jason russell & #kony2012: playing the issue, not the person
Whether you are for, against or undecided on #Kony2012, no one would have expected to wake up to the news that one of the co-founders of the campaign, filmmaker Jason Russell, had been admitted to hospital for medical evaluation under odd circumstances.
The gleeful rants did not take long to fill the internet. Personal attacks against Russell in the aftermath of his breakdown are not hard to find as the wheels of social media turn, crushing anyone who falls in its midst.
Personally I find this both interesting and unfortunate. When #Kony2012 dropped I expressed my concerns about and overall disapproval of the campaign in a blog post which I eventually removed. One of the reasons for this removal was the personal attacks that I attracted, both from those I know and those I do not, for offering some considered cautions. I never made a personal attack against anybody involved with Invisible Children, and sought to stick to the actual issues involved. Unfortunately the same courtesy was not extended to me by some readers.
Of course I was by no means the only one offering critiques of #Kony2012. I was, however, disappointed by those whose critiques consisted solely of cruel personal jeers. Such critiques are not in any way relevant to the issues of #Kony2012 and reveal more about the authors than the targets.
This situation does not look to improve following Russell’s breakdown.
I can only imagine the stress he has been under in the past fortnight. My disagreements about his campaign in no way preclude my sympathy for him in this recent episode.
I am particularly inspired at this point to turn my attention to those who have made personal attacks in the midst of the events of the last fortnight. Whether it be against Russell, against me, or against others who have spoken out constructively about the issues involved, I am here voicing my disgust at those who can offer only personal criticism, who choose to play the person rather than the issue.
It is true, there is a time and place for considering how the traits, experiences and worldview of a person affect their perspectives. It can also be important to call things as they are – if someone is being a bully this may need to be pointed out, for example. Or a fool. Or possibly even a jerk.
But this never amounts to a personal attack as an end in itself – it is always with a view to addressing an issue and seeking truth and good practice. In other words there is an ultimate concern in playing the issue, not the person.
To play the person without reference to the issue is to imply that one has nothing to say about that issue. This reflects ignorance, laziness or lack of character. It is easy to attack the person and feel like you’ve made a point…
… but you haven’t.
It is much harder to offer intelligent reflection on a given issue. This takes time and effort. It takes brain power. It doesn’t require venomous malice, which is easy. The better person always plays the issue. Their response is to humanise rather than dehumanise, to refuse to shoot the wounded.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own.
In the case of Russell there is no need to even reflect this deep, since there is a blatant hypocrisy amongst many who have criticised him in the midst of this most recent event. Indeed, criticising those who supported #Kony2012 because they “jumped on a bandwagon” is easy to do, and in many instances probably holds some grain of truth. But this criticism is moot when it comes from someone who themselves jumped on the classier #Horny2012 bandwagon.