October 13, 2019 @ 8:42 am | Filed under: Current Affairs
I’ve spent three years groping for ways to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. We’re trained to be polite & avoid saying things that might cause loved ones to feel embarrassed or defensive. I’ve searched and searched for a way to address volatile topics respectfully.
Recently I encountered the following poem via Holly Wren Spaulding’s Patreon, and I was struck to the core by its opening lines, which express exactly what I’ve struggled and failed to find words for:
by Chase TwichellWhat etiquette holds us backfrom more intimate speech,especially now, at the end of the world?Can’t we begin a conversationhere in the vestibule,then gradually move it inside?What holds us backfrom saying things outright?We’ve killed the earth.Yet we speak of other things.Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.
—from Dog Language. Copper Canyon Press, 2005
Yes. It’s a strange and twisted form of etiquette that prevents us from blunt honesty—a luxury, really, a kind of courtesy that can only be employed by people in a place of relative privilege. The closer the threat, the more urgent the need to speak out. Those of us who are reading about atrocities instead of experiencing them directly have the luxury of choice. Do we speak out, knowing it will upset people we care about? Make for some awkward gatherings? Cause friends to unfriend us?
Those are pretty low stakes, really. Yet that strange etiquette constrains us.
We have to be strong enough to speak. I don’t even mean “speak out”–I mean just plain *speak*. Have the hard conversations. Ask the earnest questions. Probe our own biases. Examine our motives. Interrogate our assumptions.
Here in this vestibule which is the only place I have daily contact with so many of you—if these algorithmed-half-to-death exchanges can be considered “contact”—I want to say things outright.
I want to say: If your values are conservative, how can you possibly support this administration? Why am I not seeing you cry out in the same way your liberal friends and relatives are crying out? Why are you not denouncing obstruction of justice, emoluments violations, executive overreach, and inflammatory rally rhetoric? Why are you not pressing your electeds to investigate misdeeds and corruption? Why do you trust Sean Hannity more than your own loved ones? Where are your voices on behalf of the vulnerable?
Just because I’m sometimes too cowardly to speak these questions out loud doesn’t mean I’m not always, always thinking them. Wanting to shout them.
My cowardice has to do with how I might make you feel. That’s a strange etiquette, indeed. An etiquette that allows corruption to flourish. People are dying today because we’ve been politely speaking of other things, or nothing at all.