It takes all kinds

I have a very distinctive memory from my time in the LDS missionary training center back in 2002.  In the center, missionaries (who at the time were 19-26 for men, but mostly 19) are divided into groups called districts.  Each district is assigned a leader, which is one of the missionaries.  I was assigned to be the leader of my district.  Even though all it amounts to is really just being given the key to the mailbox for the district's mail, I took the title seriously and tried to do my best to keep the missionaries in my district in line.

I was very authoritarian.  I would scold my missionaries.  I would berate them for stepping out of line.  I was not very forgiving.  I expected all of them to fit into a particular mold--that of my own image of what a missionary should be.  One of the missionaries at one point said that it takes all kinds and that he's grateful for diversity.  I've thought about that over these years.

I often hear people saying things like "no one should...." or "we don't need...."  I've seen many people say that they don't like negativity and therefore people shouldn't be negative.  That people should only post positive things online.  I disagree with the logic.  I believe that we need positive and negative.  That there is a place for both.  There is a place for laughing, a place for crying, a place for yelling, and perhaps even a place for fighting.

I've thought about that concept in regards to the recent events in Ferguson.  I've thought about it more generally in regards to activism.  I have decided that I believe that there is place in society for different types of activists (and non-activists).  I saw nearly everyone condemn the rioters and looters in Ferguson.  While I do not believe that they should be praised, nor do I believe that what they have done is necessarily "good", I do believe that it has a place in society.  I think that there is a place for agitators.  There is a place for peacemakers.  There is a place for diplomats.  There is a place for liberals and conservatives.

To help see my perspective on the matter, let's consider activism.  In particular, let's consider the gay rights movement.  The same thing will apply to any other movement, and even more generally to politics or social structure.  The gay rights movement has had many different types of people in it.  There are flaming homosexuals.  There are drag queens.  There are gender benders that push the envelope of the ideas of what is masculine and what is feminine.  There have been what some call "HRC gays", who conform to heteronormativity.  They try to fit in to society, even be conservative (at least compared to others in the movement).  There are those who are very outspoken and often angry.  There are those who call for peace and strive to build bridges.

I believe that both are necessary to have a successful movement.  Without the agitators, the movement would likely never be sparked in the first place.  Without the Stonewall rioters fighting back against the police and standing up for themselves and saying "We've had enough", the bullying of gay people may have continued as strong as it was back then.  Because of those people, we have seen a huge advance in gay rights in this country.  We have seen a change from then, when it was acceptable for police officers to treat homosexuals as criminals to now, where it is acceptable for police officers to be openly gay and openly display affection for their same-sex partners.

I view myself as an agitator.  I struggled with this for a while.  I would notice that I'd hurt someone's feelings or made someone angry at me and it would make me feel bad and cause me to stop and reflect on my own actions.  I hope that doesn't stop.  But I have finally accepted myself as an agitator.  I believe that what I do serves a purpose in society.  I believe that there is need for people to point out things that are bad and make the assertion that change must happen.  I feel like I'm more prepared now to face opposition than when I first started being an activist.

I believe that agitators act as a catalyst to start a movement or to keep a movement progressing forward.  I also believe that peacemakers are needed as well.  In part to clean up some of the damage that is caused by the agitators.  An agitator might say something that offends people outside the movement.  For example, a gay activist may offend privileged straight people by pointing out that straight privilege exists.  This is not an inaccurate assessment, nor is it meant maliciously.  It is meant to point out that change must be made and that we gay people will not stand for being oppressed any longer.  But when it is said, it comes across as spiteful to straight people.  This is where peacemakers are needed.  We need people to build bridges with those who are more conservative--those who wish to protect the status quo.  We need people who can come in afterward and apologize or mitigate hurt feelings.  We need people who can translate from gay speak to straight speak.  These people are good at wording things in a way that doesn't affront straight people but gets across essentially the same meaning as the agitators.

In the context of Ferguson, we need people who riot.  We need people who show that they are so upset they're willing to do drastic things to exhibit their anger.  We also need peaceful protestors.  We need those who make a point that there can be change within the system and that we can use the tools in place to help fight for the rights of those who are oppressed.  We need people who can help white people understand why there are rioters.  We need interpreters who understand how black people feel and how white people feel and communicate to both of them to build on common ground and reach a better mutual understanding.

I will even be so bold as to admit that we need conservatives.  We need people who uphold tradition and the status quo.  In many things we do, there is a reason for the status quo.  If something has worked for generations, there is wisdom in being cautious about changing it.  If we immediately changed anything that we thought needed to be changed, we would lack any real stability.  We need continuity.  We need an anchor.

Perhaps at times some of what I do may fit into the peacemaker category.  I don't think that any one individual must always fit into one category and never change.  But I think of myself as an agitator.  I get passionate about injustices that I see.  I rant about things.  I do not fear pointing out things that I think are wrong or unjust or illogical.  I often put my foot in my mouth.  I often become more angry than is reasonable to be.  That is how I am, and I do not see a need to repent of it.  I am becoming more open to other people being different.  I am learning to loosen my grip and not try to control other people into being the person I want them to be.  I am learning to appreciate each individual for eir place in society and eir contributions, whether they be for or against what I personally believe.  It's not an easy thing for me to learn.  But I think it's an important thing to learn.