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Saturday, March 1, 2008

High Stakes Activism - Accepting Risk

Talking with others today, I suddenly realized that my path to activism started significantly before my graduation from high school. I learned certain lessons then that I find applicable to activism in our modern world. Let me explain.

It started early one brisk, autumn morning. My friend (for privacy sake I shall call him Jake) and I were horsing around while waiting for our school bus. A man who lived in the house nearest our bus stop came out and started yelling at us. Needless to say, things got a bit heated.

Jake, by this point becoming quite irrational, told the man "Shut up and leave us alone motherf****r!"

The man growled at him "I ain't no motherf****r"

A thought suddenly crossed my mind. A way I might get these too angry individuals to step back and allow the situation to defuse. The problem was, it could also escalate the entire situation and draw me into the middle of it. In an instant, I made my decision.

"Sure you are, why lie about it?"

The man blinked a moment, then growled "I AIN'T no motherf****r!"

A smile crossed my lips. He had fallen for my trap.

I shifted my expression as if I was about to state a fact. "Oh really? Don't you have kids?"

The man blinked in sudden dismay, confused for the moment. A glance at Jake and I could see he was equally confused. I let silence rule for a few seconds, waiting.

The man's face sudden grimaced, "For the love of Christ"

He leaned against the tree behind him and let out a belly roar of laughter. I looked to Jake, who's face attested to his sudden understanding of what I had said. Unfortunately, he did not have a tree behind him and ended up on his butt in the grass, laughing until he could barely breath.

Once they stopped laughing, I smiled at the man and said "Look, you are obviously upset about our noise, but we don't understand why you are so upset, what's going on?"

The man explained to us that he was a graveyard security guard and was just getting into bed when we started making so much noise. Jake and I apologized and promised we would show him due consideration, now that we knew the circumstances.

Now the question is, how does this apply to activism?

The answer is simple. We are dealing with a lot of highly complex issues. There are usually two sides to an issue with some issues having three or more sides. We get so involved with our advocacy of this solution or that solution or arguing that the other side(s) aren't seeing the whole picture of the issue. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't

The point is, our discussions become debates, debates become arguments, arguments become fighting, and fighting becomes all-out war. As this escalation grows, it becomes more and more difficult to negotiate middle grounds and happy mediums. Often times it takes a risky move to bring people back to the negotiation table. The higher the conflict has escalated, the riskier the move to bring things back into progressive equilibrium.

As activists, we must evaluate the events and situations affecting our issue(s) to see where such risks can, should, or must be taken for the sake of progress. In the game of high-stakes activism, there is no room for wimps. Now ... who's turn is it to shuffle?

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