I really enjoyed The Mandalorian, it’s a very well made production, actually, I think I prefer it to the Star Wars films (don’t shoot me, unless you’re a Storm Trooper, in which case, fire away, you’ll never hit me anyway!). I think there’s still a long way to go, but it was great to see a strong woman character in a prominent role, the character of Cara Dune, played by Gina Carano.
There’s been a bit of a dilemma I’ve considered for many years now, which is around separating the art, from the artist. For the most part, I can still enjoy, for example, certain pieces of music, written or performed by people who have expressed opinions or done things that I don’t agree with, or even that I’m fundamentally against. Although I can still enjoy what someone does, without agreeing with what they say or do, I think it’d be fair to say, that it does change my relationship with the art. It may be, that my enjoyment is interrupted by my thoughts and feelings associated with the artist, at worst, those feelings could be bad enough, to make me not want to have anything to do with the art anymore.
Around the time of the end of the second season of The Mandalorian, I became more aware of Gina Carano, and sadly, I was disappointed in what I was hearing. It seems some of Gina’s comments, mainly on social media, had a strong emotional effect on some people. I hadn’t really looked into them in depth, the gist of it was that Gina is quite conservative, there were accusations eluding to her being the kind of person who has strong views, possibly against people having to wear masks during the Covid Pandemic. I think the thing that caught my eye, was that something she’d written, or done, was considered by some, to be transphobia. It seemed fairly straight forward. From what I understand, Gina felt she was being pressurised into putting her gender pronouns on her social media profile. I think people, even cis gender people, making their pronouns known, is a good thing, it helps those of us who are non-binary, or transgender and so forth, feel more accepted. However, I think it’s up to individuals if they wish to show their pronouns, and certainly, I don’t think it’s healthy for anyone to feel like they are being pressurised into it. I don’t know the details of what happened, Gina’s feelings are important, so are the feelings of those who feel marginalised.
There are differences of opinion, but all opinions are valid, whether I agree with them or not. Someone holding an opinion that I disagree with, is not a problem in itself, people have a right to freedom of thought. People have a right to freedom of expression too, but one of the problems I see increasingly, that goes along with the notion of freedom of expression, is the way some people, seem to act on those opinions, as if they are entitled to use their freedom of expression, without considering the consequences.
For me, I think consequences of freedom of expression, is mainly about relationships, how we relate to each other. Perhaps every set of interactions we have with another person, or people, is a relationship. I think that the healthier our interactions are with each other, the healthier those relationships are. The healthier the relationship, the better the connection, regardless of differences of opinion. A better connection, means greater empathy with each other, and empathy, I think, is crucial to resolving conflict.
Having empathy for someone, doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with someone. I see empathy as a skill, it can be learnt, it can be switched on, or switched off. I think people in general, perhaps more so in modern society, switch empathy off, often. I think this happens in part to protect ourselves from our own feelings, because sometimes, having empathy for someone else, can result in exposing our own feelings about ourselves and the world around us, this can be painful. Maybe it’s not just empathy though, compassion, having it, and showing it, is important.
There are things that perhaps we all do sometimes, which helps to switch off our empathy and compassion, ultimately, to protect ourselves, even to make it easier to use offence, as a defense. If we switch off empathy in a situation of conflict, it can make it seem easier, emotionally, to fight back against a perceived threat.
One ‘tool’ some people use, to switch off empathy and compassion, is humour. In particular, humour that could be perceived as passive aggression. This leads me back to Gina Carano. It may be, that there were people who felt attacked by something that Gina had written in response to a suggestion around displaying her pronouns. I’m not commenting on whether or not anyone was actually attacked, more the perception. Perhaps people who were interacting with her, had switched off empathy, assumed she was inherently ‘wrong’. What I think I do know though, is that Gina Carano’s response, was to display joke pronouns on her profile. Obviously, with something like that, there’s no explicit reason given for it, but I think Gina herself said it was just humour, in relation to feeling pressurised into displaying her pronouns. I am not so sure it was just humour though, sure it was funny, but I doubt the intention behind it, was simply to make people laugh. Instead, I suspect, this seemingly small act, this piece of humour, was passive aggression, directed at those who she felt were pressurising her. I could of course, shrug it off, on its own, it’s not a big deal.
I think often, particularly in social media arguments, there’s a kind of contextual isolation that happens, probably as a form of defense. What I often think I see, are people isolating comments, quotes, from wider context. A piece of writing by someone, can be broken down, even sentence by sentence, and then in doing so, a single sentence can be pointed at, fixated on. By isolating only part of the argument, that part of the argument, may seem harmless on it’s own. The statement might be a truth. Then some people might apply a fallacy to this, which is that because this one piece of writing is true, or just seemingly harmless, it in someway invalidates the arguments of others, and in turn this can diminish the feelings of others, who see the wider context.
In the case of Gina Carano, it may have been a small piece of passive aggression, manifested in humour. This can be pointed out, and people can be told “look, it was just a joke, it’s harmless”. Maybe Gina felt overwhelmed, angry (this is not wrong, it just is), and she simply reacted in a way that she’s learnt to react. If that’s the case, at the point at which she did what she did, she probably had empathy and compassion, switched off, she may even have known this, and felt justified, because she felt under attack. Was it a healthy thing to do though? I think probably not. Who wants conflict? In the heat of the moment, a quip, a piece of passive aggression, can be the go to thing, it’s easy to do, and we might tell ourselves “I don’t give a shit what they think”. What’s the most likely result though? If Gina had paused for a moment, grounded her feelings, she may have still thought that she has a right to freedom to expression, and indeed, she has, but what about the consequences of exercising it? Even if she still concluded that she doesn’t care about the people the passive aggression might be aimed at, would it still be a healthy thing to do? I think not, and the reason I think that, is because it probably wouldn’t be exercising self care. It might make her feel ‘good’ for a while, ha, she sure showed those idiots, but it was never likely to resolve the conflict, in an unwinnable fight. She threw a punch, maybe a good punch, but one that had the effect of getting punched back even more, because the result of her seemingly harmless bit of humour, was that she was perceived as being transphobic.
Ah, but, of course! Gina wasn’t responsible for what happened next, right? She was just exercising her freedom of expression, that’s more important than anything else? It was justified? She was under attack. If people respond badly to a bit of humour, that’s their problem?
Gina thinks she’s being punched, she punches back, she’s a better fighter, she has to win. Except this is not a fist fight, and it’s probably not a fight that is winnable. It’s a conflict of opinions, in a relationship, between strangers, with little or no connection, no empathy, no compassion for each other. The conflict is probably unwinnable, simply because its a conflict of opinions, either side could declare themselves the winner at any point, but the fighters will either just get fed up, and walk away with a false sense of achievement, or feeling like it was utterly pointless, or it’ll just keep going with no end. Really, perhaps the goal here is not for a side to win, but for both sides to find a way, to stop punching each other, and effectively hurting each other. It probably needs to be up to the individuals involved, to change what they are doing, rather than expecting the other side to change, or trying to force them to change. This may mean, that one or both sides, might have to do something that they might feel, is making a concession, or even showing weakness. It might even be, in my fight analogy, that someone has to in effect, drop their guard, and just allow the other side to throw their punches. This is fine though, because, it’s not a real fight, no-one is getting physically hurt.
In the case of Gina Carano vs The Pronoun Warriors, perhaps Gina was driven to punch back, because she though she had a right to. She also had a right to choose not to fight back though. Then again, I suspect fighting isn’t all about hitting your opponent until they fall over, anyway.
Gina could have just walked away, but then, I suspect, that didn’t seem like an option, maybe because she was stuck in the fight, not seeing that it wasn’t a real one, one that is truly winnable, with structure and rules that are set out beforehand, and maybe because she felt she was justified in using her freedom of expression, however she wanted to, regardless of consequences. Unless you really enjoy the thought of potentially spending months or even years, stuck in an annoying, unwinnable situation, continuing with the same tactic, doesn’t seem appropriate. Maybe it’s not a case of enjoying it, maybe the fight is a distraction. When we’re fighting, we’re focused on the fight, not on other stuff, such as messy, painful feelings, perhaps about other things that are going on or have happened in our lives. So in that respect, it’s potentially a form of avoidance behaviour. You probably can’t avoid yourself forever though, and the older you get, the more you fight, and the less you’re dealing with things that are more important. As time goes by, it can be more and more difficult, to get out of the fight, and most of the time, you’re probably fighting yourself.
There may have been another option. Being assertive. It’s okay to be annoyed, or angry. Gina may well have been justified in feeling whatever it is she felt. If the subject causing these feelings, is important enough, it may not be healthy to be passive about it (although, there may be a better outlet for feelings about it). If we’re passive, emotions such as anger can manifest themselves somewhere else, unhealthily. Passive aggression is one way in which normally being passive, or feeling like you don’t have a voice, manifests itself. My point, so far, has been that I don’t think passive aggression is a good way of getting yourself heard, respected, or your beliefs accepted. Instead, it’s likely to push people further away, and to push someone further away from themselves.
Assertive Communication, involves communicating your thoughts and feelings, in a way that is empowering for you, and respects the opinions of others, even if you disagree with them. All opinions are considered valid, there’s no right or wrong opinion, these are opinions, thoughts, feelings, ideas. We may disagree intensely with someone else’s opinion, their opinion might even seem abhorrent to us, but it’s still a opinion that is valid. Crucially perhaps, whilst being passive may not be a good option, being aggressive, in a situation where there’s no physical threat in particular, is also generally not a good option either. Probably immediately, the most important thing to do is to walk away, or just pause. Clear your head, then be aware of your emotions, but bring them down to a level where they are not in control of your actions. If you then wish to continue to make your point, the best option, is could be to do so assertively. That can be hard, because it means you’ve got to change the way you do things, which probably means accepting that you can’t make other people change, at least not directly, through aggressive communication. Once you’ve let go of the unhealthy defenses, and of the overwhelming emotions, you are free. Once you are free, you may start to be more aware of yourself, as a whole, also more aware of those around you, including those who may be trying to fight you still. Things that people say or do, can still hurt, be aware of the pain, consider why you’re feeling it. Is the pain really a direct result of the immediate situation, or might it be a manifestation of something that has happened in your life before? If it is the latter, then remind yourself that you are not there anymore, you are safe. You have your freedom of expression still, but you are also now in control, you can choose how you use that freedom to get the healthiest result. Understanding that perhaps your perceived opponent, although you disagree with them, may actually have plenty in common with you, they may be stuck in the same place you were stuck in. Listening is very useful. What you may find then, is that things that seemed like a personal attack on you previously, actually weren’t really about you. Asking questions can be good, it can not only reveal useful information, but it can also cause the other person to slow down, and think. By being interested in the other person’s opinion, even if you think you don’t agree with it, it can have the effect of the other person, feeling valid. It’s possible that what they say may irritate you, but the content of what they are saying, is only part of the importance of it. From here, it’s possible that dialogue begins, and from that dialogue, both sides, can connect, particularly if you guide the conversation more toward things you might have in common.
After a while, it’s just possible, that what seemed like an endless fight to the death, becomes two people, or more, having a conversation. The conversation can still be feature a disagreement of opinion, it may still never on the whole, be resolved with all people in agreement (it might though!) but importantly, it won’t be so distressing, it’ll be on more common ground, understanding, and can lead to peace.