Phoenix Riting! – February 1st, 2024

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This is my third attempt at a column this week. I write, I reread, then sigh and start over. So many wrong ways to say the right thing. The Island Grapevine’s cancelling is, I am led to believe (not by the publisher, who has been nothing but gracious), my own doing. An article I wrote in these pages back in July caused certain people, within an hour of my article seeing print, to lose their minds and rush to cancel the publication. “Fire the publisher from his job! Kick him off the board he sits on! Boycott the Grapevine! Boo hiss!”

 

I didn’t learn anything of this for months, but it’s turned into a Huge Big Deal, and the cancelling appears to be working. Now, it’s trickled down to me, because my platform is disappearing. How bizarre. I’ve struggled to make sense of it ever since, because to my mind, my article was, while controversial, fairly inoffensive. Call me naive, but I did not expect this outcome, especially given the controversial nature of so many other opinions expressed in the same paper. It’s what the Grapevine stands for–freedom of expression.

 

I’ve had my wrong thinking explained to me, patiently and in depth, and while I’m grateful to those people who took the time to try to lay out exactly how my column was problematic, their responses failed to convince. Nobody called me hateful or a bigot, though I found out later that those words were used behind the scenes. Everything they said seemed like a reason to write a heated letter to the editor, not cause to cancel the publication that dared to platform me. And then there’s this: the vast majority of the by-now copious feedback I received has been approving, most often along the lines of “I would never dare, but thank you!”

 

The trouble with humans is our tendency to polarize–to believe that if something is right, then the opposite of that thing must be wrong. But that is simply not true. Multiple things can be true at the same time. The opposite of a right is not necessarily a wrong; quite often it’s another right. It’s daytime here, but you’d be wrong to argue the point with someone in Australia, where it’s night. Context is everything.

 

People are complicated; needs can come into conflict, but that doesn’t necessarily make one person’s need wrong and another’s right. Relationships break up all the time because of conflicting needs, without either of them having to be in the wrong. For any controversy, there are so many ways to look at it, and how we see it depends entirely on point of view.

 

It’s so easy to dismiss the suffering of whoever we view to be in the wrong, but pain is pain. To dehumanize someone, to demonize them or diminish them, is itself wrong. When we get to know someone, to understand the history and subjectivity of their pain, we can only empathize, and so they begin to become real to us, and no longer so wrong. Demonizing opposition, calling them the enemy is a tool of war; we should resist the impulse to do so at all costs.

 

If we are not allowed to publicly discuss and weigh the balance between conflicting rights, then terrible wrongs inevitably follow. People perceive reality differently from each other, depending on their lived experience and point of view. Individuals are differently vulnerable. People with disabilities, mental illness or neurodivergence, poverty, survivors of war, trauma, misogynistic oppression, all suffer, and all matter. It makes no sense to hierarchize suffering as though the pain of some should weigh more than the pain of others.

 

We are still a long way from a fair and equitable society, and in order to grow, we need to talk about it. We need to bring forward the arguments in favour of and against, to weigh consequences, to find balance. Everyone deserves to live freely and authentically as their true selves, no matter who they are. 

 

Note: TIG has been a unique resource and outlet for folks to share their opinions the old-fashioned way, in a local paper, accessed by the community. If you support the Grapevine, and want it to survive and continue to be a committed, free speech voice for our communities, please consider advertising or submitting some form of paid content.

 

That’s what I think. What do you think? email me at phoenixonhornby@gmail.com