[source: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/the-philosophy-of-stoicism-massimo-pigliucci]

Perimeter people

Let’s stop fueling the vitriol of idiots and giving them a voice; and start to help each other love.

Before a protest such as the one this past weekend even begins, the lines have already been drawn, and teams chosen. It’s going to fail before the start. There had been months of time to build. Emotions grew to high levels, fueling discourse, so judgment was already clouded. Basically, the resulting protests get beyond the point of any logical discussion. It was bound to be a shit-storm.

From a hypothetical bird’s-eye view, you have…

the perimeter of people choosing to stand aside and look on;

and

the eye of the storm of people who directly involve themselves by choice/force of will.

Those farther away along the perimeter, whether standing on the sidelines at the scene itself, or viewing from a remote place (like from the internet) watch with jaws open — trying to understand, to take to it all in. Some may find their passion being fueled as they look on, while others may be disgusted, confused, trying to increase their distance, or even feeling panicked, trying to get away. All though, are trying to make sense of what’s going on. Once they figure it out, they are noting everything.

The people closer to the action have flung themselves directly into of the eye of the storm and firmly cling to one side or the other. The closer you look to who’s in the center, the more you find illogical and irrational behavior. Even mild altercations (yelling, taunting) will start to lead to more assertive ones (waving signs and flags close to people’s personal spaces) and inevitably, to violent ones — resulting in needless tragedies, like the ones that happened over the past weekend.

Some people — even though they were not there, have still chosen to foist themselves in the middle of it all, and just like the people in the eye of the storm, are also fiercely clinging to one side, or the other. Some may understand what happened, but many do not, because they’ve allowed their own emotions, other people’s opinions and ideas, or even the rhetoric of the media cloud their ability to see clearly.

Everyone has feelings and opinions, but in the past few days, it’s become ever clearer how little others’ feelings and opinions matter, unless they match what a certain group thinks (on any side). It does no good to pay so much attention to the fringes on either side, and I’d like to think most Americans should be above it all.

Now I’m not saying we should ignore what happened, or even have feelings about it. It’s important to be curious and informed, and know what’s going on, it’s also important to be passionate, but mindfully so. But the moment people let their understanding of the events fill them up with uncontrollable anger, they’re not doing anything but harming themselves and possibly others.

Yet, these middle people have chosen to act and speak with vitriol toward anyone they deem to not be at LEVEL-ELEVEN RED RAGE!!!!!!!!!111!! right alongside them — and something must be wrong with you if you’re not going through your day as angry as they are (how dare you?!) This does nothing except to raise tensions, increase anxiety and upset among others, as the negative vibes continue to spread.

What about the event itself, isn’t that the kind of negative thing we should be worried about keeping from happening in the first place? Of course. Yes, we should disavow hatred of all kinds. Yes, we should not forgive this kind of violent behavior. But we should also stop giving attention to those in either side of this fight.

Arguing with each other, encouraging violence, and still, even as spectators, trying to defend one side or another — it’s all bullshit, because in the aftermath, the only good that has come out of most protests that escalate to violence (and of this event, in particular) is that people are talking about what happened, which has raised awareness of many things, like how violent, how ridiculously collective, how hateful, and how utterly selfish we have become, as a society.

As for those people who kept their distance but still saw clearly what happened — these perimeter people who have taken their notes — what have they learned? They clearly understand what happened, and while they may never figure out why, and none will likely forgive it (as no one should), they have moved on from it.

How? Rather than let what happened consume them with rage and hatred when talking about it and sharing their notes, they understood that it would be best if they aim to help others to move on from it, too.

Why? Because they know that only people who have cultivated virtue and self-control in themselves have the ability — nay, the social duty — to instill the same positive change in others. It’s hard to instill positive attitudes and encourage positive behavior when allowed to let oneself get to level-eleven red rage.

These perimeter people, they are mostly rational.

One of the reasons a very large segment of rational people in this country don’t get involved in protests or have interest in protest culture, is because they’re aware it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to reason with people to the point they could move them out a position they never reasoned themselves into. Again, it’s a failure before it’s begun. Rational people strongly believe in the notion that things which happen out of their control are not things they should recklessly aim to remedy, but to try to understand, then accept (yes, even bad things — even horrible things), and move on from them, calmly.

They know that life isn’t worth spent suffering. And they know that the reason people suffer is not from events in their lives, but from their judgment about them and how they choose to react to them.

They know that people all have the ability to be happy in themselves, and even with each other. They know that if only we could stop picking each other’s differences apart, we can more easily connect over what we have in common, and share that happiness.

“As humans, we are in control of ourselves, but we cannot control things that are outside of ourselves. People feel anxiety because they try to control that which is beyond their control [. . .] By realizing that we only have control of ourselves, we can embrace our fate, and be guided by reason, rather than our emotions.”
(two beliefs held by Epictetus, an ancient stoic philosopher)

Regardless of who each of us is, what we represent, what we feel, what we look like, talk like, or what our beliefs are, we have the greatest thing in common, which the rest of the collective animal kingdom does not. We all share the same fundamental humanity. We are all made of the same material.