This morning I read a tweet by someone I follow referencing Tucker Carlson and another right-wing pundit blaming the forest fires in Los Angeles on diversity programs and LGBTQ people: “Tucker Carlson and Dave Rubin Blame California Wildfires on ‘Woke’ Public Utilities Focused on Being Pro-LGBT and Racially Diverse.”
How arrogant that people talk in this way and that many people listening believe this nonsense. It begs the question of why I even have to talk through this in the first place, but here we are.
I had to ask myself, “Why?”
Why do people think like this? What is the cause of this? I realized it is nothing more complicated than the various stages of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think the core issues that are bothering people are a lack of control and a lack of belonging; specifically, how do I feel safe, secure, supported, loved, and respected.
Note the words used at the end of the last sentence and then imagine a two-way street. When we are driving down the road of life, if we don’t stay in our lane we will crash head-on into oncoming traffic. This is the perfect metaphor for two extreme polarities meeting head-on. In the case of blaming LGBTQ people for the forest fires in L.A., a premise so far to the extreme that it doesn’t make any logical sense, how do you respond other than trying to crash into their argument?
To stick with this metaphor, we need to traffic on either side of the white line to peacefully coexist.
We need to respect the so-called rules of the road so that we can drive alongside, merge, signal left or right, and drive forward, while at the same time witnessing traffic in the other direction without an accident.
In the case of Tucker Carlson, I expect very little ethical behaviour from someone like him. I do not trust he is being authentic. I do not trust that what he says is what he truly believes. I suspect he’s more interested in ratings and personal celebrity and trying to make America great again. Such bullshit.
My original premise is that the amount of discord we are witnessing is connected to issues of a lack of belonging which has ties to a lack of control.
Let’s start with the lack of control.
When you feel like you have no control over your ability to earn enough income to keep a roof over your head, or when you feel like you have no control of your physical safety as an LGBTQ person, what is life like for you? The words stressful, frustrating, depressing, frightening, and uncertain come to mind. This is life lived near the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is very difficult to pursue something greater than yourself, to pursue self-actualization when you’re struggling to put food on the table.
More often than not, if you are just surviving, the most common emotional state is that of reaction. When everything hinges on simply being able to live, the emotional capacity to respond is severely limited. I’m not saying this is impossible, rather when the need to survive is more important than anything else, we will fight, react, pushback, and a host of other less than self-actualizing states of being.
Of course, someone like Tucker Carlson is feeding into this awareness by speaking to his audience that probably finds themselves in this emotional state of being. On the opposite side, he is speaking to an audience that is solely concerned with clutching onto every aspect of power and wealth that they have inherited or created, psychologically trapped by the fear of not having enough.
Belonging is a far more complex issue and certainly has connections to control.
The prevalence of social media has made issues of belonging to be more challenging. We see images in advertising and on Instagram that promote a way of being that is highly unrealistic and in some cases impossible to attain. People unaware of the psychology of influence feel bad about themselves and struggle to fit in, thinking that this is how they will belong to that group they are trying to see themselves as a part of.
While I can’t speak about every single factor of belonging, the one I wish to highlight is that of divisiveness which is very much the major challenge on social media. People blindly share their opinions without any concern for the consequences of their words. People say things that are personal attacks or defamatory claiming freedom of speech.
The simple truth is that when you communicate, be that by voice or the written word, you are freely expressing.
In many societies we have limits on what we call free-speech, specifically protecting others from the consequences of hate speech or calls to violence and attack. We have established these laws to protect people from violent aggression and these laws vary from country to country.
Perhaps the original intention with social media was to create more opportunities to belong, to promote greater connectedness, but for various reasons we are witnessing too many polarities of opinion that make people feel more isolated and disconnected than ever. I have spoken about the simple fix for this problem in previous podcast episodes and my writing about “The Way of Queer Leadership” but however simple the fix may be, the actual change in attitude required, the practice in seeking first to understand before reacting, is very challenging.
We see so much reaction and attack on social media and in the news that this form of communication has become the default.
Anyone that seeks to try and dialogue often risks becoming the victim of call-out culture because they had the courage to ask a question or to look at an issue more deeply. Reaction is the result of someone often taking the other person’s words out of context.
These so-called extremists on either end of the spectrum, be it someone who is self-described or so labelled left-wing or right-wing, Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative are essentially all seeking the same outcome: to create a culture of belonging.
But when this outcome is based on creating division and based on the belief that there is only one right path, belonging transforms into an ideology — rigid, dogmatic, authoritarian — one that seeks to control and limit free-thinking and humanity itself.
Where do we go from here?
There is no single answer or solution, rather we have to be mindful and ever vigilant that a continued state of divisiveness and extreme polarities harms humanity. I also believe that those of us who live on the so-called margins — the other, LGBTQ people — have gifts of insight and experience with living in different parts of the world that have sought to oppress our visibility and self-actualization, that can be used as a way to lead the world and enhance humanity for the better.
This starts with responding instead of reacting.
This change starts with longer-form journalism, longer podcasts and articles, instead of 280-character Twitter attacks. We need balanced, fair response and dialogue instead of pundits who only argue from one side of the equation, desperately wanting to be the dominant ego heard above everyone else, increasing their ratings and social media followers, espousing views whether or not they care or believe in what they are saying.
Humanity needs more truth and more authenticity.
We need to focus on the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is love and belonging. We need to lift people up to the level of self-esteem and self-actualization. The more that people can learn to think critically and for themselves, the more we can be vulnerable and truthful leading ourselves like no one else is watching. The more that we experience love and belonging without ideological conditions, these dogmas and unforgiving belief systems will start to crumble.
When people have complete acceptance for who they are without conditions, they will experience a sense of love and well-being that will open their hearts and minds towards accepting other gender and sexual identities and other people of colour that they were once afraid of. That’s when the barriers to belonging will start to crumble.
Challenge yourself to be the change you want to see in the world.
Whenever you read or hear something today that makes you want to react with a nasty attack, stop and then seek instead to understand. Attempt to understand where that person is coming from and why they might be saying what they are saying.
This doesn’t mean that you will win the argument and that’s not what we should be seeking when trying to influence hearts and minds. Winning the argument is an ego-pursuit, whereas opening up someone’s mind and helping them to think differently is a humanitarian approach, something I like to call “The Way of Queer Leadership.”
Darren is a coach, podcaster, and writer for LGBTQ thought leadership. He is currently working on the project, “The Way of Queer Leadership”. You can follow his ideas here on Th-Ink Queerly, and discover more about his coaching at DarrenStehle.com.