You may have noticed a lot of people being wrong and stupid, lately.
In fact, statements you’ve heard may sound so inaccurate in their depiction of reality, and so witless about what “We the people” should do next, as to be actively dangerous.
Is the government wrong and stupid? Is the media?
Are some Americans just so incredibly-fucking-out-of-their-minds that they should no longer count as “We the people”?
It kinda feels that way, doesn’t it?
Well, the feeling you are experiencing is shared by many.
In fact, you share that feeling with everybody on Earth who feels like deeply important things are in danger right now.
We get upset, we get scared, we get angry and we feel totally justified in our anger. Everybody does it.
The problem with this emotional process we all share, is that it tends to shape our thinking. It makes us good at preparing for battle. It makes us shitty at compassion, and great at justifying our own attacks.
Once any person or group of people is placed in a “they” category, we stop noticing how similar their humanity is to our own. We start noticing that everything they do is a good reason to fight them.
“I am firm, You are obstinate, He is a pig-headed fool.
I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.
I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.”
- Bertrand Russell, 1948
Emotions of fear and anger ask us to think in terms of “us” and “them,” and carve pieces out of the wholeness of humanity. We want “our” people, the ones who know what is right and good, to win. We make divisions between our community and other communities, by using our heads. These imagined ingroups and outgroups then shape our perception, which influences judgement in ways that justify attack while masquerading as reason.
This process is easy to see all around us.
We tend to notice this process when our neighbors buy into whatever war the government is selling, or we hear people give us their “good reasons” for hating a religion or a race.
But we don’t tend to notice the process at work in ourselves. Hence Bertrand Russell’s comparison to a simple grammatical rule – we conjugate statements of “fact” with our own emotional judgements in a predictable pattern.
It’s okay to be angry. By all means, yell and fret and vent. Get together with other people who see the world in a similar way, and have an “Us the Good Guys” rally. Yell about how insanely wrong and stupid “they” are. Get all that anxious-angry energy out of your system. Share what you know to be good and true. Talk openly about how you feel that good things are in danger. Express your fears, honestly.
But once you’re done with all of that, consider whether you would ultimately prefer to win a battle or solve problems.
If you’re more interested in solving problems, you’ll need to stop creating a “them” in your head, even if buying into your own emotional conjugation feels really good. It does feel good, when you know exactly why they’re wrong. Compassion can feel “lacking,” and leave you with an aftertaste of worry that lingers. Nothing quite compares to the bitter taste of contempt. When you have finally said your piece, and been heard loud and clear even in your own mind, the astringence of vitriol has the cleanest finish.
It will always feel good to see how wrong and stupid they are, but seeing that may not be helping everyone.
They can be wrong and stupid, and still part of the group you care about and help.
“He” will always be a pig-headed fool, whereas “we” will always stand firm in our convictions.
But you have the power to create a larger “We” for all the world.