One of the cornerstones of humility is recognizing that you cannot know what it is you don't know. It's hidden. It may or may not be known to others. I've learned to pay attention to social discomfort--it's a clue that one of my assumptions (hidden to me) is being challenged. The natural reaction is to reject the discomfort, but if you can lean into a bit, you just might learn something, open your heart, become a bigger person.
Ennis and his commentors brought to mind (again) how much...I dunno, hey, I'm an innocuous-looking, white, middle-aged woman. The other night I was stopped by the sheriff because my car registration tags were out-of-date. I had them on my desk, I just hadn't gotten around to putting them on the car. All that happened is that I promised to get them on in the next 24 hours. Would a brown woman gotten off so lightly? A black man? It's hard to see what others undergo unless you see it, or they tell you. But I suppose you have to be listening.
Ennis's appearance is part of his religious observance. I realized another assumption I have: that religious observance (and differences) are -- somehow not serious, or that they are... negotiable. This is an outcome both of my upbringing (not a particularly religious family) and my temperament (more skeptical than believing). I mean, I react to Christian fundamentalists who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God with incredulity--everything is literally true and correct?
What you know that you don't know you know: I realized as I was writing this that I learned about Sikhism as a child, before I was even aware of Islam. My father's family is from Stockton, where the first Gurdwara was built in 1915. I was born in San Jose, where my father was a tractor dealer. Some of my mother's relatives were ranchers and farmers in the Central Valley, where Sikhs had been farming since the 1920s. I have a distict mental image of being quite small, and seeing animpressively bearded man driving a tractor in a relative's pear orchard--the beard struck me more than the turban. Remember, this was in the 1950s, when beards were uncommon. The five K's also stuck with me--I don't remember why, but knowing my father, he probably read the entry on Sikhism from the Encyclopedia Brittanica to me.
What else I learned from my father's many examples: there are countless ways to be a good person in the world; that differences are to met with an open heart and a sort of civil curiosity; that good manners can have many forms; that competent adults know how to deal with many different cultures.
What you know that you don't know that you know: As I was writing this post, my daughter was off on a day trip to San Franciso with a gang of friends. She was the only WASP in the bunch, the others being a sensei (fluent in Japanese because of his parents' insistence), a Korean-German (who speaks some Korean and some German)--both parents first-generation; a Filipina, and an American-born Armenian. My daughter attends a Catholic school, but there have been many years when more Buddhists than practicing Catholics enrolled, because the school recruits international students. She expects her friends to be of different nationalities and ethnicities. I think she's less likely to assume that everyone is all the same. She expects to encounter different manners and mores.
This isn't just bragging about my daughter. I'm realizing that my subconscious expectation is that most folk have had experiences like hers, and they haven't. If you grow up in a monolithic culture, your responses to difference will be, well, different than if you have grown up in a more variegated environment.
Doc Searles said in one post (about "gatekeepers" and the blogosphere):
I've worked in, and with, countless institutions and organizations that are full of gates and gatekeepers. Exclusive territories. By comparison, blogs are the wide open spaces. Nothing about the blogosphere appeals to me more than the absence, or the ridiculousness, of "gates".
And then he was called to task by Seth Finkelstein:
This world is exactly the same as *every* *other* *media* *world*, in that there's a few participants who have enormous reach, while most have little to none ("Power Law"). That's just a mathematical fact. One obvious corollary is that if an A-lister (very high audience) writes a personal attack on a Z-lister (very low audience), the Z-lister has no *effective* means of responding, to any comparable extent. This is hardly life-threatening, but it's not pleasant. When, on top of this, there's some sort of concept that the Z-lister really does have a means of reply, because they can do the equivalent of standing on a streetcorner and the entire city *could*, *in theory*, be the audience - well, it's frustrating. It's a kind of insult to injury. If this implies the death of the dream of the New Home Of Mind, it's dead whether or not we acknowledge that.
(Doc's response here), in which he says:
I do know what it is like to be on the outside, to face gates far more closed than those anybody faces in the blogosphere.
What bothers me most, I guess, is the matter of manners. I have no problem annoying gasbag CEOs, but it pains me to think I'm being cruel without knowing it to a blogger who's trying just as hard as I am — or maybe harder — to make sense of things.
Shelley responded to the "gatekeepers discussion" with some recommendations of her own, including
When people are critical, don’t label them with being a bitch, shrill, hysterical, whining (oe whinging), flaming, or any combination of the same. If this environment was full of people who only smiled, who only agreed, who went around as if we’re all partaking of joy joy juice, and nary a harsh word was heard–you wouldn’t be where you are today. You need us. You need us, a hell of a lot more than we need you. Your fans may make you feel good, but it’s your critics who made you famous.
I have no respect for the linking/attention games played and those who play them, and neither should you. When you see this bulls---, [ed] call it bulls---. This will do more to ‘tear down the gates’ then begging an A lister, even a nice one like Doc, for a link.
Manners and civility again. Civility for those who are neurologically different.
The cult of rudeness. Does excess civility support the status quo? How about the SXSW panel: Blogs and Civility. Kathy Sierra asked, Are "nice" and "honest" mutally exclusive?. Are we moving the middle with respect to what is regarded as normal civility?
Who is our paragon of manners? Certainly not any of those currently inhabiting the White House, nor the previous administration. Alex Wainer nominates...
Good manners have gotten a bad rap in the culture over the last few years; they are dismissed as a officious mask, or obstacle to “authenticity” for those who want to express themselves. But they are actually a means to expressing a disinterested benevolence to all people, most of whom are strangers we may meet only once but whose way may be made a bit easier by a sincerely expressed “please,” “thank-you,” or “pleased to meet you.” This is not a virtue one grows overnight, to be sure. As Aristotle pointed out, we become virtuous by practicing virtue. And a well-drawn character who is put to the test and passes it can provide food for my undernourished moral imagination.
I suspect the rise in rudeness has some roots in the entitlement culture. I don't mean it in the sense used elsewhere--about government subsidies creating a sense of entitlement to those subsidies--I mean in the personal sense. The sense that you deserve the best, and anyone who deprives you of the best, for any reason, is wrong.
People who feel entitled at their very core are always seeking personal gratification and attention from others, rather than engaging in the dance of social interaction. Entitlement precludes empathy or compassion. It also entails the furious rejection of those who are different.
I realized something else, too, as I wrote this. Ennis wrote about others' ignorance:
I am a very patient man. Still, even I sometimes get tired of explaining to people who I am, what I am, where I come from, and what I am not.
I assume that people who are ignorant about non-Christian folks (and their appearance), as Ennis describes are (a) of lower socio-economic status; (b) ill-educated; (c) both; (d) stupid. I do not know if my assumption is correct.
Just as I finished this, Chris posted an introduction to frame analysis
So frame analysis will consist of three stages ...
1.) Discovering the mental frames that people already have. If you don't do this, you won't know what information you should highlight or add, or what information you should de-emphasize.
2.) Developing an understanding of what it is you want to communicate. What do you want to make more salient in people's mental frames, and what do you want to add to their knowledge?
3.) Framing your speech and writing in such a way that it accomplishes the goals from 2) given 1).
Ennis is talking about challenging people's frames when they see a dark-skinned man with a beard and a turban.