Congratulations, you smeared distinctions to create a bigger political block, raising an inclusive banner to seem to present a unified whole for your cause. Good idea right? After all, your PR to create and identify a large, unified group to the outside world worked. Except now everyone else can’t tell the difference between you and the troublemakers pulling shit under your banner.
Any group is going to have extremists. It is both the nature of groups and a systemic weakness they can exploit. That last is to say using the same rhetoric and ideas, they push things too far. It’s hard to stand up to such folks because they are using the same words, terms, rhetoric, ideals as you and that — this is important — you believe in. But they’re throwing in a bunch of toxic twists. Twists, that if you dare challenge, they’ll turn their fury on you. They’ll blame you, accuse you of being a traitor to the cause, a sell-out and do everything in their power to silence you or get the group to turn against you. This ratpacking and bullying is a very real factor inside groups. Often what happens is people don’t stand up to this hijacking and pull back to a smaller circle inside the larger group. They quietly self-isolate inside the larger group where they can stick with their interpretation of what the cause is about. In the mean time, the extremists are given free reign to twist agendas, rampage and cause mayhem.
Let’s talk credibility. Often you’re now being viewed as same level as the worst of your ‘unified’ group and/or judged to be dishonest. By that last I mean by not condemning the actions of extremists (acting under your label) you appear to support or agree with them.
You may think saying, “Well that’s not real _____(fill in the blank)” is enough of a distancing act from you and the troublemakers, but it’s not. Remember that ‘we’re unified’ for political power? Well while it may not have worked for political power, it sure as hell worked for creating an “Us vs. Them” environment. And that puts you in both categories. You may think being in an ‘Us’ group empowers you, but there’s a whole lot more people who are looking at you as “One of Them.” First off, your little distinction game is up against a massive, decades long ‘We’re all one’ campaign — that worked. Second, that distinction is seriously weakened if you’re using the same terms, rhetoric, and ideology — if not same basic tactics (but toned down) — as the extremists. This includes standing there mutely while they rampage in your name (that unified ‘Us’ thing again).
I fear we are coming close to a point where — if we all don’t start doing something — the extremists will kick shit off. I don’t care which ‘Us’ you self-identify with. We ALL need to start pulling the leashes of the extremists in our own groups — and very much be seen doing so. Not just so other ‘Thems’ see you doing it, but people in your own group who have been bullied and cowed into silence about this out-of-control extremism will see you doing it and stand up too.
And a big part of that is reaching out to the moderates. Open lines of communications outside your own echo chamber. Moderate, reasonable and willing to work with other people still exist. The world is not filled with crazies. Nor are the only sane and reasonable people you and the less extreme people in your group.
This brings us to a bit of a hitch. One of the words I hear a lot of is ‘listen.’ As in “Would you listen to what we have to say.” I’m a big fan of listening. But I have a question: Are you listening too?
Listening is a two way street. And while we’re at it, communication is a lot more than just someone else shutting up and listening to what you have to say. Where things really go overboard is when someone not only demands that you shut up and listen, but equates ‘listening’ with you having to accept what they’re saying as unquestionable truth. When this is what is meant as ‘listening,’ any questioning, much less disagreement with what the person is saying means you’re not listening (and are by default, now part of the problem). This is an extremist tactic, and it is often used as the excuse to attack — or bully. That last is because this is the same tactic used to intimidate people inside the group. As things are developing, we’re moving past the point of the attacks just being verbal…
When you are listening you have to set your own priorities and interpretation aside and try to figure out where the person is coming from and why they think that way. Listening includes asking for reasons, facts and perspectives. It does not mean accepting conclusions or disregarding your reasons, facts or perspectives. In other words, listening doesn’t mean automatically agreeing — especially if the whole process is filled with buzzwords. (Part of the problem with the ‘we demand’ approach is they mix reasons and facts with conclusions until they become one homogenized mess. A combo of conclusion and cause that cannot be questioned). If you disagree with someone’s point, don’t rush to interrupt with why they’re wrong. Ask questions to get them to clarify. What do they mean by that. Why do they believe that? What perspective are they looking at it from? (Example, if you look at certain circumstances from a humanistic perspective you’ll get one answer. If you look at the same circumstances from business, law enforcement, economic or anthropological perspective you’ll get four completely different types of answers.) Before you start filtering what you’re hearing through your perspective, try to understand the validity of the interpretation from another perspective (why it looks like that way to that person). It may not be the whole picture — but from a particular perspective, it can look exactly like what they are saying. Then start running it through your filters and see what the same situation looks like. But you’ve done this after you’ve listened to the other side. This is how communication happens. A lot of what are very real problems have wide ranging and complex contributing factors. But you’ll never know these reasons unless you’re willing to listen.
(Oh yeah, here’s bot a free tip about getting people to listen to you and something I touched on before. Don’t use the same lingo as the extremists are — especially just before or while they are attacking. It’s that whole, people can’t tell the difference between you and extremists if you’re both using the same language thing.)
I fear we are coming close to a point where the extremists will kick shit off. My primary concern is a whole lot of innocent people getting caught in the crossfire, And by that I mean people who have nothing to do with your cause or others. (In case you missed it, this gives people who aren’t involved in the ‘cause’ reason to stand up and tell those in the cause to knock it off. Unfortunately, history shows us both who suffers the most and where letting extremists run unchecked leads.)
Now the bad news for you, if you march under a banner, if you promote a cause and the shooting starts, you’re not going to be considered innocent by those shooting back. The police might view you as such, but not the people your extremists open fire upon. You’re part of the group that’s shooting at them, which means you’re a target.
This is why I am pleading with people — why I am begging you — not just to withdraw support from the extremists, but to stand up to them and tell them stop trying to hijack your cause. Call them on their hatred and bad behavior. Don’t stand by and let them attack others using your position, cause or group as their excuse, for their hatred and violence. Don’t support them, don’t defend them, don’t excuse their behavior (especially if it’s the very thing you’re against) but most of all don’t think that “No True Scotsman” is going to be enough to keep you safe if the bullets start flying.