On the spectrum of confrontational (always starting fights, getting up in people’s faces) and non-confrontational (avoiding any kind of unpleasantness at all costs, even if it means burying your feelings deep down), I lean way closer to “confrontational.”
I don’t relish a fight, but I cannot stand to let things fester, and am always searching for effective ways to bring issues out into the light so they can be addressed and resolved. (I’m a writer, and I earn a living as a communications consultant, so my proclivity for expressing versus not-expressing is to be expected.)
Here’s a scene I love from When Harry Met Sally (Nora Ephron is a genius, RIP):
Harry: What? Can’t a man say a woman is attractive without it being a come-on? All right, all right. Let’s just say, just for the sake of argument, that it was a come-on. What do you want me to do about it? I take it back, OK? I take it back.
Sally: You can’t take it back.
Harry: Why not?
Sally: Because it’s already out there.
Harry: Oh jeez. What are we supposed to do? Call the cops? It’s already out there!
Sally: Just let it lie, OK?
Harry: Great! Let it lie. That’s my policy. That’s what I always say. Let it lie. Want to spend the night in a motel? You see what I did? I didn’t let it lie.
Sally: Harry –
Harry: I said I would and I didn’t…I went the other way…What?
Sally: We are just going to be friends, OK?
Harry: Great, friends. It’s the best thing.
I’m like Harry: I don’t let it lie.
I’m like him in my personal life — if I think you’re mad at me, I’ll say, “Are you mad at me?” If I think you’re upset about something, I’ll say, “You seem upset.” And I’m like him when it comes to calling out bullshit, and mobilizing a constructive response to said bullshit.
Which brings me to Donald Trump.
Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into your typical political blog post that gets into a bunch of insular quarterbacking on who’s in the lead or what it all means in the echo chamber of campaign media, and this isn’t an earnest plea for good people to come together to stop this monster. I’m tired of both things. Neither seems to accomplish anything. It’s depressing as shit.
Instead, here’s what this is: It’s me confronting those who think that the best response to Trump is to “just ignore him.” It’s me saying, “How can ignoring a hate-monger be the most effective response that we as creative and intelligent people can muster? The stakes are too high. What if we gamble that ignoring him is the best approach — and we’re wrong?”
Yesterday I wrote this on my personal Facebook page:
I was so disheartened by the responses I got:
- “What’s the use. Ignoring him is the best we can do. If we ignore him, he’ll go away.” What if you’re wrong? Also, morally, ethically, don’t we have a responsibility to do more than just “ignore” someone who spews hate speech about Muslims, oozes misogyny, and bombastically hurls intolerance into the public sphere?
- “Nothing will humiliate this guy, so why even try.” Because if we don’t try, we’re giving into a bully. Because this response assumes that his boorishness and its resonance with his supporters is more powerful than our own creativity and love of tolerance and religious freedom.
- “I don’t want to match hate with hate. I’d rather just channel my energy into helping a candidate I believe in.” This one gets me. I’m a peacenik and it’s not my usual M.O. to say, “Let’s humiliate the guy.” But as a communications strategist I truly think it’s the most effective approach — not to humiliate him in front of those who already find him repugnant, mind you, but to find a way to humiliate him in front of his supporters. To take him down a peg.
I do also think that redoubling our efforts in support of candidates who espouse tolerance is an important part of the equation, as is putting our talents and energies towards other constructive efforts to make the world a better place. I do not, however, think that morally and ethically, these efforts are sufficient in the face of all the hate that Trump is spewing. They’re too indirect.
- “People get too fixated on the presidential campaign. Yes, who our president is is important, but he or she won’t single-handedly run this country. Rather than get mired in this one contest I would rather channel my energies towards tangible things that I know can make this world a better place for my children.” Again, this speaks to the peacenik in me, and I think it’s a good reminder that there are a spectrum of ways we can make the world what we want it to be — it doesn’t all hinge on this one election. And yet, as with the previous bullet point, this ultimately feels like an insufficient response to me, in the face of the hate Trump spews; and while the President isn’t King, he or she has significant power…power that has, in fact, expanded in recent history. The stakes are too high.
I’m reminded of the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, she describes creativity as both sacred and not sacred — it’s sacred because it’s a form of magic that we need to honor in order to delight in its benefits; and it’s not sacred because it’s just this thing that many of us need to find a way to work into our lives, along with the laundry, and we can’t get too precious about it lest we work ourselves into a frenzy that keeps us from doing the work.
So many people I know (myself included, for long stretches) hide from our creative power because it feels too scary, or because we just don’t know how to encounter its sacred aspects while also treating it like changing a load of laundry.
Our creative power isn’t just for art-making. It’s for activism. It’s for standing up for what’s right. It’s human to want to say, “This isn’t my problem to solve. It’s too hard, or, it’s not actually as important as people say it is, or, instead of solving it, I’ll work on something that I can understand over here.”
But it’s also human, and ever so much more powerful, to say, “Fuck this. No. No, this behavior is not ok, and I am going to harness all of my creative power to do something about it.”
Case in point: This week, Gilbert banded together with Brene Brown, Cheryl Strayed, Rob Bell, Glennon Doyle Melton and over 40,000 supporters to raise ONE MILLION DOLLARS for refugees in less than two days.
You guys: We can confront Trump, and we can do it effectively. What’s more, we can, and should, effectively confront the other assholes in our lives. Instead of finding reasons that it’s not really a problem, trust that you have the power to do something about it. Take the yoga class to help yourself heal, surround yourself with people who treat you well…AND, kick that asshole to the curb.
We can’t all be Harry, and we shouldn’t be. The world needs Sallys who say, “Please, just let it lie.” Letting go is powerful and often the wisest way. But when there is a moral or ethical wrong, when there is inhuman treatment of each other, I believe it’s never the appropriate response to do anything other than address it head-on. And when we pool our collective creativity and talent — my God, the possibilities!