way. But say we felt safe, we had time, we were with someone else who was willing to listen. What would we say?

I'm not always very happy with how I deal with opportunities for dialogue, particularly when they happen in the flesh but even sometimes when they happen asynchronously online, and I'm sure many other folks feel the same way. More often than not, I have to go away and think to really understand what the other person was saying and why they might be saying that, and come up with a good response, and by then it is too late. It occurred to me, as I was reading the IMC post, that maybe it would be useful to think and write in advance about some of the kinds of things that come up regularly -- maybe not in ways that can easily be spit out in the short, tense moments that contain such discussions, but in ways that can serve as background thinking both for me and for anyone else who happens by this blog and is interested to kind of smooth the way for the thinking-on-the-fly that has to happen in the moment at each occasion.

Here are some choice phrases that came up in this person's comments:

  • "The police, under law, cannot simply decide to arrest someone or use tear gas because they feel like it...Police just doing their job and following the laws of this country is not brutality; it's not injustice."

  • And right after that "If there is any form of government that supports and encourages police brutality, it's your precious communist system."

  • "I don't agree with the government either, but you change the system by casting your ballot...not by causing havoc in the streets."

  • "Instead of innocently sitting on the ground, holding hands and singing (and you're not that innocent) why don't these people get jobs and start contributing to society like the rest of the hard working populace does? They seem to have a lot of time to protest."

  • "[T]o improve relations and image, it would be best of protest organizers to ensure that anarchists are NOT involved. Those in the crowd should help the police if these individuals are around to stop problems before they start."

Those are the choicest gems from this particular thread, and other commenters say some detailed and interesting things to rebut these and other comments along the same lines.

But I think, when inspiration strikes and time permits, I may do my best to compose posts on this site addressing such things, probably with titles that look something like "TBS: (Specific Issue)", where TBS stands for "Thinking Before Speaking."

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