I’m going to be honest and tell you something right up front: Today’s post is a result of a conversation I was in the middle of yesterday when I was suddenly accused of being rude, insensitive, unsupportive, negative… and probably several other descriptors that generally don’t sync with who I am. It was especially startling because I know these accusers. They know me in real life and have for a long time. But suddenly, because my opinion differed from their particular view of what the world is and how it should be, I was this awful person.
The rest of this post will not be specifically about that experience, though. Honestly, it only served to crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Specifically, I have a big problem with anyone who becomes militant about their beliefs. It leads to a rigidity of thought that intelligent folks should fear and avoid at all cost.
When I think of a person as militant it’s someone who aggressively works to push their agenda. In case you wondered why aggression is necessarily a bad thing, please remember that aggressive and assertive and quite different in their basic nature. Militant believers are confrontational, commonly extremist, and often try to pawn off their belligerence as a healthy forcefulness or necessary in order to gain notice.
I disagree with those assumptions. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around for a half century, but I believe that aggression and belligerence are counterproductive. It could be that’s the way I’ve always been. It’s hard to remember how I thought about things or behaved in my 20s and 30s; that time period is all stain-glassed over by my brain as it is now. My point is, though, that confrontational will almost always result in a fight and a fight is only meant to have one winner. That’s no way to make lasting changes.
The argument yesterday was about breastfeeding. It was not, for the record, about breastfeeding in public, but I’m going to use that scenario as an example of militancy because it’s a more common issue than what we were discussing yesterday. Here goes:
Human boobs were designed to feed baby human beings. They have been sexualized, over thousands of years, which means there is a large portion of the human population that see boobs only as sexual body parts. I’m not weighing in here about the right or wrongness of that mindset, I’m just pointing out that it is. Since this is a common societal viewpoint there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable seeing a mother breastfeed her child in public. Again, I’m not judging, I’m pointing out a fact.
Breastfeeding mothers want the freedom to breastfeed wherever they want and whenever. Okay. I breastfed my daughter when she was a teeny, I get that. But this is where things get wonky. What I don’t understand is why some mothers feel the need to breastfeed their children in a public place and leave their entire breast out in full view.
I think that’s rude, but not because I have a personal problem with it. Why, then? My grandmother is a good example. She would have been incredibly uncomfortable to see a stranger’s boob in public. She’s been gone for almost eight years now, but I am sure there are plenty of other grandmothers still around who feel that way, too. They were born in a very different time. But more importantly, my grandma was a private person. She believed there was a proper time and place for things. I have a problem with breastfeeding women who militantly toss their boobs around in peoples faces because they see it as their right to do so. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t — but goddammit your right does not usurp everyone else’s rights.
And if you’re suddenly bent because I dared to characterize a woman breastfeeding in public as her “tossing her boobs around” chill the hell out. I’m making a point. And part of that point is some women’s boobs are ginormous! When they’re breastfeeding they’re even bigger, so even if it’s unintentional it sometimes looks like that boob is bouncing all out of control just coming out of a bra. Don’t tell me you’ve never noticed such a thing. It’s not vulgar to me by any means, but it can be startling. Right?
But to get back to my point, I honestly consider breastfeeding in public a similar issue as how we speak in different company. I’ll use myself as an example because I like to curse. I use fuck and damn and shit in everyday language. However, if I were to go hang out with my aunt, or meet a group of strangers, I would absolutely change my language choices. Or maybe I’m in a business situation that calls for more decorum than I use with a group of girlfriends. Here’s the thing: I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable because of words that I don’t need to use. I can say dern it instead of dammit. I can say golly day instead of fuck. I choose to alter the language I use (we all do!) in certain situations because not everyone feels comfortable when someone else uses colorful language. I’m okay with that.
I’m not militant about things, usually. There’s too much contention in the US these days and I try my level best to keep my head on straight so I can see all sides of an issue. I hate that people are rioting in the streets after police are shot and killed, but also when police have shot and killed a citizen. I hate that politicians are coming out with extreme (and extremely unAmerican) rhetoric about Muslims. I am offended when I see a Confederate Flag flying, just like I would be if I saw a swastika displayed somewhere. I believe the US spends far too much on the military and far too little on building up a well-rounded, active, and intelligent citizenry. I think the idea of mandatory vaccination programs is more of a big pharma scheme than a public health necessity. I recycle. I eat organic as much as I can. I meditate. I see an acupuncturist more often than I see an MD. But I try not to be an asshole about any of those things because they are all personal choices. I can choose for myself and still respect that you will make your own choices based on the different beliefs and experiences you’ve had throughout your lifetime.
Here’s my problem with militancy, or extremist thoughts/actions by any other name you want to use. When you become extreme in your beliefs it creates, in your mind, an environment where you are unable to see the blurry parts between your views and others’. That’s dangerous. Life is so rarely black and white. It would be nice and so much easier if it was, but it’s not. And if you can’t stop to consider that someone else has a valid reason to believe and behave in ways that are different than your own it can only lead to a fight. And like I said before, fights by their very nature always result in a loser.
Conflict, rather than fighting, can result in positive change. It can be extremely constructive when it’s handled properly, respectfully, intelligently. That should be our goal in American society. Not to win, but to create positive change.
So there you go, I’ve said my piece again.