Changing the subject


Free Speech Handbook Guideline No. 7:  Don’t change the subject.

In a recent classic case, unable to refute Emma Gonzalez on the question of gun violence, Steve King accused her of being allied with communist Cuba.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I, as William Tell, will respond when people say ugly things.  Sometimes I myself may change the subject.

If a caller were to come in spewing bigotry against, say, Jews, blacks or whites; in most cases there will likely be little use trying to have a conversation, as most likely she or he means to spew his or her filibuster and be done with it.  And, in most cases, I will be likely to let the caller do just that — for three minutes — and then follow up with one of my two or three canned, three-minute analyses of the nature of bigotry.

Now, make no mistake:

I’ve been one, too.

I tell that story here.

Most bigots, however, don’t speak on the basis of personal experience.  If one does have personal stories to tell, I will probably allow that.

Most bigotry rises instead from personal stories folk won’t tell, and that may be the point.

There is little use investing lots of emotional energy in things one cannot do anything about.  Maybe, in fact, “they” — blacks, whites, or Jews —  are “that way.”  It’s a mistake to give them lots and lots of attention.

The correct focus of one’s attention:  in the Recovery movement, we say, “Keep the focus on you.”  Your personal situation; your personal conduct; your hopes and dreams.

This is the subject I may change to: the caller herself or himself, his or her own situation.

My immediate circumstances are what I can do something about.  Even if I can’t do much to change them, I can choose my point of view, my feelings about them.

The bigot normally has stories of personal grief that have nothing to do with the persons against whom he or she directs so much hate.  Frustrations in one’s own personal life.  Defeats one has refused to accept.  Rather than face these things — or the anxieties associated with the uncertainties of day-to-day life — the bigot fixates on what’s (supposedly) wrong with “them.”

Conspiracy theorists likewise substitute fear of some bogey-man for their real fear of making decisions, taking risks, and so forth in the here-and-now.

Ironically, it is in presence, in attention to oneself and what one personally can do here and now, that one may find peace.

Thus the question I have in mind to pose to every such caller; just as I pose it to myself each day:

What will you do today
to improve your situation?

That’s a real change of subject.

Related:  This is how you become a white supremacist

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