How to Fight for Change Without Being Mean

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, as I do more and more writing on this page, as I try to do more and more advocacy, AND as we prepare to launch a progressive community site for the city. There are some truths that I operate from, that seem to be at odds with each other:

  • Silence is not an option.
  • Bad ideas, policies, and actions must be challenged.
  • Change only happens when either the leaders decree it (top-down) or when enough people want it (bottom-up).
  • Evil must be challenged. (And yes, there are “evil” acts and other things in the world.*)
  • People themselves are not evil.
  • Satire and snark are sometimes the best way to call out bad ideas, bad policies, and bad actions.
  • We are all part of the human race, and brothers and sisters because of that.
  • You don’t mistreat your brothers and sisters.
  • Hate is not an option.

So, on the one hand, we have to be active in the fight against the bad, willing to call out others and take unpopular stands, hoping to win enough people over to our side to effect change from the bottom-up. On the other hand, we must do it in such a way that we do not hate, we must not turn those we oppose into the Other, and we must remember that ultimately we are one family.

This is hard. To do this well and consistently is really, really hard.

But we must find a way.

So, here are some guidelines I’m adopting for myself, and possibly for this new site I’m helping launch:

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Ethics versus Morals

As we prepare for the inauguration and reflect on recent and current events, we may find benefit in the comparison of ethics versus morals.

Morals, according to the dictionary, is “concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action.” And when it comes to judgment, the current crop of Bushites certainly excel, especially in the sexual arena. Their judgment is clear: abortion is immoral, homosexuality is immoral, gay marriage is immoral. Stating these judgments loud and often was their path to power. And, it worked.

Ethics, on the other hand, is “a set of principles of right conduct.” Again, the actions of this administration and its supporters are clear. Torture — not immoral, must be okay. Rape of the environment — not immoral, must be okay. Corporate and personal greed — not immoral, must be okay. Revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent to get back at her husband — not immoral, must be okay. Telling lies about opponents in order to get elected — not immoral, must be okay. Lying to go to war — not immoral, must be okay.

Obviously, the Bush team, and many of their supporters, see no connection between morals and ethics. You could say they have morals without ethics. They can judge others, they can hold others up to the moral mirror, but when they themselves look in the same mirror, all they see is their own unseeing eyes.