Own inquiry: Attacking a Green Party politician with straw man arguments, sexism, and racism

I regularly do inquiry, often more spontaneously in daily life. And I sometimes do more structured and in-depth inquiry on paper, although it’s been a while since I published any here. So here is one from today.

THE BACKGROUND

I notice a part of me gets upset when I see people engaging in personal attacks on Green Party members in Norway. It’s of course more than OK to disagree about policies and priorities, that’s how it’s supposed to be in a democracy. But it’s not OK to systematically use straw man arguments (pretending they have views and policies often diametrically opposed to reality) and personal attacks (often mixed in with sexism and racism). I see these straw man arguments and personal attacks from some reporters, media outlets, and individuals in Norway. It seems that the Green Party politicians are considered “fair game” for these types of attacks.

Most recently, this came up for me when I read an interview with someone who had posted hateful, sexist, and racists comments on social media about a prominent Green Party politician in Oslo, and justified it by saying that this politician wants to ruin the lives of people like him. (I am not sure what he referred to, but he seemed to be misinformed about the actual policies.)

The person he attacked is a young woman originally from an Asian country, so I assume he sees her as an easy target and it allows him to mix his straw man arguments with ageism, sexism, and racism.

JUDGE YOUR NEIGHBOR WORKSHEET

Think of a stressful situation with someone—for example, an argument. As you meditate on that specific
time and place and begin to feel what that felt like, fill in the blanks below. Use short, simple sentences.

  1. In this situation, who angers, confuses, hurts, saddens, or disappoints you, and why?
    I am angry with this guy because he uses straw man arguments and personal attacks to express himself.
  2. In this situation, how do you want him/her to change? What do you want him/her to do?
    I want him to see that he is wrong. I want him to get informed and address the policies and not the person.
  3. In this situation, what advice would you offer him/her? “He/she should/shouldn’t…”
    This guy shouldn’t be so aggressive and caught up in his emotions. He should step back, take a breath, see what he is doing, and admit what’s really going on for him.
  4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need him/her to think, say, feel, or do?
    I need him to apologize, say what’s really going on for him, and be more reasonable in the future.
  5. What do you think of him/her in this situation? Make a list. (It’s okay to be petty and judgmental.)
    He is aggressive. Immature. Unreasonable. Someone who destroys democracy.
  6. What is it about this person and situation you don’t ever want to experience again?
    I don’t ever want to see him be unreasonable again.

INQUIRY: HE IS AGRESSIVE, IMMATURE, UNREASONABLE

Statement: He is aggressive, immature, unreasonable, and destroys democracy.

Is it true? Yes.

Can you know for certain it’s true? No. I cannot know for certain.

What happens, how do you react, when you have that belief?

I feel angry and upset. I notice I want him to shut up. I feel I don’t belong to this society and world. I tell myself the world is full of stupid people. I think of all the other stupid people who use straw man arguments, personal attacks. I think of stupid people driving their car when they could use other modes of transportation, that use noisy machines to maintain an idiotic lawn when they could plant wildflowers. I think of idiots who don’t think about future generations and have a narrow and small mindset. I think of people who have little or no empathy with non-human beings. I get scared because these people act in ways that harm all of us. I notice a knot in my stomach. I get restless. My muscles tense up. I move in a more tense and jerky way. I want to eat comfort food. I want to distract myself. I want to get out of my own skin. I feel sad for the world. I feel scared about what will happen to the world. I feel sad for nonhuman animals impacted by what humans do. I want to call him all the types of things he calls other people. I want him to taste his own medicine.

Who would you be if you were completely at peace with this thought?

I would read the interview. Register that some people see the world in this way. Feel love for him and for his pain. I see someone who is in pain. Someone unable to be honest about what’s going on with him. Someone unable to examine where this is coming from in him and do something about it. Someone unable to respond with what he disagrees with in a reasonable way. I recognize myself in him. We both have this in us. I find love for it in both of us, and all humans. This is the human condition. The only solution is love, taking care of it in ourselves, and live from the love and clarity that then comes. I sit with my own pain, notice the different ways different parts of me responds to it, and can find love for it.

Turnaround 1: He is NOT aggressive, immature, unreasonable, and destroys democracy.

What’s more true for me is that he is in pain, and this is the only way he knows to deal with it.

He doesn’t destroy democracy. It takes more than his comments on social media to destroy democracy.

TA 2: He is loving, mature, reasonable, and builds democracy.

Yes, I am sure he is loving with some people and in some situations. I am sure he is mature in some areas of life. I am sure he is reasonable in some situations and areas of life.

By allowing himself to be interviewed in this way, he is brave, owns up to what he has done, and he builds democracy.

TA 3: I am aggressive, immature, unreasonable, and destroys democracy.

Yes, when I believe those thoughts about him I get aggressive, immature, unreasonable. That’s clear from my answer to the third question above. In a sense, I destroy democracy. At the moment I believe those thoughts about him, I destroy democracy in my own life.

INQUIRY: HE SHOULD ADMIT WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON FOR HIM

Statement: He should admit what’s really going on for him.

Is it true? Yes.

Can you know for certain it’s true? No. I cannot know for certain.

What happens, how do you react, when you have that belief?

I pretend I know that he doesn’t admit it to himself and possibly those around him. I pretend I know more about him than I do. I feel a strong urge for him to admit it. It becomes a mental obsession for me for a moment or a few minutes and whenever I again have this thought. I want him to do something he apparently isn’t so I feel frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless. I feel powerless since I can’t do anything about it. I want to distract myself. I want to eat comfort food. I want to read or watch something else, or talk with a friend, or go for a walk to distract myself from the discomfort. I want to leave my experience and what’s going on in this body. I feel a victim of him not doing what I think he should do.

I imagine what’s really going on for him: He is in pain, and deals with it by taking it out on this young woman from an Asian country who is now a politician with policies he feels harms him. He may have been going through difficult things in his life, possibly abusive parents, bullied at school, felt inferior, and so on. I imagine that if he admitted to this, he could address his pain more directly and he wouldn’t have to take it out in this way.

Who would you be if you were completely at peace with this thought?

I read the interview. See that he doesn’t seem to address what’s really going on with him. And I know that he may do just that but didn’t want to say anything in the interview, or that he did say something about it and the reporter or editor didn’t include it. It’s equally or more likely that he isn’t ready or able to go there right now. And that’s OK. This happens in its own time, when we are ready for it. Often, we need to suffer with it for a while before we are ready, and we may need to find a safe place to do so. That’s how it is for me, so it may well be that way for him too.

Turnaround 1: He SHOULDN’T admit what’s really going on for him.

Not if he is not ready. He may not even know what’s going on, and he can’t admit to something he is not aware of. Also, something completely different may be going on than what I imagine.

TA 2: He should DENY what’s really going on for him.

Yes. Again, he may not be ready. It may be too much for him to admit and go into right now. He may be dealing with a lot of other things. He may not have the tools or support to do it.

TA 3: I should admit what’s really going on for ME.

Yes. That’s what I really want. That’s what will give me peace.

I am the one who is reacting to my own fear and pain in the way described under question three above. Instead of admitting I am scared by what he says, I go into stories about him, anger, frustrations, shoulds, and more. I focus on him so I don’t have to feel my own fear, the fear triggered by what he says. I am scared for society and the world and myself when I see people saying what he says.

I am scared by what he says. That’s more honest for me.

I also see that this connects with my own childhood experiences where I felt bullied, so when I see the kind of bullying he and others engage in, it connects me with my own pain. Instead of meeting this pain and finding love for it, I react to my pain by focusing on him as described above. I distract myself from my own pain.

I am doing just what I imagine he is doing.

WHAT I NOTICE FOLLOWING THESE TWO INQUIRIES

I started with the two statements that had the most charge or resonance for me. It’s good to go through most or all of them, so I plan on returning and do more.

After doing these two quick inquiries, I notice something shift in me. I feel a release of the reactivity, and I can honestly see myself in him and find compassion for both of us. I also see that some of my initial descriptions now don’t resonate so much with me. For instance, I only assumed that he engaged in ageism, sexism, and racism. He didn’t say it explicitly, and the article didn’t describe exactly what he had written on social media.

I also see more clearly how this is connected with my own pain from experiencing bullying in childhood. It’s possible that these inquiries will help heal that pain further, we’ll see. And that’s not the main reason I am doing these inquiries. My main reason is to see more clearly what’s going on.

This is the shift I notice now. The reactivity can obviously come back, and if it does, it shows me there is more for me to look at and find here. If the reactivity comes back, it’s a genuine gift.

THE WORK OF BYRON KATIE

The format of this inquiry is from The Work of Byron Katie. If you want to try it, you can find a facilitator on Do The Work Helpline that will guide you through the steps for free.

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