An attempt at perspective

Anitra Again (
Sun, 1 Feb 1998 21:21:42 -0800 (PST)

Several people on the CSF list have been adamant about having heard
quite enough of the negative personal attacks and intergroup
squabbling, *thank you*.  I don't want to post anything more to that
list about it, I don't want to appear to be fanning the flames. 

But I'm going to use this group as a sounding board for something I do
want to eventually post.  A more general discussion about why such
things erupt, and what to do about them.

WB, I believe that some of those who attack are motivated as you
charged, to discredit the whole movement associated with the person
they are attacking.  But I don't believe that is always the

For one thing, there is a great deal of anger in many of us who have
been homeless and out on the edge of survival, feeling abandoned.
Most of us have turned the energy of that anger toward working for
positive solutions.  Some of us have chosen our favorite "bad guys" --
like corporate America, right-wing politicians, brutal police -- and
channel our anger toward opposing them.  This can have positive
results too.

But sometimes the people or organizations that are truly doing us
harm, that we are truly angry at, are too fightening to attack
directly.  An abused child who cannot dare strike back at an abusive
parent will sometimes begin tormenting other children at school, or
small animals.  A woman who is upset at an unjust action by her boss,
but afraid to say so, will sometimes go home and yell at her husband
over anything-at-all.  Or a man who is actually upset at his wife, but
unable to confront her for fear of disrupting his homelife, will go to
work and growl at his coworkers.

It is in fact the people in the helping professions, or those who by
personality are warm, sympathetic, and helpful, who draw the most of
this kind of mispaced anger.  They are provably "safe" to attack.

In the "in-fighting" that I have observed, where people from within
the homeless activist/advocate community attacked others within the
same community, the ones being attacked almost always had an
established reputation of non-violence, of kind treatment toward both
allies and opponents.  They are therefore "safe" to go after.

Even in the remaining cases, the behavior of those doing the attacking
-- taking an immediately polarized stance, using loaded language,
dehumanizing the opposition -- indicates to me that the underlying
motivations for the attack are in the attackers emotions and personal
history, not in the attackee's behavior.

The attacker is trying to fill an emotional need: boost his/her ego by
being a "hero"; or slay a personal "dragon" that he/she cannot
confront directly.

We are trying to correct a social injustice that is deeply entrenched
in human society and affects millions of people in this country alone,
billions worldwide.  Each single human being that gets into shelter or
housing gives us a burst of energy, but the glow can quickly fade when
we look back at the size of the problem still not solved.  Some people
with an emotional need for a sense of accomplishment *right now* get
frustrated, and look for nearer, easier targets to knock over.  When
you face the fact that you may not cut through the jungle in your
lifetime, you may fall to carping on the way the guy next to you
swings his machete.

So what can we all do about it?

The "standard practice" is to ignore negative, personal atacks and
"rise above it." This is taking for granted that the people making the
attacks do have personal motives, are not worth taking seriously, and
that nobody else whose opinion you value is going to take them
seriously either.

I have two reservations about this tactic: One, I have seen people who
do not know the facts in a particular situation be influenced by
irresponsible accusations that weren't countered by accurate
information.  I have also dealt with people who aren't as
verbally-inclined as I and who needed several rounds of patient
explanation to get a message.  I think it is uneccessarily ruthless to
expect however many hundred people may be involved in an online
discussion to do all their own research to verify an accusation made
against you, you don't have to waste any time over it.  Stating facts
and pointing to independent sources for documentation is a positive
activity that I encourage anybody to engage in, whenever you see
rumor-and-balderdash posted, about anything -- including "email
viruses" or the Zapatistas.

The other reservation is: I never scratch of anybody as "hopeless" --
as in "it's hopeless to talk with him -- don't try."  I don't hover
anxiously above my computer screen waiting for the light to dawn,
either -- but I decided long ago that "I can *too* change" and
therefore, anybody else can too change.  I don't see any philosophical
difference between claiming that my political opponents are too
dogmatic to ever change their minds, or claiming that homeless people
are too set in their ways to ever get off the street -- so I refuse to
totally give up on attempting dialogue, with everybody.  (Granted, I
do put more of my energy into dialogue where I am getting the better

Th final reservation is: yes, I can change.  I can change my mind,
too.  And sometimes *I* have been the one to learn, through a dialogue
-- to decide that I was wrong, and to change my actions.

No lie can truly be dangerous unless it has a bit of truth in it.
While I have spoken up against some of the vicious criticisms and
attacks posted on Homeless in the past, I have also posted to HPN and
elsewhere that all of us involved in "helping" -- whether among our
friends and family or on a larger scale -- need to watch for certain
dangers, like starting to take over an activity because you do it
well, instead of constantly transferring skills to new arrivals.  Many
of us also need to watch out for terminal introspection -- but an
occasional reminder to question ourselves and re-examine our behavior
isn't amiss.

So I certainly wouldn't advocate "nobody ever saying anything negative
about anybody ever again."  But I do advocate examining your own eye
thoroughly in the mirror -- or asking a couple of friends to check it
for you -- before you post publicly about the speck you see in your
neighbor's eye.  Do ask yourself who you are really angry at, whether
there is a more urgent target for your energies, and what is actually
going to be accomplished by what you post (which may be different from
your first stated intent.)

And listen.  It is one of the gifts of the universe that there are
million of other people in the world who can see things in ways I
would not see them, think things that I have not thought, say things 
that will make me see and think in new ways.  Don't miss out on that
-- be open to it.  It's one of the joys of a big listserv like CSF --
even HPN has an outstanding variety for its size.

For anyone who has noted the size and frequency of my own posts :) I
would like to mention that I write between 2000 to 3000 words a day,
online and offline -- and I read from 20,000 to 30,000 words a day.
Over the course of a week the amount of time I spend reading&writing,
and in physical-activity-not-involving-reading-and-writing, balance
out.  You may choose a different ratio -- that's what works for me.

~~ Anitra for a full list of websites
and webrings because if I list them all here, you will be SO mad at me ...