The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.
Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.
The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.
Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.
I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.
What one considers a crisis is subjective. I write this knowing that the troubles in my life can’t be ranked on the scale of dilemmas others in the world have now, or will experience. For example, on tonight’s news, I just watched horrified as hundreds gathered at the Kandahar airstrip clambering onto the fuselage of a taxiing aircraft. That was a scene of crisis on an unforgiving and unforgivable scale.
One could say that our thoughts on crises are all relative. Yet that is so dismissive. I’ve known people who would not admit their troubles just because they thought others suffered more. That would be like not talking about love because you feel outclassed by romantic stories you have heard others share. Shakespeare, Byron or Browning would advise you to proclaim your love in words relatable. Every person’s feeling has value, from woe to whimsy. Judgements on the quality or quantity of your experience will only send you into a crisis of confidence.
I’ve had momentary crises; like locking my keys inside my car, forgetting important papers for a meeting, or getting stuck in traffic. I’ve had prolonged crises that have required persistence and courage. Recently my hot water tank burst moments before I came downstairs to make my morning coffee. I stepped into a puddle of water and immediately panicked but then sprang into action, took off my terry towel bathrobe with a Sir Frances Drake flourish, dropping it on the water so I wouldn’t slip. I turned off main valve and clicked the power switch to the unit. I called the plumber to arrange repair, mopped and prepped the area. Within 30 hours from start to finish it was all sorted. I felt gratitude that I had been there to catch the situation before it became the crisis that it wasn’t.
We can’t always be so lucky. And yet our imaginations can lead us into crisis mode so quickly. A problem that is hard to solve at first glance may be deemed a crisis, that’s when you need help and you need to work toward a solution. I’m learning to be more critical while in the throes of a crisis. Even a moment, for prayer or meditation, can give me the time gap needed to act more efficiently, prudently, safely. I worked with a school principal who told me he handled a crisis by giving it to someone else. Others I’ve known have been able to just let things be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TGg7cGQRlg
As far as the climate crisis goes we can’t just let it be. Neither can we turn it over to someone else to fix. Regular maintenance of our selves, our institutions or our systems will minimize problems. The evidence of our neglect of the planet has been around for many years and yet we continue to fail to act. We ignore all warning signs of a crisis at our peril. Now we find ourselves in a perilous planetary situation. Our Earth is calling for a common collective critical response.
We must answer.
COVID continues and I’m binge watching the television series The Crown. Talk about privilege eh? I feel lucky to have something to occupy my thoughts amidst the luxury of NOT having coronavirus. The portrayal of the British Royal Family shows characters who are the epitome of privilege. Setting aside their vast wealth for a moment (and I don’t do that lightly), I ranted privately on how someone could be given the right to rule simply because of the circumstance of their birth. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II parallels my time in history since she ascended to the throne the year I was born. My British parents were working class and yet still had an affection for the “goings-on” at Buckingham Palace. My mom thought that Edward VIII did the right thing by abdicating and “leaving all that nonsense behind.” As the episodes of The Crown unfolded I often shook my head in a socially egalitarian way, yet before I got too judgemental about the Windsors I couldn’t help but take stock of the ways I have been privileged.
Firstly, I’m born a white skinned male. Enough said? I’ve had the privilege of a solid education. I held a career with public status and enjoyed an income healthy enough to support a family of five. I can’t help but wonder how others may see what I’ve done with my privileges. I do believe with privilege comes responsibility yet I recognize I have been selfish at times with my talents, my resources and my energy. Someone once told me that I “present well.” I’m sometimes embarrassed by the privileges I have not earned, however it’s been a privilege to help maintain the society within which I have been able to thrive. I try not to abuse the gifts that have been bestowed on me. I sincerely feel that privilege never gives me licence to be rude or disrespectful.
Birthright does not always enter into the success of an individual’s life, hard work and talent can place you in a privileged, enviable position. It’s true, those who work hard deserve something special for their efforts. However I also judge the way the wealthy few exercise their privilege. When I think of today’s 0.1%: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, for example, it’s clear they represent the new royalty. Their individual wealth gives them privileges far beyond anyone currently entitled to a crown.
When dog walker Amy Cooper famously ranted in Central Park she abused her privilege. When Ted Yoho swore at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez he assumed his privilege would protect him. Ms. Cortez later stood in Congress on a ‘point of personal privilege’, and gave a moving speech related to human rights.
Sometimes it is clear where the line between privilege and right is drawn. The United Nation Declaration of Human Rights includes 30 rights felt to be essential to human life. They are often disregarded, usurped or dismissed by those who claim privilege, however these rights are inclusive, irremovable and do not depend on where, how or to whom you were entrusted at birth.