Monday, January 30, 2017

Let the Bad People Talk

I’m not asking for me. If people let me talk, I wouldn’t have this blog, and then what would you be doing with yourself?

The first time this idea occurred to me was last year when I came across the article, “The Benevolent Stalker.”

In a weird moment of the universe toying with me, I was looking for a sign if I should continue pursing someone who had been hot and cold or if I should focus moving on. I believed that if I could find a concrete answer, something that truly made me stop doubting—“What if I could do more?”—I would finally be able to let it go.

But I, unlike my bastard of a love interest, believed in persistence and chasing, fixing problems and rarely quitting. I was unable to tell if my actions were insane, stalkerish, or if giving up was wrong.

So I decided I would look for a sign. At one o’clock the next afternoon, I would be “given” a hint if I should give up or try harder.

Then, right at one, I was in the middle of reading that article.

“The Benevolent Stalker” is the personal anecdote about a man and his obsession with a woman. At first he is just overly flirty and complimentary (albeit in ways that would have creeped me out), but then he starts to invade her space. He goes to where she works, sends her letters to an address he got off of a form he shouldn’t have had, and even after she asks him to stop talking to her, has the police ask him, gets an official restraining order, and then even moves away, he still pursues her.

During this time he does begin to realize his behavior does make him a stalker, but he continues to legitimize it by suggesting he is “benevolent.” His stalking isn’t the same as those who have malicious intent, his is true love, just unrequited.

But after posting, his blog went viral. He later discusses just how much vitriol he received and it helped him to realize how wrong he was. Type in “Richard Brittain” on Google and you’ll see all the responses people had to just how disturbing his thoughts were.

The problem?

Brittain’s honesty into his own mind teaches us, better than anything, how people can stalk. It doesn’t just show us why someone would do that, but, more importantly, it lessens the divide between him and us. The scariest thing is not the insanity of his logic, but how easily common desires can lead us to step over boundaries. I wanted to show up where my ex worked, I wanted to send him messages despite his sporadic responses, to try and make him talk to me. I wondered if there was a reason I had feelings for him like that, for the first time I had an intense feeling of loss when someone was suddenly out of my life—if maybe it was meant to be something more. And, most importantly, I struggled to determine what was effort, what showed them you cared, and what was being a doormat, or even, in Brittain’s case, a stalker.

But unlike Brittain, because I didn’t know where the line was, I refrained from acting on most accounts.

Yes, I did send him windy messages, I did humiliate myself more than I should have, but I never actually stalked him, and he never told me to leave him alone. After we got together, he said it was a storm of issues; he liked me, but wasn’t over his ex-wife. His roommates didn’t want me around because I didn’t drink. I couldn’t read his signals because he was conflicted.

Years later, in hindsight, I realize that it didn’t matter whether or not he liked me. The red flags that caused the hurt and confusion were still problems when we got together. He didn’t think I was stalking him; he did appreciate the effort I made to make us work, and it eventually succeeded. But there was a reason I had to put in all that effort. Many reasons, in fact.

Many of the questions Brittain had were the same ones I did, but I didn’t act on my crazy impulses, partially because I had the sense to recognize they wouldn’t work. Yet, through the eyes of Brittain, I could see how I might one day fall into the category, how I could cross the line. All I had to do was think that showing randomly up at his house would actually be successful—or desperate enough to try it—and I’d be one of those obsessive nutcases making people I’m supposed to care about miserable. I knew better because I had learned better.

By immediate shutting up people we don’t agree with, we destroy the best possible way to understanding them. Letting them talk, even when their opinions are scary, deluded, and problematic, is the best way to finding a solution.

Brittain’s stalking could be prevented by, instead of villianizing and dehumanizing stalkers, amplifying the difference between typical desires and actually acting on them.

Preventing evil is just as much about teaching us how to recognize it in ourselves. We often portray Hitler and Putin and Manson as insane, abnormal people who are just evil from the start, but that just gives them less reason to control it (If I am this way just because I am this way, then I can’t fight who I am), and makes it harder for people to relate to them, therefore recognize and alter the behavior in ourselves.

When I teach kids, there are often those who gang up and bully someone, just to turn around and denounce bullying themselves. They are too victims, and yet they don’t put the correlation with how they treated their fellow peer and how they are being treated now. In their mind, their victim deserved it.

Hypocrisy is so common with our flaws, more common, I think, than when we criticize the flaws we don’t have.

And, on another side, you wouldn’t believe how much more people listen when they’re actually allowed to speak first.

Out in the recesses of the internet there is a list of questions authors hate to be asked or the comments we hate to hear.

“What have you written?”

“I always wanted to be a writer if I had the time.”

“Have you been published?”

Partially because we’re sensitive, also because we hear them all the damn time, there are a lot of things that you can say to a writer that will make them offended, yet I always recommend to my fellow linguists that most times it comes from curiosity or legitimately trying to make conversation. So, yes, the implication that writing would be so easy for you if you just sat down to do it is legitimately offensive, if it came from the person being oblivious to how rude they are, then it might be better to take the higher ground and continue the conversation. Respect them even if they don’t respect you, and they’re more likely to change their minds.

By being irritated with fumbled words, it encourages people to just not talk to you about it rather than encouraging their curiosity and desire to understand.

Even when dealing with someone of grossly different opinions, you can always find some common ground, and that common ground is where the truth and solution lies. On Facebook the other day someone posted an idiotic comment a politician said to which someone else actually commented, “This man is such a moron. I’m not even going to read the article.”

Whenever I find a quote that requires the speaker to be unbelievably stupid, I assume I’m missing something. And I always have been. While I don’t always agree with their logic, when I get a fuller story, the logic at least seems to exist.

It’s our habit to shut out people who don’t have the same opinions, especially those who we would define purely as evil. But sometimes it’s more important to give them the freedom to speak than to immediately correct them. Most people have reasons behind the choices they make, and you might realize you’re closer to them than you think.

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