Condition and Conditioning

DISCLAIMER:
Here is what I’m NOT doing: taking a side.
I am immeasurably
saddened by everything that has happened in Ferguson.
What I want 
is resolution and restoration.
That’s it.
Don’t pick a fight with me. I will Vulcan nerve pinch you in a minute.

Let’s say that every day at ten a.m. for one solid year, a person wearing a red shirt and a white bow-tie threw an egg at my car.
Now, let’s say that on day 366, you are standing near my vessel wearing a red shirt, a white bow-tie, and holding an egg. Consumed by a rage that has been building for 365 days, I scream obscenities at you, and you flee in terror and tears.
Who is the villain of this piece?

This is not a trick question: I am, technically.

It could very well be that you never intended to throw that egg.
You could have just been paying a call to a local chicken.
You could have shoplifted one egg from a grocery store, because you only believe in stealing what you need for that day’s breakfast.
You could just like the feeling of holding embryos in your hands.
Whatever the cause or case, it’s none of my nevermind why you’re holding an egg and, unless or until the egg has left your hand and is flying in my general direction, I have no business or right to preemptively read you any text from any various translations, revisions, or amendments of or to THE RIOT ACT.
I am CLEARLY IN THE WRONG here.
There can be no disputing that fact, because you have the right to dress that way and clutch all the eggs you please.

However, as a fellow human (because we’re all sort-of human here, yes?), can you see how the repeated past experiences contributed to my reaction?
For one solid year, the same thing happened, every day, over and over and over and over, until the very sight of someone dressed like Matt Smith on Christmas morning would aggravate my hackles.
A red shirt hanging on the Macy’s rack would fill me with insane anger.
When eating eggs, they would turn to sand in my mouth and sit like sodden lumps of clay in my stomach.
I would flinch at any quick flash of movement while driving.
Past repeated experiences would eventually color my perception and could possibly trigger an inappropriate response.

Let’s say that you, as a person of whatever culture or subculture, deal with a particular set of, shall we say, attentions, that are distinctly unpleasant to you (regardless of the intentions of the person or persons dishing them out).
You deal with it.
You don’t make a scene.
You’re not a psycho, you don’t want to unleash yourself on the people making your life miserable. You just want to be left alone, allowed to live and move and have your being without harassment.
But the harassment continues… and then one day, you snap.

It is a thing people do, you understand.
There is a point in a person’s psyche when enough is enough, and said person will draw a line in the sand and start shrieking, “YOU! SHALL! NOT! PASS!” like a lunatic Gandalf.
Is that okay?
Not really, no.
We’re not animals.
We are a bit better than Pavlov’s dogs… we can control both our salivation and our behavior.
HOWEVER, guilt placement aside, can you understand how a person who has dealt with years of unpleasant attentions might get to the place where they might just explode?

Let’s say that you live in a town where black people are or appear to be persecuted by the police.**
Let’s say that a black person is killed under circumstances with wildly conflicting reports of how it happened.
Let’s say that this situation was the straw on the backs of a whole desert full of camels.
Some people snapped… and we should have the grace to understand how they got to that place, because it’s not a place unique to the people of Ferguson.
We’re all humans, yes?
Better than dogs, but not immune to “lunatic Gandalf”, right?
We all experience things that are terrible, and what we DON’T need is a body of bystanders invalidating our responses. We need to examine those experiences, responses, and perceptions.
If the perception is wrong, then it needs to be addressed.
All of us need to look at ourselves and examined those moments when we’ve felt that we were being ill-used and really think about whether or not we’re being “sensitive”.
If the perception is correct, then it needs to be addressed.
All of us need to look at whether or not we carry assumptions and prejudices, and if so, how does our behavior change when those assumptions and prejudices activate.
Wonder Twins Powers... ACTIVATE!

I’m sorry, when I said activate, I thought of the Wonder Twins.
I know. Not the time.
Sorry.

My point is that we’re so consumed with who is objectively right or wrong in Ferguson… as if everything would be okay if we could demonize one side and canonize the other… whoever has done the fewest terrible things should get a lollipop and a sticker, and the other kid should go straight to PRISON…
It’s not that simple, and nothing ever is.
If a community of people feels persecuted, there’s an underlying problem there. If a police force feels threatened by a community of people, there’s an underlying problem there. Unless we’re willing to actually do the sticky work of digging in and uprooting the problem (you know… the one that nearly everyone deals with in some measure and might even be marginally guilty of, but we don’t like talking about it because EVOLVED…), then we’re just as dysfunctional and are in no position to take sides.

I wish I knew what the solution to Ferguson’s situation should be. My instinct is to ask everyone to be quiet and not shoot, throw, light, or beat anything until all the facts have been gathered, but I suspect that would not go over particularly well.
I wish we could all take a breath and really try to calmly and rationally understand all of the perspectives. If you’re having a hard time understanding, talk it through with someone else.
I’m about to get radical here, but maybe we could all learn something from this.

I don’t know.

**Arguments have been made that this is a faulty perception of the minority community in Ferguson… which really doesn’t change the fact that it’s their perception. People act based on their own perceptions, not your opinion of whether or not it’s valid. Whether it’s objectively correct or incorrect, that is the paradigm that an entire community of people is working with. You can stand outside the situation and shout that they’re wrong, but how helpful is that, really?

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3 thoughts on “Condition and Conditioning

  1. Yeah! Finally back to the blog. Whew. 🙂

    Great piece that goes right down the middle of the issue. The only side I’d add is what if you found egg on your car, but did not know why it was happening, but people continuously blamed the guy with the bow-tie and the music you listened to continuously demeaned the bow-tie guy. Then when you saw Mr. Bow-Tie with eggs, your assumption would have been so heavily influenced that you may act much more strongly, even without all the evidence at hand, than you should.

    *cough* rap artists *cough*

    Like

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