I don’t know whether sharing the specifics of the story is worthwhile. Witnessing a negative event is like receiving a chain letter. We feel compelled to share what we saw – but we magnify the negative effect when we do.
Briefly – and this time only – I’ll tell you what I saw: a guy pissing on a Judaica Bookstore window, in broad daylight. His girlfriend was with him, standing next to him, proudly. It was no accident, or coincidence. He was peeing demonstratively, swinging his penis back and forth, as if to be sure to cover the entire area of his concern – a poster mourning the loss of life in the Middle East.
A number of us watched – more in shock or surprise than horror. No one was actually being hurt; it just seemed so odd. And to go over and intervene would be to risk being pissed on. Besides – it was so bizarre, and it happened so fast, that no one really had time to register exactly what was happening. Some big guys unloading cannisters of oxygen from a truck looked down at the pisser – more in dismayed confusion than anything else.
My friend was more shocked than I was. He said he never seen such a ‘blatant act of anti-Semitism in New York, before.’ At least, ‘not with my own eyes.’ (I suppose he had a more sheltered youth than I did.) He wanted to know if I thought we should go inside the store, and tell the shopkeeper what had been done.
‘Why?’ I asked. ‘So that he can be upset?’
We did end up going into the store. We did’t say anything to the store owner. Instead, I bought a little book – a way of creating a little good out of the whole affair. (I wouldn’t have even noticed the store had it not been pissed upon.) And then I thought about my Blog – about sharing this episode with you all.
And then I paused. Just as going into the store and telling the shopkeeper that his window had been ceremoniously drenched in urine would magnify and extend the effect of a single action, so, too, would sharing it online. It’s like one of those computer virus ‘warnings’ that isn’t a real virus – you have to decide whether it’s worth it to email the person back, telling them that they are publicizing something that isn’t true. Or is that just another way of extending the virus, whose sole intent is to create unnecessary email traffic?
So, I will post this blog – less as a way of sharing the bizarre urination event (or to gripe about the new wave of anti-Semitism passing over NYC thanks to misunderstandings about the Middle East and the Jews’ relationship to it) than to share what I’m learning about the principles of messaging and magnification.
I’m not saying we should always turn a blind eye, or remain quiet about oppression or racism. But I do believe that racism and oppression feed on themselves. The more we publicize each negative act we see, the more we give the impression that these things are happening – and the more permission we give to others to do the same. (Like all those reports about school shootings, even though the actual number of shootings in schools has been on a decline for the past ten years.)
If we are to do anything, it is not to wring our hands and share what we’ve seen – but to intervene when something is actually happening.
I saw a bad thing happen, and I did nothing to stop it.