The recent events in Baltimore in response to Freddie Gray’s death, as well as the protests that have occurred in many other cities (Ferguson, et al) have initiated national conversations on race, politics, good cops vs. bad cops, and the “proper” way to respond to decades and centuries of abuse, oppression, and institutionalized racism. There’s an attitude permeating the discussion about the riots and demonstrations that I find lacks empathy, critical thinking, and a desire to truly understand what could motivate hundreds of people to take to the streets in anger: “But violence is never the answer” and “These people don’t care about change; they’re just thugs/animals”.
What would you think if someone sauntered over to you and self-righteously slapped you across your pretty mug and you fell to the ground, for no reason other than their disapproval of your height/mohawk/eye color, and then after you were done lying there in complete shock, you sprinted to your feet and slapped them back, only to be told by everyone who witnessed the whole absurd event that “violence isn’t the answer” or worse, “you’re an animal!” Do you think you’d feel angry that instead of condemning the person who hit you they chose to focus on how you responded? Maybe you’d feel abused twice; first from the attacker, then by the crowd.
Now what if this happened repeatedly, in other ways, over many years, and by authority figures and government? Humans have many coping mechanisms that can be utilized during difficult, traumatic, and abusive events. One is called Learned Helplessness. But as the protests and demonstrations show, another result of oppression on a grand scale is outrage.
At this point, you might be wondering, ‘Why is she writing about this on a dating and relationships blog?’ Because how we all relate to each other is crucial to more than just romantic relationships or friendships. Every day, we all make the choice to either try to understand each other, or simply judge, dismiss, and ignorantly assume we understand people and situations we couldn’t possibly truly understand. We need to be open to hearing and learning from those we don’t know. Everyone has heard the adage “Don’t judge unless you’ve walked in their shoes”, but actually putting that in action seems to be more difficult for some. Plus, feeling abused by a system that doesn’t recognize your rights/value is something women can relate to also, especially women who were victims of domestic violence. There was a time when there were no abuse shelters, no divorce, and rape victims were (and still are) not taken seriously. They were abused twice; first by their husbands, then by a society that failed to understand and help.
The attitude I’m talking about can be exemplified by a personal experience I had with a relative. This person had done me wrong in a number of ways as a child and as an adult, and when I finally confronted said relative with my grievances via email, the response was basically: “You have an anger problem. You should get help.”
The relative’s response was so totally absurd. If I had written my letter IN ALL CAPS, or if I had resorted to name-calling, or if I had threatened this person’s safety or life, then yes, those would all be signs of an anger problem. But to respond to someone’s legitimate issues, which were rationally but firmly stated, with an unfounded attack on their character (ad hominem, a logical fallacy) so as to put them on the defense instead of actually addressing said relationship issues, is abuse. It’s ugly, shows a lack of empathy, and says “I don’t care to understand or make things better, I simply want you to take my abuse.”
This relative’s response, which can be likened to society’s response to the protests, is essentially like punching someone in the nose and then we they get angry, saying “Whoa! Calm down, thug. You have anger issues.”
So when you see large groups of people lining their streets protesting, it would behoove you and the rest of us if your instinctual response is to want to understand, as opposed to belittle and dismiss. Don’t be part of the problem, be a part of the solution.