follow your principles, not your situations

The Basketball Bloggers

In a comment on my post about the L.A. Clippers, I read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s TIME column on the larger issue of racism. He points out that there’s a pretty big disparity between the percentage of Black people who feel racism is a problem (49%) and Whites (18%). Mr. Abdul-Jabbar pointed out that even many of the most racist public figures – the Rancher Cliven, for example – don’t think they’re racist.

It reminded me of a strange moment this last weekend when I was watching some role-players practice their stage combat. The attacker was kicking, intending to hit his opponent in a large-muscle-group on her leg. She told him that his aim was off, and he was actually striking a rather painful nerve juncture (note: I am glossing over the actual language they were using. Live-Action Role Players aren’t known for their family-friendly language).

The conversation was kind of surreal:

OW! You keep kicking me here!

No I don’t – I’m kicking you there!

OW! See, you kicked me here again!

No, I didn’t!

It struck me as kind of ludicrous in a way that he was insisting that the thing he was doing was not affecting her in the way she was experiencing it. I tried to gently point out that he might get more effective combat knowledge by taking in the intelligence she was providing (“OW!”) rather than insisting that he only needed his own experience for an accurate assessment.

In other words, if the people who are directly hurt by racism are saying it’s a problem, then the people who are only indirectly hurt might find it worthwhile to listen, rather than deny it.

Translating Big Ideals into Daily Practice

Mr. Abdul-Jabbar goes on to talk about the reason that Mr. Cliven, Mr. Sterling, and others don’t think they’re racist. It has to do with “situational racism” – or “situational ethics”, for a larger expression. Mr. Sterling didn’t think he was being racist when he implemented housing policies that he was later convicted for – it just made business sense. The choice of a child’s school might be racist, but also motivated by what the parent believes is best for the child – and that takes precedent in their mind over the higher principle of valuing diversity. It’s an understandable decision; but, at least in my mind, it’s not the right one.

From the TIME column:

The truth is, everyone has racism in his or her heart. We feel more comfortable around people of similar appearance, backgrounds, and experiences. But, as intelligent, educated and civilized humans, we fight our knee-jerk reactions because we recognize that those reactions are often wrong and ultimately harmful.

And it goes beyond racism. It’s prioritizing environmental impact and ethical business over the mantra of “providing shareholder value.” It’s walking to the post office rather than driving. It’s examining every decision to see if it is in line with your principles, the things you know are important, rather than simply reacting to the urgency or convenience of the situation.

That, my friends, is a pretty intense and difficult practice to attempt. Personally, I plan on only trying it in small doses at first, until I get better at it. It’s pretty daunting to try and look at the world you’ve created for yourself with an evaluating eye that is not also critical and judging. Those latter two don’t help much. But to be aware of how your choices affect the larger principles you hold dear – bit by bit, I think that can help make everything better.

And that’s the whole point of this blog, right? Practical tools for making hard times happier.

What’s in your toolbox?

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