Finding Comfort in “No” – Four Methods

Over the past several days I’ve started hearing strange comments from surprising places. While all of these comments have one thing in common, the idea that Memphians should vote no on the Charter Transfer because (x) has changed (whatever x is) is starting to make the rounds and honestly, I can’t believe the lengths to which someone will contort an issue to settle in the comfort of no.

I’m not necessarily talking about people like Kenneth Whalum, Freda Williams, Sara Lewis or even Jeff Warren, though at times some of the rhetoric that they engage in meets one or more of these four criteria, particularly Whalum. That said, these four, and the folks who share their perspectives, have been solid no’s since day one. While I disagree with them, I can at least respect their decision as people who have followed the whole deal from tip to today.

I’m also not talking about people who have followed the events closely and are concerned about the way the state has unilaterally and spitefully altered the transfer process. These are legitimate concerns that, with a little information, can usually be addressed in a way that affirms the need to vote yes particularly in the face of these changes. If we allow these changes to shake our resolve and go unchallenged, they will stand, effectively hamstringing Memphis and Shelby County in perpetuity. Once that point is made clear, their resolve is usually stronger.

No, I’m primarily talking about people who could have made a difference, but for whatever reason chose not to. The people who sat on the sidelines while important decisions were being made. The people who never thought to step forward and offer assistance. The people who complain they were never asked for help. And the people who were so disengaged with the process that they couldn’t even speak clearly on the details of the topic now if asked.

Yet, for whatever reason, these people, who haven’t shown a lick of interest thus far, want to assert one or many of the four things I list below and use them as a rationale for why Memphians should vote against a process that is well within our rights to execute.

I’m going to go through these one at a time, but they all share certain similarities.

Revisionist Historians

Revisionist historians engage in a series of things to arrive at their ultimate decision. First, they either ignore that SCS and Republicans in the State Legislature have been pursuing legislation that would open the door for Special School District status for a decade or assert that those same Republicans never really wanted this to pass and were just offering it because they new it would fail.

You may already see some of the logical gymnastics that this position requires.

In addition to these contortions, revisionist historians assert that because Republicans were never serious about passing Special School District (SSD) status through the Legislature that, via some kind of divine intervention, all those involved should have known that such extreme measures as passing a transfer resolution were not required.

In support of this thesis, they point to the one year hold on such legislation offered by Norris on December 1st, but inflate it to 3 years. There was a compromise that included SCS not seeking SSD for three years, but no one from the legislature was directly involved in, or required to sign off on, that compromise.

Revisionist historians are often people on the periphery of decision makers who generally support the status quo. Their purpose is not upsetting their apple cart, to which they are permanently attached. They do harm to those who would seek out honest information from them due to their proximity of those “in the know” because they themselves are too invested and comfortable in the present power structures to actually challenge that structure.

Bench Warmers

Bench Warmers are the structural equivalent of Monday Morning Quarterbacks, except they’re actually directly involved in the game in some way. These individuals, like the revisionist historians, assert that not only was SSD not in the cards, but that the makers of the motion to transfer administration of MCS didn’t follow the proper procedure to do so, and as such, have embarked on a faulty journey with an incomplete map that ultimately led us to where we are today.

What makes these individuals different than the average person is they possess some kind of specific or particular knowledge that, assuming their assertion were correct, would have possibly been of assistance had they chosen to exercise even the slightest bit of interest.

Instead, these individuals act as though they are prohibited from acting unless asked, not only overvaluing their potential assistance, but also relying on some outmoded, 19th century idea of their station in life. In short, these individuals are just looking for a way to exonerate themselves from their own apathetic inaction. They do harm to the process by casting doubt on a process that they could have positively contributed to, but, for what ever reason, chose not to.

Slut Shamers

This one may be a bit more difficult to get, so hang with me. I’ll start with a definition of slut shaming:

Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior”.

Ok, so let’s break this down as it relates to the current situation. What this comes down to is traditional structures passing judgement and using that judgement as a means to isolate those who act outside of what it narrowly defines as acceptable behavior, or, “How dare you think you’re important/relevant/intelligent/connected enough to challenge the status quo”.

This seems to come more from the right side of the political spectrum, where maintaining the perceived established order is valued above all else, though both sides engage in it periodically. In order to influence the actions of others, these individuals seek to “shame” anyone for questioning the established order’s benevolence.

This is a tried and true tactic that has been employed for eons.

Nice folks…not really. They’ll stab you in the back just to say they saved your life.

Victim Mentality

Let’s start with a definition of the word victim:

a person who has come to feel helpless and passive in the face of misfortune or ill-treatment.

Victim mentality is when you are paralyzed by your feeling of being a victim. This is what causes abused spouses to return, over and over again, to their abusers. That feeling of dire helplessness that smothers the willingness for a person who is suffering from this victimization to break free of their abuser.

While this sounds like a problem that should be relegated to DV court, it applies in all kinds of relationships. It can come into play, on some level, at your workplace, at school, in your church…just about every social institution and relationship that you can imagine can have a feature of this cycle of victimization, including politics.

As it relates to this topic, a person suffering from victim mentality would view any number of things: the changes to state law, the specter of SSD threats, or even the sheer adversity of the situation as an untenable circumstance that will ultimately lead to a more harsh kind of victimization than is being experiencing now. An inherent assumption in this view is that by choosing to pursue this remedy, additional victimization is somehow to be expected…that we will be punished for our decision.

Individuals that hold this view may say that we need to start over, and “do it the right way”, resting on the analysis of the “bench warmer” or “revisionist historian”, both of whom share a great many characteristics with this group. However, as any case worker who has dealt with victims of domestic violence can tell you, that “right way” all too often never materializes, leading to continued abuse with often devastating consequences.

The Comfort of No

There are many more, these are just the ones I’ve experienced since Friday. They all carry the same pessimistic world-view that while the status quo is not working, any alternative is either too hard, or that there is no hope of a positive solution on the current track.

What’s worse about these positions is that they are infectious. In one instance, I found myself both following and agreeing with a person engaging in a hybrid of these arguments, until the point that this person basically slipped and asserted that change wasn’t possible. That assertion snapped me back to reality and ultimately is the reason I decided to post this.

Change is messy. There is a comfort in the status quo that “no” maintains. As chaotic as the status quo is, it is a familiar chaos that people can wrap themselves in like a protective blanket in times of adversity. However, no matter how warm or comfortable this protective blanket may feel, it is also a smothering influence that provides the flimsiest of securities, and ultimately only maintains a world where inequity can thrive.

The founders of our nation were not pessimists, they were careful optimists. The foundation upon which this nation is built is a questioning of the established order to find a better solution. It is in this questioning and belief in a better future that we have become a great nation, despite all our faults.

It is not wrong to question what is happening with this or any other situation going on in our community. However, in order to move beyond the present, we must see the possibility of a positive future, and that requires a brand of optimism that both questions the problem and the remedy while weighing both equally in arriving at a solution.

In order to find comfort in “no” one must start by overvaluing the status quo and the structures that maintain it. It is this very condition that has led to stagnation in our politics and our society, and ultimately, it is this condition that, if allowed to persist, will be our undoing.

I hope that this post will serve as an immunization against these world-views as we move forward toward election day. I don’t know if any of these arguments or assessments will help those suffering from these conditions, but I do know that, like a virus, these views can spread in an environment where they are allowed to exist unchallenged.

One thought

  1. I still think “Team Surrender” has the advantage. However, an upset at the polls is not out of the question. Especially with what you noted above.

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