hyperempathy

Guilty as charged. :-/
A friend last night told me that that approximately 80% of what I write makes sense, but there’s 20% when I lose her. That happened somewhere in the middle of reading yesterday’s post. We hypothesized: boring? Lack of transition or context? Possibly, we mused, I wander too deep into my own mind, and simply do not make the links apparent – such writing is then “not a finished product,” which can throw a reader off or away from the communication I attempt.
A few days earlier, another friend caught my systemic misspelling of Colombia and let me know (for which I am grateful, thanks). I was using the US version, Columbia, which refers to a different place and (obviously) invokes a much different context. Less obviously, but nonetheless apparent to a close reader, is what such a basic mistake reveals about me as an outsider. Just now, I’m up for a bit of self-chastising, as a pithy reviewer of television coverage of the US presidential campaign quotes Mark Twain:

…somewhere he said that “only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’”

Dang. The thing is, I invoke “we” deliberately, as an act of membering, an attempt to constitute belonging. I started doing so, consciously and with intention, at last fall’s second Dialogue under Occupation conference, which took place in Abu Dis, Palestine. I want to insist on a base level of togetherness among everyone who has participated in either of the first two conferences as a foundation for a community focused on tangible changes in entrenched institutional systems. There is no reason not to extend the boundary of “we” to include peace activists and change agents in Colombia and elsewhere in the world. The trick, as I was able to articulate a week or so after the conference, is to name violence without doing more.
Did you follow the link? I suspect this could be one place where I lose readers. Yesterday, for instance, I referenced a graduate level communication seminar on Language as Action and Performance. This link is not as straightforward as the one above concerning how we need to stop talking violence into inevitability. You have to notice, in today’s instance, that the link feeds to a whole category of posts that I have related to each other through the label Language. Geez, even as I am explaining this (to myself as well, grin) I can see how much labor I hope you are willing to undertake. :-/ (Sorry!) The thing is, I am trying to work an epistemology, and I am still learning how to convert true beliefs into knowledge. (Another friend informs me that real philosophers limit the object/referent of “epistemology” to propositional knowledge, thereby excluding the how. My exposure to the term via pedagogy (education) and sociology will not allow a separation between the process and the outcome. Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory describes this merger, and his distinction between practical consciousness and discursive consciousness explicates the interaction between “the how” of coming to know and “the what” of knowing.)

Giddens postulates a dynamic interplay between “practical consciousness” (tacit, take-for-granted knowledge) and “discursive consciousness” (knowledge/reasons that can be verbally articulated) as social agents reflexively monitor and rationalize their activities/practices. Practical consciousness is emphasized to a greater extent in this process, however, since it is linked directly with the casual mastery of routines….

In addition to the theoretical precepts which I am actively attempting to put into conscious and deliberate, “performative” action, there is the whole unique history of me as an embodied human being with particular experiences of social life and relationships. As much as I try to think “out from” myself as a person with agency to influence events and meanings, I also attend “inward” to the ways I react and then respond to events and the meanings I make of them. The conditioned dialectical interactions are what I want to shift from the dominant external power of established structure to an internal force of dialogical interaction that both recognizes my freedom to move variably within a range and concentrate my energies on a specific structural feature where I sense possibilities for a turn from one trajectory to another.

As I watched myself (over the past few days) feel and try to articulate some humanity for the other side, for the enemy, I realized that I always do this. I did this two years ago when Israel began bombing Lebanon and many of my friends burst into outrage. Yes yes yes, the bombing was wrong and unconscionable. The reasons for the attack are not justifiable under any ethical rubric. And – to use words that demonize all Israelis by casually conflating the policies of the government with the individual choices of citizens is a language trap. I think the same dynamic applies to Farc. As awful, horrific and devastating as their actions have been on the nearly one thousand individuals kidnapped, and miserable and agonizing as the pain ripples have been, we – not a royal imposition, but a self-selected cadre of compassionate people – have to manage not to throw our resulting pain back into the world, even onto those who elicit it.

I believe we must learn to manage our own pain, because I have been guilty of acting mine out on beloved others and observing the devastating effects. Sometimes, the guilt and depression are overwhelming. In fact, being able to throw myself into a support network on behalf of a friend was a means for surviving a severe bout that struck the same day as I learned of Ana and Alf‘s kidnapping. Would I have devoted so much energy if I was not so desperately trying, myself, to survive? I cannot say. What I can say, is that – having done so – my commitment is real.

(Note: the title bar is also a link.)

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