Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | October 15, 2014

My Name Is Mud

I just noticed a new movie entitled simply, Mud. I haven’t seen it yet, so I’ve no idea if it’s a good one. It and recent events got me thinking, though…

All my life people complained to me that I’m forceful and unfair. “You’d make a great lawyer” was pretty common during my later grade school years. It wasn’t a compliment, lol. People don’t like being painted into a corner, even if it’s their favorite corner. They want plausible deniability, even if it means lying to get it.

Much of the criticism was justified, of course. I was young and impatient and short-sighted. I’d apply pressure when pressure wasn’t necessary, even when people were already going where I wanted them to go, but I was too blind and pushy to see it. But some of the criticism was not justified, because people were genuinely on a wrong track, as unfolding events eventually showed. Some were even trying to deceive, and I wouldn’t accept it but instead tried to expose them.

It’s easy to tell sincere cases from deceptive ones, now. When people are lying or pretending and they make you out to be the liar when you stop them, they only prove that they are liars. You might be wrong to stop them, sure — but you’re not a liar. When people are otherwise mistaken or misguided and you stop them, they might not like it — although if they’re wise they will like it, because they know that they might be mistaken and that realizing mistakes is how we learn — but they’ll at least consider your point out of self-interest, even if they resent the pressure you used to impress it on them. Big difference.

However, in our non-violence-espousing, politically correct, offense-sensitive, litigation-happy culture, we view putting pressure on people as a social sin. We’re happy that others to do it for us: police, prosecutors, courts, military, corporate and governmental and various other authorities, etc. But if a peer dares to exert pressure, suddenly he or she becomes the wrongdoer, regardless of the issue. We do this as a programmed, conditioned response, not a rational, reasoned one. Suddenly the terms of the communication and the right to speak become the issues, eclipsing the real issues that were the reason for the discussion in the first place.

That’s an interesting and very familiar situation to me. I’ve been considering how to handle it better. At this point in my understanding, I think it’s a signal that further discussion is pointless and it’s time for action. It’s time to stop explaining or persuading, to instead declare what’s going to happen regardless of agreement, consent, or even comprehension, and then to carry that declaration out. And if we’re concerned about repercussions — especially if repercussions were threatened — we need to double down and act all the more decisively.

As soon as a discussion degenerates into quibbling about process in order to disallow or discontinue the discussion, you know that someone isn’t being honest. Fixing process issues to enable a discussion to bear fruit is the opposite of using them as an excuse to shut it down under the pretense that there’s no fruit to be borne. So which is worse: dishonesty or forcing people to be honest? To watch people’s reactions, you’d think that dishonesty is a human right. No, it’s not. It’s the root of every violation of rights. Forcing people to be honest is a public service. It’s what journalism is supposed to do. I could argue that it’s a moral obligation, in the same vein as, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” All that is necessary for lies to spread like viruses is to let them.

But there are limits to what we can do, and some approaches are more effective than others. In fact, it’s weird how much effort we put into verbal persuasion. Ten pounds of talk doesn’t go nearly as far towards convincing people as an ounce of completed action. No one can prevent you from doing something by arguing that you “don’t have the right” when you’ve already done it. This is why possession is 90% of the law, actions speak louder than words, and asking forgiveness is better than asking permission. If someone is dishonest, they can argue against your accusation that they’re lying, but they can’t argue much once you’ve exposed them — regardless how you did it. If someone is doing something wrong, they can argue that it’s not wrong, but that’s worthless once you stop them. Then they might argue that you were wrong to stop them. So what? You still stopped them.

If we were truly interested in results, we’d do less talking and take more action. You’d think that complaints about forcefulness and unfairness would therefore escalate, but I don’t think that’s what happens. I’ll know more as I get into it. People wrangle over what should be, but not because they care about what’s right or are keen on doing it. That would be to love the truth — to actually care what the truth is and want to see it realized. Mostly, we’re too self-interested and defensive for that.

What we’re actually wrangling about is who will take the risk of being wrong and bear the fault. Additionally, we’re arguing against willingly agreeing ahead of time, because that would just make our fault all the worse. We’re obsessed with the question of blame; but once we act that question is settled, the argument is over, and the tension is relieved, even for those who hate what we did. They won’t feel “forced” the way that they would have if we’d pushed them to change their minds, even though our action actually hems them in and eliminates options far more forcibly, unequivocally, and even unfairly than words ever could. They’ll actually be happy in one way, because now they have evidence that proves our impudence. And those who weren’t sure what to do and didn’t want to be forced into taking a position will be happy, too. If results are good, they’ll often pretend that they agreed all along, or even that it was their idea. And we’ll be happy, because we did what was right and necessary as best we knew how. Win-win-win. So where’s the down side? 😉

So I guess the real question is whether we want to actually improve things or be known as the ones who improved them. Sometimes we get to have both, but often not. And if our priority is reputation, we’ll refrain from doing things that would have benefited many, simply because we’ll get no credit or even be criticized for it. In fact, the more far-sighted and astute we are, the further our thinking goes from current norms, the more likely that people will decry and resist our ideas and actions. So, ironically, the things we avoid doing for reputation’s sake will likely be the ones most needed and important, because those are the ones we’ll get the most flack for. If we’re truly after real benefit, a better world, a brighter future, and want to contribute towards that, we’d better make up our minds now to get used to criticism and denunciation, complaints of force, unfairness, or even “abuse” (a favorite of abusers when someone forcibly stops them from violating others,) and be OK with having “Mud” for a name.

As I embrace this, I’m finding that it brings an incredible freedom. When we don’t risk being “wrong” anymore — because we’ve already accepted that people will judge us “wrong” and we’ll remain “wrong” in their eyes as we persist anyway — then we can’t get any “wronger”. So, we can do whatever we want. It’s like being unable to do wrong, just as if we can do no wrong. It’s surprising and amazing.

This is a liberty that “righteous” people never experience, but outcasts are well acquainted with it. And we don’t get it because we are wrongdoers, forceful and unfair. We get it because we’re willing to be wrongly, foolishly counted as such by self-righteous liars as we love the truth and live accordingly without concern for their approval. Big difference.

And interestingly enough, it’s the fact that we don’t care about their approval that really gets ’em. Short of coming out openly as forceful and unfair themselves, dependence on their approval is their only handle to keep us under control, their only lever to extort us into abandoning what we know is right and into doing what we know is wrong. It’s their only non-violent way to keep us from exposing their dishonesty and wrongdoing. Denying approval is the motivational club used by bullies everywhere to define us according to stories (aka records) of past actions, instead of recognizing our actual, current intentions and plans and working with us for a better life in a better world.

We aren’t the forceful and unfair ones. We aren’t extorting anyone. We’re taking honest action in the interest of progress and betterment for everyone. Let them say what they want, because if they saw clearly enough to have something worth saying, they’d see what we’re doing and help us, not slander us and try to shut us down. Let our name be “Mud” to them. What do they know and, when we act, what can they do short of demonstrating through violence and injustice that they are in fact mud and therefore deserving of the name? Nothing. Or, if you’re optimistic, they could change their minds.

So where’s the down side?

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