Can we please have a moment, an hour, a day, without politics? I voted for Warren/Markey/Keating, who are ROCKING IT in D.C. That is their job. It’s not my job. My job is to pay my mortgage and make sure my kids do their homework. My friends (some have kids, some don’t) are making phone calls and sending postcards and demonstrating at Five Corners. I choose not to do any of this, and I’m getting attitude from them about not joining in on their efforts, which frankly I don’t think accomplish much (because let’s be realistic: Five Corners?).
I don’t want to have to keep making excuses or justify myself for not playing super-activist with them (especially when my tax dollars are paying Warren et al. to fight for exactly what I want). How do I get them to back off without insulting them or damaging the friendship? I’ve been good friends with some of these people for 30 years, and I’ve never before experienced this kind of self-congratulatory self-righteousness from them!
First, take a deep breath and step back a little from the Supermagnet of Judgment, which is making troubled times even more troubled.
People engage in activism primarily for three reasons: 1) to accomplish something concrete; 2) to feel empowered; 3) to record a collective tally of discontent — i.e., doing it for the history books
You’re assessing your friends according to No. 1, but they’re probably assessing themselves according to Nos. 2 and 3. So: You’re both right. Let’s start there.
Some of your friends would probably say that they are engaging in activism for all three of those reasons. You are free to disagree with them about their concrete effectiveness, but please don’t disagree with them about whether or not they’re feeling empowered or contributing to the Tally of Discontent.
Your friends might feel just as judged by you as you do by them, and are, even at this moment, contemplating the best way to tell you to back off your own attitude. You’re exuding a contemptuous vibe of “You’re delusional about concrete results” — and they might be experiencing that as you saying, “You’re delusional about feeling good and expressing yourselves.” Can you see how that might get their backs up? Thereby leading them to have an attitude toward you that gets your back up? It becomes an unfortunate attitudinal feedback loop. Since you’re the one who has asked how to change the status quo (good for you!), you’re the one who has to start to change it. (Activism 101, FWIW.)
I know people who protest at Five Corners, and none of them expect the Tisbury postal workers to call the Postmaster General and say, “Gee, boss, there are 27 people waving to passing cars out here; you better tell Congress to do what they say or they might stop waving!” That’s not why they’re doing it. (Note: If you have demonstrated at Five Corners and you think my assessment is wrong, I’d love to interview you for a piece I’m writing about Islanders losing perspective in wintertime.)
So the first step is to try to have a frank conversation about the vibe between you. If you need to do it over your fourth beer, or while shoveling snow, or walking on a rocky beach so you can each pretend to be mostly preoccupied with not tripping, that’s OK — do it in whatever Yankee-like manner works for your friendship, but by all means do it. Let them know that you are not judging them, and then just sit back, and see if you don’t get a little nonjudgmental love thrown your way in response.
If you don’t — if they respond to your supportive attitude with continued pressure or shaming “should”-isms — you might want to write off the friendship until our national political climate returns to some kind of normalcy.
Alternatively, you could truly put your money where your mouth is. If you see Warren, Markey, and Keating as your agents of change, honor their good work by thanking them and their staffers — with thank-you notes, or pizza served just outside the doors to the Senate, or donations made to charities that share their values.
And remember that elected officials are not responsible for your integrity or character. You don’t get to pass the entire buck to them. A similar question came up last fall; my thoughts on this general topic have changed a little since then, but not the part about having to be a good person no matter what. If you need some help with that, check out this link: http://bit.ly/waystofighthate.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse, and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.