This is my closing thought on a series of three posts you can find the first one here, and the second one here.
In the prior two, I presented a model, based on the methodology of Moore's law, for fixing America's social and political problems. It is a well-documented methodology, known by many other names, including positive affirmations or law of attraction. You assume the desired state, and behave as though you are at (or very near) that state.
But what about those pesky outliers? What about the individuals who... "Don't play along", What do you do when you are running around acting like racism is a thing of the past, and someone makes a racist comment? How do you deal with a police officer who is flaunting his authority, while pretending that police are good guys?
The answer, it depends. There are two crucial tools you rely on: Hanlan's Razor (stated above), and empathy.
First, a word about Hanlan's Razor. It sounds very insulting; "Ignorance or incompetence". It really isn't. Ignorant means "Lacking knowledge or awareness". It can mean in general, but more practically - and for our purposes in means in particular. We are ignorant about some things. When it comes to cricket, corporate accounting, the saxophone, advanced biology or chemistry (probably remedial biology or chemistry as well), I am ignorant. I have very limited knowledge. In fact, I am relatively ignorant regarding most subjects.
Incompetence means "not having the necessary skills to do something successfully". In addition to being ignorant with respect to the saxophone, I am also incompetent.
It isn't necessarily bad. It can be inconvenient. It is problematic, because we are all fairly incompetent when it comes to gauging our level of incompetence. And it is also problematic because once we are competent, we tend to forget what it was like to be incompetent, and therefore assume everyone should be competent (and we are often impatient when they do not live up to our expectation of competency, based on our ignorant evaluation of our level of non-ignorance).
So make Hanlan's razor a mantra, and then apply a little empathy.
You are stopped by a policeman, you follow all the rules: hands on the steering wheel, fingers extended, driver's license on the dash in front of you. You smile and address him politely. And he responds curtly, unkindly he is rude.
Invoke Hanlan and your inner empath. What might be going on? Maybe he has had a bad day. Maybe he just learned this morning that his wife has cancer, and it is stressing him out. right now. Maybe he just heard about an officer who got shot during a routine stop, and he's having a hard time remembering the most people are good. You might be thinking "or maybe he is a pompous jerk." What makes our fantasy any more valid than mine? You already know (part 2) how this is going to go down if you assume the latter and react. What if you assume the former, and the latter is in fact true? It may not get better, but it is incredibly unlikely to get worse. And when the encounter is over, you can contact the police station, and (politely) provide feedback to his commanding officer
If you find that the officer is particularly polite, I would also recommend calling and giving feedback. I did this once. I was in an accident. It was my fault. The officer was very polite. He took all the information, and almost apologetically informed me that he would have to write me a citation. I called a few days and let his superior know how impressed and appreciative I was. His commanding officer in turn expressed appreciation to me for giving him a rare bit of positive feedback. It was great!)
What about something like this "What are your thoughts on intended insults and racism? You may not have the opportunity to take someone aside and say "when you called my son the n-word, that was hurtful and racist" or when someone shouts "go back to China chink!" From a car to someone walking."
Again, Hanlan's Razor and empathy are the mantras. Who made the insult?
Was it a grouchy old man? There are people alive still, who lived during periods of real institutional racism. That term has been misused a bit of late - watered down, but during world war two there was genuine institutional racism. People of Japanese descent and German descent were interred in camps (POW camps, for all practical purposes) throughout America. They were "the enemy." (Refer back to my comments in the second post about our natural tendency to categorize and gather the herd). And as the enemy, who we were at war with, we also applied a... let's call it a coping mechanism. In order to suppress that little voice (conscience, holy ghost, the light of Christ, the spirit...) that whispers that killing other people is wrong, we do things to dehumanize them. Terms like "jap", "nip", "jerry", "kraut" came into fashion. The media churned out all kinds of programs, including children's cartoons, which present them as dumb, vile, or both. After World war II came the cold war, and we switched to "ruskies", "chinks", "charlie", "commies"...
There are some for whom those habits are deeply ingrained you may not be able to do much other than show them kindness, feel pity for them (They are as addicted to their fear and hate, as an alcoholic is to his whiskey bottle, and they will quite likely die with that burden). Explain this to your children, so they can develop a better understanding of the horrible toll war takes on people. Be kind to them if you can (sometimes it works). That failing (avoid them if practical). Failing that, notify the authorities if absolutely necessary.
What if it is a youth, or a teen? Youth today have not experience real institutional racism. While it is possible the youth has learned and is evoking real racism, it is actually more likely what they are actually exhibiting is plain old-fashioned bullying. Race just happened to be a convenient target, which provided sufficient shock value. How do you deal with it? You treat it as what it is; bullying. Bullying is bad, it doesn't matter if the victim is black, Chinese, handicapped, female... or a white male. It is always wrong. It is always bad. Deal with it accordingly.
If you can have a (polite) conversation with that youth, or that youths parents, perhaps you will find that the behavior came as the result of said youth getting bad information from somewhere, and you may be able to correct that issue peacefully (refer to "My Experience With Religious Persecution" for an example). The key is to let go of your assumptions, your biases, and engage empathy and attempt to understand where the behavior is coming from, then (and only then) you can hope to respond appropriately (Another Mantra which you should commit to memory, which may help with this "People almost never do things TO others, they do thing FOR themselves").
If you run into the "It's just kids being kids" talk, repeat to yourself. "It used to be that way, but we are better than that now." (Another use of positive affirmation). It might be worth saying it out loud too.
What if that fails? Then take it to appropriate authorities. What if said authorities don't take it seriously (for instance if a boy is the victim of racial slurs and death threats, and the school officials decide a couple days suspension is sufficient)? Take it to the next level of authorities (This may be necessary at times, in a case like the a well meaning official who is a friend of the family, may fail to recuse himself, and may feel compelled to let the boy of easy so as not to "ruin his future" Hanlan's Razor is once again at work. Said official fails to understand that he is setting the bully up for future, and more damaging- failure.
It may seem from that last paragraph that we got to the same place with considerably more work on our part. But there is a very significant difference. We gave the offender every chance to make a course correction. We made it easier for them to make that correction by NOT feeding their desire for attention, or their potential misplaced fear, or their potential misconception that the world is out to get them. ( I wish I could find a Garfield comic I remember seeing as a teen to sick here. It shows Garfield standing behind Odie, thinking about all the means things Odie MIGHT do to him. It ends with Garfield clobbering poor, oblivious Odie and then proclaiming "I hit him back first!").
Will this complete fix every person in America? No, people are people (Depeche Mode reference). However, presently, Active, card caring white supremacists make up less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the population. They are irrelevant. One the other hand. Polls indicate that roughly 9% of Americans are... on the fence... (and that number represents a roughly 17% increase from 2014, according to some polls) leaning in favor of white supremacist views. Would you rather continue to have "Hard conversations", continue to berate them over their "privilege", continue to make them feel attacked, continue to drive them to "Circle the wagons", continue to push them form borderline to violent... Or would you rather show them a better way. Invite them to be part of a truly inclusive world? A world were the insignificant majority simply has no voice; are no more than 'that crazy guy on the corner' that the world pities, but ultimately ignores, until they simply fade into the background.
Don't write this off as psycho-mumbo jumbo, or new-age, crystals and snake oil nonsense. There is a considerable body of psychological, and Neuroscience research to back the efficacy of affirmations (I will list a few below.
And I won't pretend this will be easy, we aren't at the baseline image I offered up in the second post, we have let the Natural man run the show for a while, we have a bit of ground to make up. But it is achievable. But it is your choice. Continue to focus on the future you fear, or begin to focus on the future you desire.
Self-Affirmations Can Boost Performance, Study Shows
Brain Scans Can Help Explain Why Self-Affirmation Works
The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention
Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation