A young soccer teammate of my daughter’s listened to the referee’s pregame lecture forbidding the girls to “push, grab or trip.” When he walked away, she whispered to her teammates, “But that’s my whole game!”
As I prepare for my book promotion campaign, whatever that winds up looking like, I find myself bracing for questions from interviewers irritated in advance by the sanctimonious sound of the title, An Effort to Understand.
“Well, how exactly do you recommend we communicate with these monsters, Mister Smarty?”
What exactly is my soundbite philosophy of civic communication in a society as viciously divided as ours?
I keep thinking of this term I think I invented but haven’t Googled because I want to develop it from the ground and not some academic’s shoulders:
Here’s the foundation, best I can lay tongue to it: We all grew up reciting the biggest lie in the world: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” When the truth we all grew up to realize is, “Broken bones can heal, but words can wound me forever.”
Wound everyone forever.
From the book:
“When a word goes into universe it doesn’t go away,” said Jeff Ansell, a communication coach. “It reverberates around the universe forever.”
I can’t prove words stay in the universe forever. But I can’t figure out how they would get out.
When Martin Luther King espoused nonviolence and nonviolent resistance, it was before every ally of his movement had an online following, and the ability to rhetorically wreck one or 10 or thousands of people with a savage ad hominem attack, a gratuitous daily “Flush the Turd” Facebook post or a comparison to “anyone who still supports” the president (whatever “supports” means) to a Nazi or a mesmerized cult member. (And that works both ways. Your friend, The “Libtard.”)
When MLK was alive, the main form of protesting was physical: sit-ins and marches. So the form of resistance he advocated was physical nonviolence, which he surely would still demand.
But now, the most common form of protesting is writing, online. And I believe if MLK was alive today he would agree with me that verbally condemning human beings of any stripe—individual or group—isn’t what peacemakers do. (Find a quote where King does it.)
I’m still getting my mind around this term, “rhetorical nonviolence,” and the demands it places on its adherents and whether I can truly meet those demands myself. But so far I haven’t found rhetorical nonviolence to be one bit inconsistent with King’s philosophy of physical nonviolence … nor any more restricting of positive arguments for a more just society, or robust criticism of the current one.
Words that injure people—even people who utter the most common human lie, “I don’t care what other people think about me”—are you using them?
I’ve used them many times before. Am I, still?
And as angry as you and I might be—with what justification are we committing rhetorical violence, and to what good end?