Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Asshole Next Door


You do not know what assholes walk among you. But sometimes you do, and you witness their abuses, shaking your head and walking away. They are always out there oppressing someone, costing the government money, making headaches for someone, sometimes even you, hurting someone, beating up on someone, and still, they wave a happy wave and grin a neighborly grin as they leave for work in the morning, if they do work, as if the thought of their deplorable behavior never crossed their minds. So happily unfettered by things like remorse or conscience, they seem.

Assholes are an issue, a social justice issue. Yes, let's tackle the bigger social problems but look, if we cannot practice confronting acts of oppression and abuse in our own neighborhood and friends and family circles, how are we going to effect change? We may be able to have our voice on a march, but how do we confront the person we see being an asshole in every day life? We are talking about the person who is the agonizing drip-drip-drip in the sink...the one who doses out abuse in frequent, tiny parcels. I know many out there are peace and love people, and want everyone to just get along. I do too, but to get to the peace and love part we need conflict. We need to deepen the divide between people before any change can occur. To do otherwise is to be self-deceptive and naive.

I want to be clear on what an asshole is first. It's not someone who has a different opinion than you. It's someone who is exploitative. It's a user. It's someone who thinks they hung the moon and only their answer to anything counts. It's the person who has this benevolent, charitable view of themselves but who is not at all benevolent or charitable. For the most part, we tolerate this level of asshole. It doesn't seem worth our time to put out every fire and they aren't going to hear it anyway. So who cares if they abuse a woman, or make life harder for their children in some way. It's like the jerk who throws their cans out of their car window as they drive down the highway. You don't report. Yet there is a balance and discernment to be made. There are men who rape women and get off scot free due to lack of evidence. How did that come to be? That man will return to a group  who high-fives him and blames his victim. I am talking about people who walk around believing they are entitled to use, belittle, and abuse others, and justify it.

Shining the light of love does not mean allowing people to be dehumanized. If we accept the dehumanization and oppression of the immigrant, or single mom, or poor family next door, we become immune to its effects worldwide. This is why people can speak in the abstract that they are against oppression, yet when an oppressor is close to home, they can't back up their beliefs with action.

I get it. I think one reason is that you have to live and work with and around assholes. If you have to look at them every day, you want to keep some sort of peace. But then you are a bystander, and as such, you hold immense power for social change and justice. And that power bears a huge responsibility. Whenever we accept the abusive acts of people not in power but who are still abusive, we are responsible. Accepting the smallest acts of oppression and abuse is neutrality, and neutrality is sometimes just as oppressive as an asshole. When you take up a personal mission to work toward social justice, you take up a personal mission to be a conscious and responsible bystander. More people are hurt by the inaction of bystanders than anything else, I would propose.

Eventually,  it comes down to love. Again, James Baldwin writes: 

"If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see."

That takes courage. It takes having courageous and truthful confrontations with those we see who casually oppress in every day life. It means taking a stand and refusing to pretend along with them that they are an okay person. It means being able to call out their immorality or  hypocrisy. It means gathering, fostering, and practicing skills for conflict. That's right. It's ok to open up conflict. It's ok to stand up for what is right no matter where we are.

If we are silent with the small assholes, it is easier for us to accept the larger assholes. Bit by bit, dehumanizing and oppressive behaviors get normalized. We can't complain about it happening in our government if we are allowing it to happen in our own homes and neighborhoods and communities.

Write your lawmakers. Protest and go to marches. Attend meetings around social change. It is important to see the bigger picture and keep doing that hard work. And most of all, bring your attitude and convictions into your own home. Keep the global and abstract in mind as well as the local and practical applications of social justice.

Right now, we should all be examining patriarchal oppression together. We should all be considering how and where we use our voices, and doing it consciously. It takes practice to confront oppressors and it is a skill to be learned. Confronting oppressors does not mean demean them, oppress them, or act like them. It does not mean calling them names, insulting their intelligence, or stooping to their level.  It simply means refusing to accept their behavior or their positive spin on their participation in enslaving another human being. It means not going along when they are abusive and oppressive, and certainly not hanging out with them. It is a loving thing and takes great trust in yourself, and trust that an oppressor wants to be a good part of society and can, theoretically, change. And still standing when they refuse to change or acknowledge the validity of your viewpoint. They have free will and historically, many have worked hard  for assholes' rights(entitlement) so that is nothing new. They will most likely wander to greener, less honest and less confrontational pastures. What is new is the level at which they are being called out. It takes a village to support an asshole, and it will take a village to reform them. Let's help each other hone this skill, with love and protection for each other.
Nonviolence calls us to not be tolerant and acquiescent in the face of abuse. It means we stand up for the humanity of everyone, everywhere.
Women who have been triggered in politics now fear sexism will run rampant. I hope the counter movement is to vigilantly squash any hints of sexism, or racism, or ableism, or any kind of misogyny, homophobia, or hypocrisy.
It's hard, hard work. We are used to sweeping such things under the rug. We have grown accustomed to giving up on minor bullies. We quietly leave their lives. But don't do that, unless you are in danger. Go out and say why.

The asshole next door won't stand a chance, and will have to finally face some social consequences, something he's-or she's- been enjoying avoiding his-or her- whole life. Doing that kind of emotional litter-cleaning, with love, in our neighborhoods, families, workplaces, schools, and friendships will be like yeast in bread. It can't help but continue to raise our whole country to the level of justice, which is peace.
Practicing peace and principles of nonviolence starts with the asshole next door.

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