In last post, Shining My Light, I raised my concerns about humanity losing the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, dividing us into smaller and smaller groups, each more and more fearing and hating the other. Oops. Some little Woke gender-bot just cancelled my “and fraternity”. See what I mean! Ok, I’m kidding but I am pointing to a real concern of mine. I’m constantly seeing real people being cancelled from social media, YouTube videos, you name it – until they get down on their bellies and apologize. The transgression can be something as simple as using a noun or pronoun with an implication of being sexist. No one is too powerful to be excluded from this relentless inspection. Here’s what happened to Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada.
Back in February, 2018 he was visiting my home town, Edmonton. Here’s a very brief summary of the story. He was interacting with a young woman from the audience who had been talking for a long time on her microphone. Justin interrupts her at one point after she has used the word “mankind” and says, “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ because it’s more inclusive.” Sounds dodgy, but watching the video in full, it’s clear to anyone that he’s making a joke, not in any way amending her “incorrect” language. The audience and the woman and Justin have a good chuckle and get on with it. But much of the world later went ballistic over it, denouncing him repeatedly for such things as “mansplaining” to the woman and the audience.
Red-facedly I must come clean and confess to my own reaction. I saw an edited clip of the incident in which all I saw was Justin interrupting the woman and correcting her. My reaction was one of ridicule. “How could someone like that ever become a prime minister. Doesn’t he realize how inappropriate he’s being?” I went away confirming my opinion of Trudeau and all politicians as being petty bullies. It never dawned on me that perhaps someone had packaged up this bit of commentary to manipulate people like me into berating Trudeau. I never thought at the time to do a bit of research and see if there was more to this than I’d assumed.
Recently, I did some belated research, and uncovered a much wider context for what was said. I watched a much fuller video clip and learned that he had patiently listened to this woman’s long, long speech and deliberately attempted a bit of humour to help ease what was perceptible impatience building in the large audience. In that moment he endeared himself to the audience and, most unexpectedly, to me! I suddenly found myself admiring the man! (God, I hope no one I know ever reads this.)
So much of what concerns me about this story is what concerns me about what’s happening to our world. We are becoming more and more adversarial with each other, taking exception to what is being said and going to verbal war over it. In this example, the incident is deliberately being altered and presented through mainstream media in a successful attempt at creating controversy for Justin Trudeau and bringing him down. But it’s deeper than that. Pulling politicians down has been going on forever. Justin’s father, Pierre was given a hard time for allowing American Vietnam War draft-dodgers to come to Canada. But now, fifty years later, over some politically incorrect humour? What on earth has happened to us in those intervening years? How did bullying people over their use of pronouns become so important? Isn’t that a rather petty issue to be fighting over? But then, how many issues are worth fighting over?
I see my jumping to conclusions being part of the problem. No, I didn’t pick a fight, but I inadvertently chose a side. I didn’t question my thinking thoroughly. I put myself into the division. Put this into a larger scale and context, escalate the emotions and it’s easy to see how fights break out, how wars happen.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to say in this post, I was thinking about the turmoil on university campuses these days, with professors and speakers being yelled down and events cancelled over Woke issues. Articles such as this one on “Woke” bringing about a dividing line among UK voters are appearing with greater frequency in mainstream media. “Woke” apparently has its origins in the United States almost 100 years ago, related to issues of racial prejudice and discrimination. The ideals that followed were to bring about inclusiveness, yet we know that bullying people about pronoun usage will not bring about gender and sexual-orientation equality. It will achieve the opposite, dividing us into smaller and smaller and more belligerent and abusive groups. It’s this divisiveness that I’m addressing and want to change.
I’m proposing that we begin by practicing something that surely we can all agree on: do no harm to each other, and that we work and play together from this simple credo. I’m further proposing that we take this on with each other by agreement, one by one, and not out of some government or religious edict inflicted upon us. And finally I propose that after choosing to take this on, we be our word. Over and over, no matter what.
Don’t like what Jane Doe is saying? Don’t listen to her, but let her speak to those who choose to listen. Let’s become more like the Amish at a barn-raising, working together and thriving, turning hard work into a bit of fun and connection. But screaming at each other at a university campus? Come on. We can do better than that. It starts with you and me, taking the pledge together to do no harm and being our word about that. Let’s begin now.