We've all had harassment in our lives. Most of us learned how to deal with it from people or small groups as we grew up.
The basic rule to dealing with harassment is to keep as much or more power than you had when it started. Men's instinct is to fight and win. Winning a fight seems like a good way to win one of these battles, and rarely it can be effective. One time, I fought 7 people at the same time and kicked their asses! What a win right?
No, I LOST because I went berserk when they uncovered and abused a core issue I had. They fled terrified of me, told stories of how messed up I was and destroyed my image through the school. Since I let them see and effect me through this weakness, I was the one who lost power.
This leads to the core answer: The best way to remove a harasser's power is to be unaffected by the harassment.
Love and Laughter are definitely the most powerful ways to do this. My favorites include:
- Start an insult war as a game that YOU are having fun playing. Grade their insults, theatrically think about and then return other ones... (extra points if they start playing the game too and you all have a laugh together)
- Find something funny and laugh at it. It's easy to find something, people are silly. If you have a hard time ask them to wait a moment as you go obtain something funny; then return and enjoy it in their presence.
- Stand there watching them silently (extra points if you find a way to see the situation in an amusing light).
- Stand there and feel love for them... then express it. Compliment them, celebrate them, pray for them... It's funny how much that bothers angry people.
While fun and simple, the above techniques work best with single persons or smaller groups concerning topics where people are unwilling to raise the stakes. There is power in numbers. Mob mentality is powerful and can be scary. Additionally, there are fanatics who are perfectly willing to raise the stakes and apply pressure to get what they want... As pagans become more mainstream we are seeing more organized harassment from fundamentalist groups (http://wildhunt.org/blog/2010/03/first-they-came-for-the-swingers.html). I am going to use this article as a way to open thinking about how to respond to organized harassment in any form.
Remember, the core rule is to have equal or greater power at the end of these interactions. It's very hard to maintain your power when faced with a large number of people intent to remove it. Below are some common tactics used in organized harassment and ways to respond which empower you and your purpose.
- Constant Pressure - A good harasser knows that even the strongest persons get tired. If they can organize consistent enough harassment they will eventually find you on a bad day. The most powerful portion of this is that they don't even need to outnumber you, out argue you, or even out stubborn you. They just have to follow the plan and hand it off to someone else when they get tired. Some abortion clinics have dealt with constant harassment for years on end... Literally 24/7/365.
From the start of an attrition decide if you actually care enough to deal with this. It sucks backing down, but if the only thing keeping you from backing down is not wanting to back down, then eventually you will. Once you figure out WHY you want to stand your ground, find allies. Begin building your support network while you're still strong and positive. You're going to get tired and having a plan for when you do will help immensely.
If you can't find a support network you need to back down. Find a way to bow out gracefully while you're strong enough to do so. Be a little creative here. Make your point as you go out, not because you'll win (you won't), but because you'll feel better about getting in a good blow and perhaps your response will galvanize the people who wouldn't support you to do something the next time this group uses the same tactic in the future.
The leads to the annoying weed tactic. It is a LOT of work to organize a good protest. Smile at the harassers and inform them that they win and you'll be going away/out-of-business/whatever. Then leave. Once the harassers leave return/reopen and announce to the world that their win was empty. Victories which have little meaning are dis-empowering. Do this enough times and the organizer will have a difficult time gathering the level of support they started with. Let them win the battle in ways which weaken their support and ultimately cause you to win the "war".
- Large Numbers - Few things are scarier than a mob. Facing the simmering power of 50-100 people's shared emotions is be downright terrifying. Even if the mob is peaceful, you can NOT deal with this on your own. Depending on your strength of will, one person can stand up to between 1 and 15 people. Past that point you'd have to be one of the greats to do it once let alone over the course of time.
Closeness matters. If all you have to do is complete a single task like passing through the crowd, three willful people can handle hundreds for a short time. For longer sit-outs, find 1 ally for every 10 of your opponents to stay with you and you'll probably be okay. Again bring humor or entertainment. It takes a lot of the power out of a large crowd to see the targets of their Ire sitting comfortably in lawn chairs watching a movie laughing and acting as if they don't exist. Extra points if you have signs saying something like "We know you hate us for being Pagan, but it's ok... we love you anyway."
- Shout-outs - Being numerous, loud and obnoxious is a great way to interrupt normal activities and get attention. If you make enough noise you can make it so that the other side can't have their say. Shout-outs can even lead to the next header "peer pressure."
Stop assuming that you need to be heard, or that they win if you change what you're doing. It is okay for them to shout themselves hoarse while you stand there silently or even continue your activities if possible. If you were trying to do something and they have successfully forced a change, help your allies recognize that it's okay to change plans then practice the annoying weed tactic. Move the activity to another location where you will be able to deal with the protesters. You may even want to perform a scatter and regather to fake locations a couple times to lead the protesters on a merry chase. Eventually you'll wear them down. If nobody wants to work this hard and your plans are just borked, find a way to have fun now and try again some other time. It's key to help your group feel strong about this. Rather than being angry that your activity was interrupted, help your group feel good that they were strong in the face of adversity.
- Peer Pressure - One of the side effects of this pressure can be to incidentally target your neighbors or other people in the area who will eventually want to get rid of you to end the harassment. It's one thing to stand up to harassment when it's targeting you, it's another to be an innocent bystander who has to put up with it because their neighbor has enemies.
Carefully think about the "innocent bystanders." If you're being harassed, people who help you will be harassed too. Deal with this problem head on by giving people an out. Let them know that you understand if they don't want to deal with this challenge and that you'll still love them later no matter what they do. You will probably still have a lot of people back away, but this way they'll express their emotional support before they go. Now, rather than feeling rejected from their leaving, you'll feel like a strong warrior carrying on with the emotional support of loved ones. Be aware of the consequences before you attempt to contact someone. An old friendly acquaintance might turn into someone who strongly dislikes you if you bring a hailstorm of property damage with you when you come.
Remember your why. Live your choice and understand that you are living it alone. Allies will come and go as time goes by. Peer pressure can be powerful. If the peer pressure is successful then stay in love and go with the flow.
Remember this isn't just about you and the protesters, it is about all of the people who are watching this whole thing unfold. Consistently step back and look at the situation from an outsiders point of view. It's amazing how often a losing battle will look like a winning war from this perspective: If the harassers are screaming and being horrible, and you are being loving, then you are building an undercurrent of support. People may not be willing to stand up for you, but minor changes in people's perspective will eventually erode the support that the harassers started with.
- Property Damage - This is a hard one for me. If someone damages my stuff I REALLY want to hurt them. I'd say to bring them to justice, but in truth I usually want to punish them. Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY the response they are aiming for. If they can bring you down to their level, then the smear game works and whoever whines into more ears afterwards wins.
You have to let go of your stuff the moment you start dealing with harassers. Decide to disallow harassers from using it from bringing you down to anger.
To prevent property damage, remember the power of accountability. If you are dealing with a larger crowd that has any chance of getting nasty, work to get media there and/or begin conspicuously taking pictures and video of the whole event. Now if there is property damage you can use the evidence to ensure that government or at least the court of public opinion is against those who damaged your property. In America property damage is pretty universally frowned upon even by those who disagree with your position. Even if the person who did this is never punished by doing so they have strengthened your support and deserve gratitude for that at least.
- Basic Stupid Violence - There are two level of violence. The first is physical harassment. Throwing stuff, slapping at you or pushing you.
This can usually be dealt with by conspicuously recording the events as above. People rarely want their position to be remembered as the "aggressors." Remember... You give only peace.
- Dangerous Violence - The second form of violence is the nasty one. Someone pulls a gun, a group of people come forth to attack or the crowd riots.
If the rule of law still exists the best thing you can do here is run away. If you are strong and capable, help those who aren't get away. Violent "heroism" will turn you into someone who can be smeared. Avoid that position by retreating. The ONLY time you should fight is to save someone else and if you can find another way to do it then do so.
Always leave dangerous or deadly weapons at home. Just a glimpse of one could cause the crowd to riot, and it will be your fault on the 6:00 news and in the courtroom! Tasers or pepper spray are potent, and less likely to cause riots. It is reasonable to carry these if you are dealing with violent harassers, but keep them out of site lest someone claim you started violence by brandishing them. Only use them if lives are in danger. Make sure everyone knows that if you have to use violence (even pepper spray or taser), you've lost the war. However, I would rather lose the protest war than a loved ones life. Again, cameras will be your heroes here. If violence happens and you run (or are forced to defend someone) cameras will help the truth of the situation get out.
The court of public opinion:
We're in a position where most people will disagree with us. Luckily, we're not trying to get them to agree with us; we're trying to gain their respect and maybe even like us. People support harassing monsters, but they think poorly of harassing nice people. If the protesting is gentle and loving we will honor the people doing it and it will likely fade. If they are using tactics like in this article, their own actions will garner the public's dislike. This is why we don't need to be heard. Our kindness, gentleness and love will be apparent through any medium.
When giving media statements remember the goal is to be likable. Avoid arguing your position. Sympathize with people's (including the protester's) rights to believe as they do. In fact, celebrate the protesters effectiveness in using the very freedoms we appreciate! Express appreciation that, in this wonderful country, we are free to live our lives as we wish as long as we don't hurt others.
Consider the conversation opened. This article is optimized for search and aggregators. In a few weeks, this will be what pagans dealing with harassment will study. Comment below and help me make sure it is the most powerful tool possible so they can handle the challenges they are dealing with!