Saturday, 29 June 2013

Try A Little Kindness

We live in an imperfect world, and there are many issues which crop up that people disagree on vehemently. These arguments are not suddenly going to go away, and in particular they are not going to be ended by shouting or violence.

It has been said - and I believe it to be true - that the best way to run a nation, or a given section of society, is the same as the best way to run a family. In other words, good parents make good leaders. You don't need me to tell you that there are plenty of bad parents out there, and many of them become leaders.

One of the things good parents have to do is deal with arguments among the kids. They have different personalities, and they are not always going to get along. Most of the time all it takes is for a wise parent to watch while they sort it out among themselves, using the skills they've been taught by said parent. The less involvement the better. If Mom steps in too often, how do they learn conflict resolution?

On the other hand, if they are allowed to war constantly, it might be taken as approval.

So it's a delicate balance, as is much parenting, and it requires care and dilgience.

As adults, we don't have that referee all too often. Unless our conflicts get out of hand and the authorities are involved, we are left to our own discretion as to how to handle disgreements, and if we have solid childhood lessons to work with we can use them as a guide. Even people like me, with no siblings, can manage just fine using what we were taught when younger.

But not everyone had those lessons. Some children had parents who sent the wrong messages. Some intervened too much, took sides (often unfairly), made impossible "zero tolerance"  rules, others completely missed the bullying happening, intervening too little.

And some parents were the worst possible examples. Causing conflicts rather than helping sort them out, fighting among themselves, teaching kids intolerance and even outright hatred.

What chance do these people stand, as adults, in being able to deal with the issues that arise?

They are still learning. Of course, we all are, but if we had a solid foundation of ethics as part of our upbringing, even if it came from outside the home, we are miles ahead of those who were raised in a bad home.

For this reason, if we are ever going to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, it is vital that we use our skills of resolution to help those who have none, rather than show them a brick wall of disapproval.

I keep running into people who think you can fight hate with hate. You can't.

No, I know we can't all be Gandhi. I can't do it and I don't expect anyone else to. But we must have an awareness that those whose behaviour is is BAD have a problem. That's why they do it. QED. If we can remember that their poison comes from a place of pain, it actually helps us deal with them.

For decades now I've been trying to get across in discussions the idea of a difference between an explanation and an excuse. I often feel I get nowhere, but I keep trying because I think it's very important. I'm going to offer an example, but for pity's sake don't assume this is The Topic. It isn't, it's just one area where this lack of understanding of cause and effect vs justice shows itself.

Thousands of years ago, people who behaved in a wild, unpredictable way, and were sometimes violent, were assumed to be possessed by demons. Depending on how their behaviour impacted those around them they might be driven away, caged up, killed, or sometimes tolerated - there were many levels of it, obviously, but also different attitudes. And even back then one option was kindness. They were sometimes pitied.

Today we recognize this as mental illness, and, on the whole we try to get them help, although some fall through the cracks and we still have quite a way to go there.

When the bad behaviour of another person falls within that wide fuzzy range of "normal", that is to say, they raise eyebrows, but have never actually been arrested, diagnosed with an actual mental illness, or otherwise crossed a line that defines them as mad, we tend to have expectations of them that if we snap our fingers, they'll fall into line and behave like everyone else.

What if they can't?

These days we have two situations, the rise of the ever-lengthening list of disorders used to describe behaviours not considered normal, AND a loud objection to this, those who say "soon everything will be a disorder" and have absolutely no patience with the idea that a person's "abnormal" behaviour could possibly be the result of a neurological condition, or from a negative life experience,

So, we have lots of people being diagnosed with "anger management" issues, "oppositional defiance" disorder, and so on. The objective being to try to get a handle on why they misbehave, and maybe then, fix that. At the same time, we have others saying "he just needs to get a grip". Their solution? Shout at them a lot, apparently.

Is stupid a disorder? For every person whose bad behaviour is defined thusly, there's another person who thinks that calling somebody stupid will cure them. Which is....stupid.

No, we get nowhere hurling insults about. Waste of time. Do you feel good getting it off your chest ? Yes? Good. Me too. But what does it solve? Nothing.

If we are going to get along in society we absolutely have to ask "Why?" a lot. OK, we may not get answers, and actually that doesn't always matter. But if we wonder instead of condemn there is hope.

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