Don’t Say Anything at All 10/15/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Recently, a student of mine was failing to turn in assignments. It happens periodically, but the question becomes how to respond. I suppose I could threaten the student; repercussions if they don’t get their assignments in, or with anger denigrating the student, but how successful could this possibly be?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you want somebody to do something, the best way to accomplish that goal is with a gentle hand. I didn’t know what the issue was with this student. I’m not in her shoes, I don’t know her course load, I don’t know about her home life, or if there are issues with her friends. I sat down with her, and simply asked her about herself. I asked what was going on that might be interfering with her getting her work done, and built a friendly relationship so that she knew, if she needed support or help, I was here for her as a resource, not as a hammer.

It’s easy to take things personally and get angry when things don’t happen as we wish. This is, to some extent, out of our control. Maybe not entirely; if we recognize that our anger is misplaced or of no value, we have a chance to let it go, but even if we cannot control our emotions, we can at least control how we respond. My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wise words, words of restraint. Anger begets anger; when you belittle people, when you show them anger, they are more likely to become mirrors to reflect their negativity back than to acquiesce to the demands of the emotional abuser.

We are seeing such escalation of anger. This is something that the president fails to understand. There are many people protesting right now, protesting police brutality, protesting the revisionist history that ignores that the nation was built on slavery and theft from Native Americans, and more. There are some potential responses to such anger, especially in a cause supported by so many more Americans beyond just those protesting. The response of the governor has been to allow the people to protest in peace. This might not be highly effective because it does not address those issues for which the people are protesting. And yet, neither does it escalate the issues. It is at least successful in that, since for the most part, vandalism, looting and rioting has largely been from people from outside of the state coming in specifically with agendas of inciting violence.

The president, on the other hand, responded in anger. He sent in federal troops, with questionable legality and without proper insignia, who kidnapped protesters and confronted them with militarized weapons some of which, as I understand it, has been made illegal for use in combat. He learned the hard way that response with anger resulted in the mirror effect and violence escalated. He coupled that angry response with angry rhetoric, accusing the “radical left” of the violence (when, in fact, most violent offenders were extreme right fascists), finger pointing, belittling Democratic governors and trying to bully them into allowing his federal troops back into the city. And the governors? They have resisted, refusing to acquiesce.

What surprises me is that nobody, Democrat or Republican, have tried the obvious political response. Why has nobody sat down with the protesters to begin to draw up a list of complaints and begin working out how to settle the issues? It might be more challenging than what it sounds like here, since these are probably not well organized protests, meaning there is not coherent leadership with whom to sit, but surely practiced politicians would find a way to begin talks, to begin to try to understand the complaints of the people. We are supposed to be one nation, indivisible, and yet the division is greater than ever, and frighteningly deep.

What’s worse, the administration has attempted the same confrontational approach to dealing with foreign affairs, including with North Korea, China, and even the UN and WHO. The effect has been an escalation of nuclear weapons technology, including both nuclear warhead and ICBM technology, in hostile nation, and damage to our own economy, and yet, nobody is trying negotiation. I don’t know if the US has legitimate complaints or not, but the response of anger has not yielded positive results of any kind as far as I can see.

We’ve covered a lot in this post. An angry text I received this morning has put my entire day into a tailspin, making me deal with emotional issues. That was the original impetus for this post, but we’ve also meandered into national politics and international relations. And the common thread throughout all of it is the reflection of attitude.

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