Recently I’ve had occasion to discuss with someone in the arts how some people in the arts can be what most people not in the arts don’t believe people that are in the arts are really like. Roll that around for a moment. Artists, poets, playwrights, dancers, and anyone else whose vocation it is to be creative have a reputation as being fairly liberal types with open minds and a concerted interest in elevating mankind through beauty and thought. Sometimes starving, often a bit whack-a-doodle and anti-social, but at their core nice people with the plight of the human condition their primary concern. This friend, with years behind her in theatre and academia, would disagree. Her experiences surprised me, and frankly, as someone who rails against painting everyone of a particular group with the same brush, so did my own prejudice in this regard.
Yesterday, in the community of poets I’ve surrounded myself with on Facebook, there was an outcry about one man in their midst who was a hard-line right winger that had been posting offensive things about Islam and sending highly vitriolic and even more insulting messages to those who commented against him. Now, what he was doing (and I read some of these messages) ran against the generally accepted mores of regular human interaction, let alone those of a group as specific as poets, so the outrage was pretty justified. In his profile he called himself a poet and a writer, and many were questioning that, though, as if he simply could not have been these things based solely on his political views and ridiculously childish behaviour. Of course, he could be a poet (though I’m not convinced I’d like anything he writes). The two things – creativity and extremist views – have never been mutually exclusive. Intellectually I know this, and yet I am still dogged by my own expectations of what one thing should mean and how another thing often pokes holes in it.
That’s a particularly general statement for a reason. Prejudice, a preset belief in what one thing is without any actual experience or fact to back it up, runs through all of us in various shades, and in ways even those of us with a more progressive mindset would find surprising. Avoiding this, or at least being aware of it without automatically dismissing it, is an active skill, not something we can simply assume because we believe Black Lives Matter or we protest racism and bigotry. It requires thought and effort.
There’s a person I know in the small PTSD advocacy community I’m also hovering around the periphery of who, through no intent of theirs, has alienated some people simply by being active and vocal and, to be honest, just by being Out There. I’ve had discussions with some of these alienated people. I’ve been one of them. You can call it jealousy because of this person’s achievements (something I’m guilty of), or envy because of the apparent universal adoration this person receives (again, guilty), but I believe it’s much simpler. A common question has been how can this person be so public in ways that would make most of us need an extra set of skivvies? How can they be so driven when some of us struggle just to get our mail or go shopping for groceries? (Guilty, guilty, and guilty.)
Post-traumatic stress injury has a fairly specific set of diagnostic criteria, but the effects can often manifest in very different ways in different people, and as I have always said, management of these is never as simple a recipe as popping some pills and going for therapy. I read a post in an online support group the other day from a woman who identified herself as a typical type A personality. She described needing tasks to complete, being ambition-oriented and when she didn’t have either tasks or ambition she would slip into a pit of despair and paralysing fear. This wasn’t the person I’ve been describing, but it immediately made me think of them, and when it did I recognised my own, relatively minor but still existing, preset notions of what people with PTSD should behave like.
It’s an insidious thing, prejudice. While fighting against bigotry and intolerance is not, by definition, bigotry and intolerance, and prejudicial beliefs do actually run along a very broad good/bad spectrum that would take much longer to explore than I care to spend right now, those of us who consider ourselves free of it should strive to recognise that we most certainly are not. We do judge people, all of us, almost all of the time, to one degree or another. Often it’s minor and inconsequential, but it’s still important to know that we do it and very important to know when we should expend the effort not to, and that’s pretty tough when you identify as Mr Liberal-Open-Minded-Progressive-Good-Guy then someone like me comes along to call you Judgy McStereotypes.
The man who suggested Islam should be destroyed and then referred to more than a few folks as “ignorant c***s” when they disagreed with him might very well be a poet and could even be a good one (I’ll never know). I do know that the person who advocates for PTSD awareness is suffering from the often debilitating effects as much as I am, but manages them differently than I do. Artists can be dicks just like anyone else, and I know that because I am the former and have been the latter more times than I care to remember.
Why can’t anything just be frickin’ easy for once?
Because it’s 2016. Social evolution is a real thing, and it takes real work.