I study how we talk about evildoers and how this affects how we respond to them. When we label folks or events as "evil" we never have to reflect on our own role in the crime, violence, or loss.
We love these good-bad binaries. Our superhero films are filled with them. They bring us comfort, they reassure us of our pure victimhood and help us identify the bad guys so we will not be harmed in the future.
What I am finding, however, is how we talk about the "enemy" often sets us up for more long-term problems.
Negotiating with IRMA
I spent most of Sunday terrified as IRMA barreled towards my family huddled on the 4th floor of a condo in Naples, Florida. First we waited to find out if they lost the roof and if the windows had blown in. Then we waited to see if they could survive the 10-15 foot anticipated storm surge.
First we focused on their lives and then all their few, but most precious possessions. The surge never came and the roof remained, but we are all changed. Below is a photo of one IRMA victim near their home.
I began last night's negotiation class last night talking about times when negotiation is NOT possible -- IRMA you cannot negotiate with IRMA. And yesterday was the 9/11 anniversary. You cannot negotiate very well with folks willing to die to drive a plane into a building. Accountability seems very clear in these instances; IRMA ruined the beaches and the terrorists killed those working in the Twin Towers. This seems so clear.
Is IRMA Innocent?
Then a National Geographic video challenged this narrative that IRMA and her friend JOSE are at fault. They showed how rising sea temperatures increase the likelihood of category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Some scientists anticipate these can become the norm, not the exception. My parents survived one, but I am not sure they can survive another.
National Geographic talked about how this administration will not acknowledge any connection between climate change and these hurricanes. This made me wonder, who benefits when we externalize IRMA and JOSE making us innocent victims of these abstract, inhuman perpetrators? Does industry benefit? Do consumers unwilling to change their behavior benefit?
By naming them and blaming the storms, we opt out of responsibility wherever it does lie. I am not a scientists, I cannot say whether rising temperatures are causing these hurricanes. But no one wants to inhale pollution, everyone wants clean water. Rather than just being victims of an outside terror, the storms are if not a call at least an opportunity to step up and cool down the planet.