To speak or not to speak?

I’ve dedicated myself to living a life that adds as much good to the world as an individual can. As a part of “doing good”, I’ve taught myself about social justice, and I’ve done what I could to help and champion other’s rights within the limitations of my situation. As many of my friends know, I’ve gotten very passionate about social justice, so much so that for the past few years I’ve been very vocal online about this issue. I’ve also challenged a number of friends on their bigotry, and some of them were unable to deal with the discomfort and left.

Recently, after a certain friend just walked away, another very dear friend of mine suggested that perhaps I’m a little too intense about social justice. The suggestion was that maybe sometimes my passion ends up unintentionally causing harm to others. My initial response to this criticism was “if someone’s being a bigot or being a bully themselves, they don’t get to complain about being bullied”. Which, while I still emotionally agree with, I also need to be fair intellectually and acknowledge that it’s a little bitchy of me to have that attitude. I am working on turning that concept around in my head, because I don’t actually want to harm others, whether they “deserve” it or not. I’d just very much like it if my friends could be mature enough to think about the consequences of their actions instead of just mouthing off and then not caring that they’re hurting people.

Now, because this particular person who gave me this criticism is very close to me and I trust them implicitly, I didn’t immediately dismiss the criticism. I was hurt, because it felt like my passions and morality were being minimised and silenced, but in trying to be a person of integrity and not one of those who blindly rejects anything that makes them uncomfortable, I sat on it for a little while. And it’s triggered quite an intense journey of self exploration in me.

I believe in the ideals of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights. I believe that if everyone in the world was given their rights equally and without discrimination (as well as being taught the related responsibilities of living in an equal and free society), so much of the suffering in this world would cease to exist.

The thing is, no one, least of all the world, changes out of comfort. Change always comes out of discomfort. This means that in order to help add to a shift in cultural thinking, in order to fight against bigotry, we have to stand against it and make people uncomfortable. The thing about standing against things is, generally, you have to actually stand up against it. This involves telling people when they’re being bigots, this involves labelling bigotry as bigotry and pointing out trolls. Fighting bigotry involves actually fighting it, whether verbally or legally or with protests, but generally with a voice. Fighting with silence only works in a protest context, saying nothing does nothing. And often keeping silent makes you an accomplice to the violence.

So should I speak out against it or should I let my friends spew hate and intolerance unchecked because they’re friends?

Hard question to answer. But while I was in the process of working through answering this question, I didn’t want to act in a way that I might later be embarrassed by, but couldn’t stand to see bigotry and not say anything to push back against it, so, I’ve had to withdraw from facebook and twitter and other social networks, and I have allowed myself to think and feel through this issue as much as I could (which is why a lot of people haven’t seen me online since my spinal surgery).

In this process, I’ve come to discover that the core of my turmoil is that I don’t want to ever be cruel to others, but for the purposes of changing my world for the better I also need to do something, anything, to push back against bigotry. There’s a number of popular quotes that outline my personal sentiment, such as:

“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented” and “silence in the face of evil, is itself evil; not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act”.

If we do not act or speak against hatred and abuse, we are implicitly agreeing with it. And I refuse to agree in any way with bigotry and the harm it brings on other people.

I’ve lived my entire life under different kinds of oppression. And many of the sorts of bigotry I come across and of which I’m on the receiving end could very well kill me. So these are not small issues. And all of this constant banging into bigotry often leaves me in a state of abject hopelessness. I’m told from all angles that I don’t even have the right to be alive because I’m not like them. And when that comes from every angle, every day, all day, a person can fight it off and do the fingers (“flip the bird”) and scream at it, and exist defiantly despite the hatred, but it still wearies the soul. Particularly in the contexts where the cost of non-compliance to the status quo is violence, and you have to physically fight or run just for the right to be alive.

I’m disabled. I can’t go to rallies and protest. I’m poor so I can’t throw money at those who can protest. And I have severe PTSD which makes it impossible to be an offline advocate or get in people faces. But what I can do is fight by labelling and correcting bigots online. That method of fighting against the bigotry is how I tell the world that it’s wrong. It’s how I tell them that I do have the right to exist and to live my life as I see fit. Being online in this manner also helps me to step forward and speak for other people. As an educated writer I can identify and correct bigotry on behalf of others who are having a hard time or perhaps don’t have the right words to express themselves. They can borrow my words to help them defend themselves if they don’t have any of their own.

This one action that I can do empowers me, because I’m not only helping others and myself, I’m also resisting those assholes who think I should just kill myself already because I’m not worthy of life. So when someone tells me that I should stop being so intense about social justice, and perhaps let some “minor” bigotries pass by for “peace” because such and such a person is an otherwise nice human being, what I hear is that they think some of those voices are correct, that I don’t really belong in the world. And obviously that’s not what my friend would ever mean, but your emotions are complicated, they link to all sorts of parts of your psyche, so that’s what I hear whether it’s the real message or not. And that’s why this specific issue has impacted me so much, and why I’ve not been on facebook for almost four months.

Now, given all of these issues, I certainly haven’t come to a decision about whether labelling bigotry and joining in with the discourse is a “bad” thing. I still feel the need to stand up for what’s right and I still stand by the concept that silence and permissiveness in the face of bigotry is telling the bigot that their attitudes are acceptable. As such, I’ve returned to twitter because what friends I have on twitter are mostly mature enough to receive criticism without throwing a tantrum. I will always firmly believe that if we do not stand against bigotry that that minority of murderers and rapists and nazis will continue to try and kill us (both literally and spiritually), with their hate. But I still need time to think about when and where it is appropriate to label bigotry and challenge people (some say that there needs to be room for community or family peace, others say any permissiveness is enabling the bigot, so that there’s a lot of discourse for me to study), but I do know one thing.

The grim truth about bigots (and in particular the loud ones online), is that a majority of them don’t care about the impact they have on others. They don’t care that their words are murdering people and honestly, no amount of perfect words or long explanations are going to open minds as closed and hateful as that.

Hatred, like distorted thinking, does not respond to reason (one could argue that hatred actually is distorted thinking but that’s whole nother topic). So, given that understanding as to the nature of bigots, why should I waste so much time and energy on such people if it’s not going to make a difference? I don’t have an answer to that question, other than maybe I should pick my battles rather than rumbling with everyone who says something shitty. And perhaps also, that the argument may not be for the bigot but for those reasonable people who would see the argument and be encouraged, or learn new things from the discussion.

This issue is big and I’ll keep on with it… but why I’m writing it down for people to read is also that in this process of self exploration, I’ve also come to another conclusion, one which is perhaps more important than all of the above…

I know in my heart and spirit that hate is true weakness, it divides people, it takes something vibrant from those people who embrace it, and it always destroys, it does not ever create. In contrast, love is powerful and unites people, it builds communities and it builds lasting structures in our societies.

I don’t talk much about my faith because most of my faith is wordless, it’s like voices on the wind, not quite heard but the feeling is understood, but, I do believe utterly that “god” is love, and my “worship” is to embody that love as best I can, and let it flow through me into the world. And in this issue of how to respond to bigotry, when I’m quiet and listening properly, my faith calls me to resolve this problem with love.

How does one resolve the problem of hate with love? As a dear friend of mine says: We create.

We create something that unites and strengthens, and particularly strengthens and unites those who have been victims of hate. And that creation for me has always been the Time Speaker Universe. This internal conflict has shown me that perhaps instead of constructing TSU for everyone, as was my original intention, I should instead construct it only for all of my fellow freaks, for all of those who are bullied and beaten and hurt by hate. The bigots can find another fandom, the Time Speaker Universe is for all of us victims of hatred and oppression, and a place where we can unite, where we can support and protect each other… at least once enough people know about it anyway.

I think if I try to keep my focus primarily on the creation of love and community, and less on arguing with ignorance and hatred, at the very least my own mental health will be better. And certainly my digital footsteps might just be somewhat less angry and bitchy.

Why do I have so many characters?

Seemingly, the norm for most forms of storytelling is of one main character who travels through the story learning and doing what they need to get to the end of the story (aka the Hero’s Journey). At least, that seems to be the default because those who deviate from the one main character story motif are “outliers” rather than just writing. The one person story follows just the one main viewpoint, where the main character is the sole hero, or the “good guy” and most of the time the other characters in the story only have an identity in relation to the main character, like “love interest”, “best friend”, “mentor”, without any or much independent motivations or characterisation of their own other than their “function” in relation to the hero.

So, given this abundant cultural backdrop, I was never surprised that one of the common criticisms of my writing was that I have too many main characters and too many points of view. In fact I have a friend who constantly tells me that I should build my writing career on the short stories I do for bonus content, because the multiple viewpoints are too complicated for people. The irony is that I actually write this way deliberately. I’m not just writing how I want because it’s at my whim, I have designed most aspects of TSU very deliberately, and the multiple viewpoint has been a part of the story since I was 14.

I truly believe that our fictional, cultural, and media stories mimic and inform our beliefs about ourselves and life, and if we choose to change our stories (and the method by which they’re told), we also change our culture. But people under-estimate the power of our stories to affect and mold our culture and perceptions. Writers also tend to under-estimate the impact of their fiction and the responsibility for that impact to society at large. Writers just want to tell their story, and the potential impact isn’t usually a thing they think about very much because it’s just fiction, right? I disagree.

When we’re taught by story and myth that there is always a hero, a person who’s more important than others because of destiny (or whatever), we’re laying the foundation for oppression because the “hero” is more important than the side characters. Until recently, most of our stories had the same kind of person as the “hero”: a thin or muscular white cis het male. This informs our cultural subconscious that only this type of person is important, and everyone else is a side character, a “love interest” or the “fat/black best friend” or the “old mentor”. Our very stories tell us that some people are superior to others, so it’s no wonder we have an unrelenting racism and bigotry in our western society.

By focusing on one “main” character, we’re not only adding to the narrative that some people are heroes/important and others are not, we’re also adding to the viewpoint that the individual is the most important thing in the world.

We live in a world where we expect our needs and wants to be met, without much thought for those who help supply those needs. Your place in the social strata can of course vary how many of your needs are met (and how oppressed you are), but over all our society focuses on the single individual, on single dreams, on the pursuit of individual happiness and perfection, and often of being better or more fulfilled than our neighbours. There’s also very often the underlying belief that your greatness must always come at the cost of others well-being or greatness. That the poor deserve to be poor so that the worthy rich can get richer. We are all the hero in our “hero’s journey of life”, and everyone else gets relegated to the plucky side-kick or the romantic love interest or the asshole antagonist. Our individual humanity is the only one that matters, not because it’s true but because we’ve convinced ourselves that the pursuit of individual happiness is the only way to live one’s life. And one of the reasons we believe this is because the only stories we’ve been given to describe our own journeys through life, mirror this mindset.

Our stories have told us a lie, that humans are individualist creatures. We’re not. We are literally pack/herd animals. We’re emotionally, mentally and physically wired to exist in relation to others, and because our stories (and the messages from capitalism) have been based around a single character and their needs and their wants as an individual, we’ve collectively forgotten our connections, our community-based nature. We’ve forgotten how to connect to others, how to work together, how to trust. It’s almost as if our very culture has developed PTSD, and we’re curled up in the corner with a weapon expecting every other person to be a threat, and then wondering why we’re so terribly lonely and miserable.

The healthy, empowered human is one who functions in relation to their community. For evidence of this you only have to look at the native peoples around the world and how their social structures existed before colonial invasion, and perhaps how our ancestors might have lived before invasion as well.

We’ve been so focused on the individual, on dominance and conformity, that we’ve forgotten our base, core nature of community and connectedness. You cannot be connected while looking down your nose at someone who’s different. But we don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t understand something that has no stories with which we can tell and explain a concept. I only understand what I do because I’m a member of a number of oppressed minority groups, so I have a different perspective. For those who fit in the mainstream, they have been taught by our stories to be prejudiced, to be separatist, and entirely individual-focused. And in order to change that in a meaningful and effective way, we must change how we tell our stories, and what stories we tell. People have already cottoned onto this concept (also called diverse representation), which is why we have far more movies and tv series with diverse stories and characters, but we all add to this shift towards a kinder world with our own stories.

So, with intention to help bring about a better future for our society, I choose to write my stories in a format that is as the world really is. There is no one main character because the troubles and problems that come to the characters cannot be solved by one hero, they can only be solved by many, many people coming together and fighting together to survive. In reality, as a species we are stronger together, we are wiser as well, particularly if we share our wisdom and actually listen to each other. And like the fiction world of TSU, the real world cannot be saved by one person, only by a large group of us coming together cooperatively, and saving the world together.

So, I choose to break a number of writing “rules” by deliberately having many main characters and many points of view in my stories, not because I’m trying to be a smart ass or because I’m following a whim. I’m choosing very deliberately to make sure (where possible) that my stories will help to improve the world, to help build a better world without bigotry through my choices of story and perspective.

In summary, I view us all as threads, and together we weave a tapestry of story and experience which becomes history and, hopefully, a better world.

And that’s the perspective from which I write my books.