I have been mulling over a difficult and complex issue lately. Of course, in these kinds of issues, there are no real answers, only possible solutions and theories; but I’ll do my best.
I find myself consistently involved in discussion about sensitive issues and complexities about human nature and global relations regarding these issues; I’ve always been a curious person. Unfortunately, I also often find myself facing the ire of the person with whom I’m discussing these curiosities.
This is exceedingly frustrating.
All I am interested in is expanding my knowledge and understanding of an issue, and perhaps also attaining an understanding of a varied perspective, as a discussion with another mind will often bring. These are important to me. These allow me to look beyond my own limited thought patterns and understand things that would have only brought confusion before. But when someone starts attacking my views and/or points in a way that doesn’t allow for an expansion of understanding and only a feeling that somehow I am stupid or ignorant…this really defeats the purpose of said discussion.
Frustration: 1; Peace: 0
In response, I have reverted to researching these issues online instead of in collaboration with another human being. Limited, but safer. I came across an article about the hypocrisy of human rights activists and groups; specifically, about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist who fought against the military junta after she spent 15 years in prison for her activism, and about the Human Rights Watch in the US of A. In the former, the author wrote that Aung San was a hypocrite because she didn’t fight for the rights of Muslims in Burma, only those of the Buddhists. In the latter, the author wrote that the Human Rights Watch was hypocritical because it consistently spoke out against the human rights violations in countries who were political enemies of the USA, and let political allies (including the US itself) off the hook.
Granted, both of these sound (and probably are) hypocritical. However, let’s think about these a little more closely. Both of these examples discuss someone (or something) who has a goal of protecting human rights. And both of these examples discuss how said people have failed their campaigns. But specifically, how have these people failed? Because their campaigns didn’t encompass every nook and cranny of the subject of human rights? Did Aung San Suu Kyi fail her people because she failed to fight for, specifically, the Muslims in Burma? Did the Human Rights Watch fail in its duty because it kept a close eye on people who were considered a threat to its home country instead of the whole world?
Let’s look at the purpose of these campaigns. Aung San Suu Kyi based her human rights campaign on the overreach of the military regime of the Burmese government. She, as a Buddhist, believed that peaceful responses were the most appropriate, and protested accordingly. She campaigned for democracy and general human rights for the people in Burma. She is a political activist. The Human Rights Watch is an international privately-run, non-profit organization dedicated to the research and public awareness of human rights violations by governments and individuals worldwide. It is funded by personal donations from people who wish to see these types of headlines and awareness in the world. It researches human rights violations worldwide and publishes articles based on their findings, and when those findings are challenged , they review the situation and publish a rebuttal.
In the event that a country or individual is under the scrutiny of activists, one can expect a quick and sometimes brutal defense. It happens every day of our lives. Unfortunately, it seems that when people are unable to take a step back from their own agenda, they are unable to coolly debate a point and end up devolving the situation to a matter of finger-pointing, twisted words, and baseless (and sometimes not) and cruel attacks on the character or argument of the opposite party. Sometimes it isn’t the person or group under scrutiny who attacks.
Sometimes it’s the people who are watching the show.
Why? Why do people feel the need to jump in the fray from the sidelines, especially when they may not fully understand the situation. Do they feel that their opinion is the correct one to fix the situation? (There is, by the way, a flaw in this logic: we’re talking about an opinion, which, by definition, is only an opinion when it can be disputed, therefore can not be correct or incorrect.) Do they feel like their opinion is important enough to override any of those being debated? (perhaps this is a harsh question, but it needs to be asked. Too many people feel that their opinions need to be heard more than other opinions, and, as a result, don’t often listen to the whole point being made, or don’t give the point enough thought and jump to conclusions.)
Now I didn’t find a rebuttal to the criticisms of Aung San, but I did find a very well written and supported one from the Human Rights Watch (which is probably why their research and articles are widely respected and hold such weight, as they show that they can and will back themselves up); and, besides a large dose of political interactions from around the world, what I learned from this is that the best response to the impassioned criticisms and attacks from those who have their guard up is a cool and collected fact-based correction, or rebuttal, if you have a larger point to make.
I also have realized that people who make their public platforms out of moral reasoning and questions are often held up to an ideal that can’t be matched. It’s almost as if they, because they have stepped up to bat in the moral debate, are not allowed to make mistakes or have flaws, because morality is an important and sensitive issue. Morality is such that, in some cultures, only God has the power to make those types of decisions. The issue? These issues are being debated on a human level, not on a spiritual level. Between governments and governees. Between people. Ideals are nice to have, and even provide an excellent basis for future decisions, but when those ideals are put to test in the real world, the results are often more complex than a simple right or wrong. And the scrutiny of these ideals is even stronger when those putting them to the test are in public service, and therefore in the public eye.
But when it is just you and another person with whom you are discussing something sensitive, these same problems and complexities crop up. Unfortunately, I feel that if we can’t discuss these issues without resorting to personal attacks and defensive measures on a personal and private level, the problems only get worse when the field is widened to a public level. This is why I am reflecting on these issues here, because I really do believe that if we wish to get anywhere at all as a human community, we need to practice getting somewhere in a smaller community such as between friends.
In my experience, being thoughtful in person has backfired many times. Often, my observations and questions are seen as conclusions set in stone instead of as they are intended: something closer to the way science works, as a theorem that must be and will be morphed and changed as new information is incorporated into the research. In my experience, the only way people can have a discussion such as the ones above is if they both view the discussion as research, where they are just adding to the information that they can then review their own opinions and morals with.
I understand that this is much easier to say than to put it into practice, but, as I constantly repeat to myself, the only person that you can control is yourself. And this is a very good practice for that. Keeping yourself objective while someone is poking holes in your moral center is excruciatingly difficult, but, if you succeed, it is extremely rewarding.
What do you think?