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Opinion

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Where people live, conflicts thrive.

It’s inevitable. Get two people in a room for long enough and, eventually, they will find elements about the other person that irritate them. It’s what drives people to watch some reality TV shows. Participants can’t stand each other, they call each other names and, before you know it, someone is screaming at someone else and the viewing audience at home is rubbernecking through the drama.

When it happens to other people, it’s entertainment. When it happens to us, it can hurt.

Why do we care what other people think? We know that some people will find fault with everyone — their mothers, siblings and bosses — making criticism inevitable and, ultimately, meaningless.

If someone stood on the side of the road and yelled “Duck!” often enough, pretty soon people would stop ducking, would stop looking for ducks, and, like so many other noises around them, wouldn’t hear the warning anymore.

And yet, when someone we know or even someone we’ve recently met indicates a disdain for us, scowls at our presence, or undermines our abilities, intelligence or effort, we feel cut to the quick. That person might just be repeating the same criticisms to us that he or she levies at everyone all the time.

It’s like a fortune cookie. We read something that says, “You need to think twice before taking advice.” Wow, we think, how incredibly insightful, even as we ignore the irony that we are taking advice from a small slip of paper crushed into a Pac-Man shaped cookie. Someone recently gave me advice that seems valuable, like quitting a job I hate, but maybe that person just wants to take my job or doesn’t want to hear me complaining. Maybe that advice doesn’t really apply to me after all.

The same holds true for insults, criticism and nastiness. It could apply to us or it could just be fortune cookie nastiness, conjured up by someone who may not enjoy the life he or she leads, trying to make everyone as miserable as them.

Insults are ubiquitous. Much of the time, however, the insult is an opinion, not a fact. There are times when an admonishment such as “You weren’t driving well” is accurate, particularly if you were driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

We don’t immediately imagine the person doing the insulting might be sharing an opinion about us that we would almost instantly dismiss if it were about our spouse, our children, our parents or our close friends. We think, “Maybe I am terrible at this,” or “Maybe I should be embarrassed.”

People make puppets, write stories about fictional characters, draw cartoons and imaginary figures because they want to control something.

But just because they want control doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Even assuming someone doesn’t like you, your appearance or your ideas, so what? Our preferences are so subjective that we can’t or shouldn’t try to please everyone.

We don’t have to play those reindeer games. We can disagree and express our opinions without attacking someone else. We follow whatever rules we set for ourselves and don’t need to fight fire with fire, hit back 10 times harder or show that we mean business. We can be more graceful than our detractors.

When someone attacks us, we don’t have to act as if we’re wearing a target. We can look at that person, put a slow smile on our face and say, “It’s too bad you feel that way. Maybe a good fortune cookie would cheer you up?”

Participants at the 2017 Women’s March in Port Jeff Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen the dominance of men in power being stripped down. The day-to-day climate regarding sexual harassment and misconduct have surely changed, but we need to keep this #MeToo dialogue open.

TBR News Media hosted female local government officials, lawyers and activists at our Setauket office to speak about their feelings regarding the behavior of men, and we thank them for their openness and raw stories, sometimes relating to men of high status.

While high-profile allegations and apologies mount, it’s not the actors, politicians and TV stars with whom we should be most concerned. It’s the people around us. We’ve found most often that it’s just when we share our stories, big or small, that we’re really getting somewhere. Getting people together — especially women in power — we can come up with strategies to enact change. We hope that what’s lasting from this remarkable moment in history is not just the list of famous men left in the rubble, but rather the idea that leveraging power to diminish someone else’s self-worth is a thing of the past.

Hearing the wide array of stories from women who have been elected to lead communities, from being grabbed during a middle-school class to being asked inappropriate questions by a boss, the truth is that these things can happen to anyone. And it’s clearly time for a cultural overhaul.

We hope that a byproduct of this moment is also prevention, which can come in the form of education to ensure our boys don’t grow up to become the sexual abusers of tomorrow. To guarantee that this happens, we would like to see school districts and colleges create stricter rules and hold kids accountable for their actions, whether they’re the star lacrosse player heading to the championship or the valedictorian of their class.

In the process of this shift, we don’t want to run out of steam. An issue so long ingrained in society needs a multipronged approach. With that, women shouldn’t fear sticking up for themselves — think about it not as your job being on the line but your principles on the verge of breaking. While the bad behavior of powerful men is what has created this movement, raising confident girls and creating an environment for them to flourish into strong women is another antidote.

Women are, at last, being heard. But we want to make sure that every woman is heard. The focus should be on the prey and not the predator. Just because your abuser wasn’t famous doesn’t mean your story doesn’t need to be heard. To keep steering the #MeToo ship in the right direction, we will continue to run stories on the development of the issue. If anyone, male or female, would like to share a story, anonymous or not, call 631-751-7744 or email desiree@tbrnewsmedia.com. The only way to get to a better tomorrow is to share the stories of yesterday and today, to heal, to learn from our actions and to create stronger reactions in the hopes of continuing to rip down the abuse of power that has landed us in this mess.

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