The Thought Police, Part 1

It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be.
1984

I was having an unexpected conversation with a student the other day. She was clearly upset and I asked her what was going on. She was having trouble with a classmate who was shockingly adept at finding her buttons and pushing them. This girl has a HUGE heart, and has a button the size of Jupiter that says, “Cares for wounded birds” — and he would just JAM on that button. And this time, when he didn’t get what he wanted, he insulted her.

“Ryan, this doesn’t sound very unexpected.”

Yeah, I agree, but here’s how he did it. He called her a “nigger.” He’s white; she’s Asian…

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!” I hear you spit through a contorted face. But it gets more interesting.

This precious child says to me, “I don’t even think I’m allowed to be offended. I’m not black. I reached out to an Instagram account that deals with these things, but I haven’t heard back…”

She didn’t think she was allowed to be offended. Let that sink in… “Allowed”… Once more now — not allowed to be offended.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for not getting offended. But NOT ALLOWED. Seriously…

I leaned forward and quietly said, “Honey, no one gets to tell you what should and should not offend you. Your thoughts are your own. Right wrong good bad — but they’re yours. Be offended by whatever you are offended by.”

What I wanted to add was, “Besides, he intended to hurt you — what he said to do it hardly matters…”

While this may be an extreme case of self-“thought policing,” it’s hardly unique. People constantly tell themselves what they should or shouldn’t be thinking. We fill our heads with judgments about our judgments. Hardly constructive, I’d say. I think that an important consideration when noticing our thoughts is accepting that we have them. Not nurturing them, not squelching them, just noticing them.

Resistance and Grasping / Fear and Lack
“What we resist persists.” – paraphrase of Carl Jung
“No grip is tight enough to hold what we don’t have.” – me

A lot to unpack here, but for today’s conversation:

The quality required to change our thoughts is detached engagement. Part of detached engagement is acceptance. As a writer, I might suggest that we revise our thoughts, rather than edit them. Revision implies reconsidering, re-examining, then altering for effect. Editing implies correcting.

One way to start noticing patterns in our thoughts without judgment is a “Mitote” journal. Someone carrying out this practice keeps a journal with them and each time a judgment occurs — large or small, positive or negative — they write it down in the journal. If you were to judge yourself for what you wrote down, you’d write that judgment down, too. My Toltec teacher asked us to split the journal page down the middle, one side for when we were acting as a judge and the other side for when we were acting as a victim. It was incredibly informative…

And why is this “Part 1”? Well, at some point I’d like to discuss how thought policing is taking over certain parts of our culture. I grew up in the 90s when the Politically Correct movement really came into its own. Then, discussing use of language felt more about increasing awareness, and defining what was offensive had more to do with unexamined habits and less to do with an individual’s opinion of something someone said. These days, it’s being taken to a TERRIFYING extreme, and seems to be ALL ABOUT being OFFENDED, individually and on behalf of others.

I’ll leave you with another 1984 quotation:

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

May the fourth be with you,
Ryan

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