I'm not sure it's important here to explore why or how, but for a long time I've had a tendency to double check my thinking, apply doubt as if I were a person disagreeing, and this often involves putting myself in other people's places and beginning to imagine what their perspectives might be. In turn, imagining what alternative perspective there might be to mine or to any widely accepted view has become something I do automatically in many different situations. Various things result from this: if I make an assertion you can be pretty sure I don't do so lightly and am now not in much doubt that I'm right; if someone behaves in a way that is hurtful to me or disapproved of by others, I'm likely to suggest what might be going on in the other person's head to have made them behave that way. If I'm human and make mistakes and have 'baggage' that influences my behaviour, I see no reason why others shouldn't be the same.
When I was younger I perceived much of the world as either-or: blackorwhite, rightorwrong, yesorno, likeordislike, and found it difficult to contain two opposing ideas at once. These days I do have a few absolute beliefs but in general I see things much more in shades of grey: mostly right but that bit was wrong; on the whole no but a bit of me says yes to that part; like that except for disliking one or two aspects of it.
I think this part of my experience is more common than I used to believe; many of us struggle with holding two conflicting ideas at once at some time or another. When we struggle, we often lash out or at least react quickly. We want to resolve the conflict because conflict makes us uncomfortable.
So why now, why today? Where is this leading me? Well, it's leading me to write about my tendency to speak out about the possibility of another point of view. Occasionally this brings admiration from others if I am able to see the good side of someone who has treated me badly, for instance. On the other hand I've also been told that I'm "too tolerant". More usually, I'm just unpopular. Perhaps I don't make myself clear enough, but when I'm offering a possible explanation or perspective on something, it's often taken as a statement of my own point of view. Today is one of those occasions when I'm being misunderstood in this way and I'm feeling uncomfortable about how what I've said is being taken.
Today my Facebook newsfeed has been full of reports of an incident on a Nice beach where a woman wearing modest clothing, including a headscarf, had been instructed to remove some of her outer clothing by police. Most of the friends who shared the items or commented on others' sharing expressed horror or outrage or despair at how human beings were being treated.
I began the day by writing a post about why this might be happening as a comment to each 'share' that appeared on my newsfeed but because some of what I wrote was misunderstood by some other people, I gave up. And then felt unhappy with myself for keeping quiet.
What I wrote was this:
It is wrong ... and yet ..
Terrorist attacks are random. After attacks we hear on the news things like "A man had been seen in the area carrying a rucksack", or "an explosive device strapped to the body failed to go off."
In a place where dozens of people were killed or horribly injured, I think I'd worry that there was someone in the middle of a crowd I was part of who was wearing enough clothes to hide a device. We're told suicide bombers are often women. In France this summer I was more aware of such possibilities, especially in Paris, where there have been attacks already.
Yes, this kind of suspicion means the terrorists have won, but it's hard to resist. Like thinking when someone is late that they may have had a horrible car accident. They almost certainly haven't, but sometimes people do, so why not this time?
Of course she was innocently living her life as she chooses to, but the man who drove the bus into the crowds looked as if he was doing that before he got into the bus, I'd guess.
I remember when we had not infrequent terrorist attacks in the UK in the seventies. It does make you change your behaviour and become suspicious of innocent people. I'm not sure I'd go to a Nice beach at all at the moment, to be honest.
What happened was, for instance, someone asking if I thought people should not be allowed to wear trousers or overcoats. And saying that we must not give in to the fear. Then other comments were made about what should and shouldn't be. And so on. As if I was saying what should and shouldn't be. Well, at least, that's how some of the comments looked from where I'm sitting.
I'm really not doing that.
I rarely do that.
I just don't want to be silent when I feel some understanding - understanding, not endorsement - about why people behave the way they do. If you've just read the section in italics you may have noticed that I started by saying what happened was wrong. I went on to own up to feeling fearful in a way that changes my behaviour even when I know it's not the best thing to do. Because I am human. I want to speak for the other humans out there who are making mistakes.
As I understand it there is a fairly recent by-law forbidding this sort of modest clothing from beign worn on beaches, that has been brought in in a number of French towns to please by a population who are frightened by increasing terrorist attacks in their community. A population made up of people who are human, frightened. There is a national law a century old brought in by people who were human, who wanted to stop the serious conflicts between state and church by making the country largely secular where officialdom is concerned. And each policeman is human, given the job of enforcing a law but inside - who knows?
I don't have to like something to understand it. If I say I understand why you might behave in the way you did, I'm not necessarily agreeing with you but I am offering my understanding of your point of view. That feels ok, doesn't it? Especially as I put it into the second person. You'd like me to understand you. Well, ok. In the third person, singular or plural, I'm doing no more than offering the same to others.
Because I am human.