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Catching Flies With Honey

I'm not sure when we stopped knowing (or caring) how to communicate with one another, but it has happened somewhere along the way. We've huddled into our own bubbles of comfort and, conversely, outrage. We do not seek the best way to understand, or to impart knowledge. Instead, we seek only to protest, vilify and win an argument. It doesn't have to be this way.

When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the U.S. national anthem during a recent football game, there were folks coming out of the wood work to label him as unpatriotic. When he explained his reasons for not standing, the vilification continued. As with most things, this is a complex issue, not easily digested for quick and immediate opinions. Of course, many people don't have the patience for such things, so, instead of taking-in the thoughts and feelings that Kaepernick has expressed, many have simply decried him.

It has just been announced that out gay actor Matt Bomer has been cast in a transgender role for an upcoming film. Already, some folks have labeled this as violence against the transgender community, since a trans actor was not cast for the part. There is no nuance presented here, no pause for thought, or the fact that actors, well, act. Once words such as "violence" are deployed, all meaningful conversation comes to a halt, as there is no longer discussion, only labeling and accusatory language that is sure to bristle people and send their defensive shields up.

As a bi-racial gay man, I understand all too well the frustrations of dealing with a society that, at various points in its existence, treated my kind with inequality and brutality. It angers me. There's no easy way to say that. When I think of all the years that my African-American ancestors spent enslaved, it is enraging. The thought of gay men being jailed (or worse) for who they loved is, to put it mildly, upsetting. Despite all that, I try and look at the positives. Things have gotten better. No, they're not hunky dory, but they're better.

What can we do to keep improving things? That is the magic question. For some, it is to work, slowly, attempting to change hearts and minds. For others, it is to protest, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. Still others use the power of the pen to write harsh -- yet truthful -- dissertations as to the reality that the minorities among us face. And, finally, some just want to get it over with and have an all-out revolution. I tend to go for the "hearts and minds" approach, though history tells us a combination of all the aforementioned approaches are typically what is needed.

So, how we communicate with one another is key. If what we seek is an understanding of our position, and a better reception among those we encounter in society, then by all means proceed as you want, but understand that certain ways of dealing with people can provoke different responses. I have seen friends on the left use a 'tell-it-like-it-is' approach, going as far as to warn others not to question what they say, just accept it. Unfortunately, telling someone who doesn't see things your way to simply listen and shut up doesn't often do much to win them over to your side. It depends on what you're after, I guess.

Then there are those on the right, folks who do not wish to actively listen and thoughtfully consider the things that someone like Kaepernick has to say. Better to call him unpatriotic (among other things), than to actually stop and think about why he might be dismayed with certain aspects of society. No attempt at empathy can be mustered. No reasonable pause for thought is allowed.

And what of irony in our arguments? Take two, seemingly disparate, occurrences: the wave of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, and the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Many conservatives have argued against allowing the Syrians a safe haven, for fear that some of them may be terrorists (for the record, I am not in agreement with that). Liberals have cried foul, noting how awful and antithetical to our system of beliefs such a notion is. But then... when Muhammad Ali died earlier this year, a decades-old video resurfaced of him comparing white people to rattlesnakes, and how, if 10,000 of them are coming his way, and he's told not to worry because 1,000 of them are good, is he supposed to not do anything, or should he "close the door?"

The Muhammad Ali video, clocking-in at just under a minute, has many on the left whooping and hollering in agreement with the comparison. One web site even called it "perfect." It is a quick dose of self-reinforcing glory for a particular prism of world view. I , however, despise it. When we engage in the same broad labeling tactics that we rail against, then we're no better than those we accuse of racism and bigotry. We have to look at it that way, lest we continue to pat ourselves on the back within our own bubbles. Hypocrisy is the death-knell of any argument. 

So, here's the rub: We live in a fast-paced society, but then most of us already know that. We live in a world of 7 billion people, all of whom have, to some degree, different points of view. We seem to not have the time to stop and actually talk with one another, to actually listen and learn, to have (however briefly) an open-mind. We simply espouse our opinions, often angrily and quickly and, if others don't see it our way, then fuck them. And we wonder why we have problems.


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