Thank you everyone who wrote to me in response to my request last Sunday about the disagreements between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. I’ve had a lot to read.
My conclusions are as follows:
1. Prejudice is experienced differently by country. The UK and the USA both have awful histories of oppression but the effects are different and the resulting protests might have started at the same place but be fuelled by slightly different aspects of that oppression. So a banner might carry a different story in a different country.
2. The pandemic has increased uncertainty and fear, and the fact that it’s a election year in America means there’s extra exaggeration and lies on every side exacerbating the hurt and division, and people are frightened further into their corners. The fact that most of us haven’t been outside to discuss anything in a normal social setting for three months is probably not helping.
3. Some people’s personal experience may mean they feel threatened by an organisation that disrupts the way they have seen the world, and while there is a need for change, we have to accept that some of us have a personality that embraces change and some of us just don’t, so it’s harder, and requires more patience.
4. It is possible that a small group of people actually benefit from conflict, confusion, division and destruction, and race is irrelevant to them while they gain more money or power that conflict causes. They may deliberately start the conflict, or jump behind a powerful banner once it’s started, but either way for them it’s not about lives on either side mattering. This is one reason why some people are opposed to the protests in general as the beautiful desire for progress and improvement could be hijacked by someone who doesn’t care about the cause and simply wants to create weakness and destruction to further a totally separate purpose. So the banner we started to wave full of love and beauty may start to mean something very unloving and threatening to someone else. It may be seen as contrary to the original meaning of that banner, even if the person carrying it doesn’t intend it to be.
5. A three word slogan can be interpreted in a hundred different ways, depending on each person’s story and experience. When I wave the banner of those words, it is because it resonates with a truth in me, but that might be slightly different from the truth it resonates in another person with the same banner. There may be a history to one version of this banner that I don’t like, once I find it out, but the words mean something to me, which I think I’m expressing when I carry it. Also opposing banners may both be true, but the intention and manner of expressing them is what causes hurt and fear.
6. And I think this fear is keeping us stuck in a place where we’re missing the point. Because there is fear and hurt on both sides. But underneath that there is also love and beauty.
And to get to the love and beauty, I need to understand where the fear comes from. Which brings me back to this:
7. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It is such a simple explanation for what’s going on with humans, and where things go wrong. If we don’t have the basic first two levels of safety met (for example, during a pandemic) it’s very hard to see people from the third level of love and belonging, because we’re scared, and maybe hungry. Hangry in fact. The fourth and fifth levels are then just irrelevant. (I accept that humans are actually too complex to fit into such easy colour-coded layers, but it’s a starting point in understanding that people act out of the place where there needs aren’t being met).
If people have uncertainty around their basic needs of safety, food and shelter, made worse by a pandemic, they may not be in the most peaceful place to respond to new thoughts with openness and love. When we feel cornered, our body is triggered into a defensive state of alarm, and we react with fear at things that feel like a threat when they aren’t at all. I’m learning to understand the vulnerability where that fear comes from and be patient with people who are responding from that place. What makes this a battleground is that some of us have only just begun to feel that our basic survival needs are under threat, while others have lived with that fear their whole life due to oppression and prejudice. But when you’re experiencing it, it’s hard to reach the place of compassion and empathy (in that third level of love and belonging) that would help you see that.
My focus is on that love and belonging. We are completely compelled, in nearly everything we do, to find acceptance, connection and love. I am in the luxurious position of having my first two layers of the triangle safe and sturdy, and I have the time, space and patience to hang around in the easy yellow middle bit where I can spend an entire Sunday listening and reading in order to find the love in something a lot of people are hurt, frightened or offended by. And I can do this because my basic survival isn’t immediately threatened, and so I find it easy to love. Maybe I should NOT be choosing love right now, I should be as furious and outraged as the people tearing down statues, and for a while I was, and there is a place for that. But last week I couldn’t even see the comments as I was so blinded by fury, and on that day I did not achieve anything of benefit to anyone waving either banner.
So I am trying to see the love, to believe that behind every action that hurts or angers me, is a genuine heart of love, that also got hurt, then angry, and then lashed out with all the sharp defensive fury of a mother cat protecting her kittens. Hurt people hurt people. I need to remember that on both sides of this.
And then there is this quest for belonging.
We feel safe in a community, in a place with people where you belong. This community is deeply personal for everyone, and means something different to each person. In times of uncertainty, we may cling harder to our identity, wrapped up in our culture or heritage, and feel the need to make ourselves feel superior by finding an ‘other’ to look down on. We all do it – with siblings, colleagues, quiz nights, football games, politics, and wider – it’s so easy to see that the need for superiority exists in all of us, and we express it in ways that have been acceptable to us. If someone has little in their lives to feel good about, it makes sense that their need to feel superior might be expressed in ways that actually make no sense, but carry a perceived feeling of success and power, based on the community or identity where they get their sense of belonging, and therefore strength.
Esteem and Status comes in next. I have learned that arguing is so often very little to do with the argument, and is mostly about defending yourself or showing off in public. I really enjoyed the peaceful respectful way people wrote to me personally so I could listen so much better. It’s possible that for some of us having an audience to an argument can fuel it with something so competitive and destructive that becomes a desperate battle to protect ourselves from looking bad or being wrong, because our status is under threat. We need status to feel valued and connected, and the irony is that while we lose that connection with the person we argue with, we hope we’re achieving it with our audience. It very quickly stops being of benefit to the people we started waving the banner for in the first place and becomes all about ourselves and our own needs to be accepted and loved.
The last of our needs, according to Maslow, is to become the best version of ourselves. It seems like as we all strive to be better, we get massively frustrated with people who don’t share our definition of ‘better’, and we want to wave our banner harder in their face. Protests make people uncomfortable – they make me uncomfortable – but that’s the point. They happen because one person’s ‘better’ has damaged another person’s ‘better’ and an alternative needs to be found. I am lucky that I am in a place where all this has made me question myself, and look at the prejudice and privilege in my own life. Whether I have a solution to the global issue or not, I have started to confront stuff that I have managed to avoid until now, and I hope, has helped me a bit on my way to being a better person.
I have a lot more to learn, this is where I’ve got to, and I look forward to you all helping me learn more this week.