Friday, June 1, 2018

#152 / Good Policy

The cartoon above (click for a larger version, more easily readable) appeared in my newspaper on Thursday, May 31st. It came a couple of days too late for Roseanne Barr

Reacting to the termination of her television series, in response to her racist Twitter post comparing an African-American woman to an ape, Ms. Barr was all over the map in followup postings. Barr apologized multiple times for her racist statement, excused it, blamed it on Ambien, and issued further vituperative remarks. Among this barrage of followup Twitter postings, Ms. Barr made the claim that, “My whole life has been about fighting racism. I made a terrible mistake.”

Let's stipulate to the accuracy of that second sentence. I am not familiar with Ms. Barr's record on racism, and so I am not able to evaluate the truth of the first one. I tend to have my doubts. 

Despite my complete unfamiliarity with Roseanne Barr (except for recognizing her name), I do have an observation prompted by what Ms. Barr said, and a reflection on the good advice provided by Stephan Pastis

In my opinion, many, if not all of us, have made "stupid remarks" that we almost immediately regret, as we listen to the words that have just come out of our mouths. Because that is true, there is much wisdom in the "good policy" recommendation made in the Pastis cartoon. 

The fact that "random" remarks are now, quite often, broadcast to a huge audience (an audience of millions who follow our president on Twitter, for example) makes the cartoon's advice even more pertinent. Think before you speak. Censor yourself, mentally, before spouting off, and REALLY think and censor yourself before firing off a social media posting by way of Twitter, Facebook, or some other platform. Very good policy advice, indeed! 

Having definitely made the same mistake that Barr made, on a number of occasions (though not with respct to any racist remark), I can affirm that such statements can be, in fact, genuine "mistakes," and that such stupid remarks do not always reveal deeper truths. Sometimes, of course, they do. But not always. 

The "reality" we create, and ultimately inhabit, is brought into existence by what we "do," by our actions. We need to be aware, though, that what we "say" is often "performtive." In other words, by "saying" something, we bring it into the world, and actually create a reality by our words. If we take seriously this truth about how we bring realities into the world, we will understand that the cartoon's advice is actually a profound statement about how we must try to live. We must, always, speak "truth," as we know it, because what we speak, in fact, does transform itself into the realities in which we will have to live. 

How to decide what we want to advance as "truth," before we "speak" that truth into the world as a performative statement that will help create a human reality, is a profound human responsibility.  "Thinking," an internal dialogue that should precede any serious statement, verbal or written, is an obligation imposed by our human condition. That is really what Pastis is talking about, it seems to me.

A corollary, I also think, is this. Let us try to forgive others, when we can, for the mistakes they make.  If we want to live in an inclusive world, not a factured and divided one. That, too, is demanded of us.

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