Do you really take responsibility though?
If a celebrity does something good, and nobody is there to see it, should they fire their publicist?
There’s a lot of emphasis on appearances recently. Actually, it’s not that this is a recent problem, it’s that there’s so much more scrutiny of our actions and inactions now. Each of us has a platform, each of us is a brand. Where we might have remained silent on an issue in days gone by, or admitted we didn’t have all the information, today whether we’re qualified to have an opinion on an issue is less important than whether we express the right one.
And because appearances are so important, “the right one” simply means whatever most clearly signals affiliation with the “correct” group or ideal. The celebrities who appeared in this video didn’t ask themselves what it means to “take responsibility”, or whether they can live up to the promise of “no longer allowing an unchecked moment”. They didn’t question what “standing against hate” means in the context of ending racism, or even whether it helped anybody in any way that they appeared in a video dripping with fake sincerity so that the world might see how virtuous they are. They didn’t feel that they needed to. All that mattered was that they were seen to feel a certain way.
Would whatever efforts they might have made to stand up to racism have been equally effective if they didn’t tell us all about them? Of course they would have. But what’s the point of doing good things if nobody knows you did them? If a tree falls in the woods but nobody is there to hear it, there’s no doubt that it falls, but that doesn’t matter. These people just want to make sure that everybody hears the sound.
Still, it would be naive of me to suggest that perception is just something which is cynically manipulated by celebrities, it’s cynically manipulated by the media too. Our perception of the world is manipulated too. It’s shaped by the things we’re shown repeatedly and by the things we’re not shown at all. Moulded by the opinions we listen to most often. And most of all it’s manipulated by our emotions, by fear and anger and the feeling of helplessness. This is a problem because perception is all we have. What we believe the world to be is, for all intents and purposes, what the world is. It cannot be any other way.
Luckily, there is a way we can manipulate our own perception. It begins with the recognition that our perception might be wrong, or at least, in conflict with a more complete picture. We’re like the blind men trying to describe an elephant by touching one small part of it. Our picture of reality is necessarily incomplete.
This is why we need the second step; seeking information from sources that tel; a different story to the one we hear most often. To continue our analogy, this would be like the blind men coming together, and after acknowledging that they each had a unique perspective, talking about what they had discovered. They could try to understand how each of the separate parts they were describing fit together, what the relative sizes of each of these parts was, they could confirm each other’s findings, and in this way, build up a more accurate picture of what an elephant is like than any of them was able to on their own.
And lastly, we remain open to new information. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t believe things or even be certain of things. The process of allowing our view to be challenged, listening to different perspectives, and assimilating different points of view, should make us feel certain of ourselves. That certainty is earned by putting in the effort to learn. But there’s always the possibility that new information can change our entire picture. Maybe none of the blind men was touching the elephant’s trunk. How would they know unless someone came along and added this new information?
Even after this entire lengthy process, all you’re left with is still only your perception of an event. It will still be incomplete, it might still be inaccurate, others will still disagree with it. This is as good as it gets. But knowing this can help us to be more humble when speaking and more compassionate when listening. Everyone else is in the same boat. Nobody is certain, even if they claim they are. But the more sincere we are about discovering the truth rather than pretending our perception is the whole picture, the more willing we are to listen to different perspectives instead of defending our own, the more effort we make to truly solve problems, instead of signalling to the world that we want to, the closer even blind people like us can get to seeing the whole elephant.