Kage Baker was a person of ferociously held convictions. Nor did she change her mind easily or readily. In fact, the best way to force her into a relentless entrenchment was to try to change her mind. The mere fact of opposition set up a defensive stiffening and hardening of her attitude – like emotional Kevlar.
Nonetheless, one could leave out morsels and tidbits of information, and she very likely would come out to taste eventually. Suspicious, glitter-eyed, with avoidance reflexes like a squirrel on caffeine – but when she stopped that levitating and jetting off in the opposite direction behaviour, Kage could be convinced to sample a new fact. And since she was pretty logical, once the reflexive denial wore off, she’d adjust her stance if the new data was convincing.
One of the things she taught me, though, was that not everyone can be convinced to share your viewpoint. Another thing was that most such disagreements can be dealt with in courtesy and peace; but that carried the dark corollary that most people don’t want you to acknowledge their opinion while you disagree: they want you to capitulate and admit defeat. And in those cases, Kage taught me, never, ever do that.
Be silent, if you must. Withdraw from the argument, decline to be drawn. Turn – if not the other cheek – at least away. The veracity of your beliefs does not require that they be the loudest, nor the most shared, nor the least tolerant of others. Your own most important beliefs don’t require a single freaking thing except you and your own courage to hold fast.
I’ve seen her debate various topics at many conventions, bright-eyed and involved and as cheerfully fierce as a cartoon pirate: it was all in good fun. I also remember seeing her withdraw subtly from people who could not contain their anger at being opposed. When one such lady demanded of Kage, partway through a panel, why she was being so quiet, Kage leaned into the microphone and said, “We can’t talk to each other. We don’t speak the same language. I’ll be glad to wait while you yell everything you have to say.”
Kage got applause. The lady fell into fulminating silence. The relieved moderator returned the panel from Buffy the Vampire scripts (which the angry lady had unsuccessfully tried to sell) to the importance of research in alternate history stories … thus reversing the left turn into the Twilight Zone engineered by anger.
My sister Kage was shy. She hated conflict. She was afraid of yellers and angry people. But she showed me how to quietly stand up to them, how to depart the field of battle when you didn’t want to fight but would not surrender. Important lessons.
I am brought to these ruminations by two unrelated, unpleasant experiences last night.
First, idly following links online, I discovered something called “Dominionism”, a shade of colour in the fundamentalist politico-Christian community of which I was previously unaware. I’d like to think it’s up there with death panels, the aliens who keep visiting the White House, the ghosts in the Lincoln bedroom and other such myths of American politics – but apparently it’s not. Scary stuff. And its devotees don’t subscribe to the Marquis of Queensbury rules; I got into a late night comments war that was positively psychotic – only as a bystander, but the acid burns kept me awake a while.
Then I foolishly got into an actual argument, elsewhere and on another topic, that degenerated into name-calling and similar vitriol. With an utter stranger, who evidently had somehow acquired secret knowledge of me that entitled him to wax furious on several aspects of my private life … all over a fight in which, as they say, neither of us actually had a dog. After a couple of astonished gasps, I took my fish-out-of-water self back to my little dark pond, and read a work on evolutionary development until I could sleep.
I think I am going to stay quietly in my private pool for a while, and repeat Kage’s lessons to myself. The water out there in the abyssal plain is full of crazy fish.