Recently in another venue I had occasion to disagree, publicly but in a minor way, with an online friend who’d published an article that I agreed with – mostly, but not entirely.

It’s not the first time that’s happened. Indeed, I’ve said before, in the context of my criticism of my beloved PropertyTalk discussion forum, I can be an uncomfortable friend to have. Sorry.

As an act of discipline, I try to be ready to accommodate people perceiving my own words and actions – no matter how robustly expressed – differently to how I see them.

Sometimes I can appear to see things, or portray them, in black-and-white terms. Even with the abundant qualifiers, modifiers and softeners I deploy to emphasize that I’m only sharing my view of things, my opinion or conclusions based on what I’ve observed, it still comes out pretty harsh sometimes. (Maybe it’s a bit of the Asperger’s or something? Dunno.)

As someone who on occasions issues tough criticisms of other human beings, I know the truth of ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. So is ugliness, eh? I know I’m repeating myself, but I do really try to take this approach: “Oh, good, we see things differently. Let’s discuss this.” (That is, of course, a lot easier when it’s not your spouse ‘differing’ with you.)

So, no big deal, but this friend and I disagreed about an aspect of what she wrote. I frankly misjudged her reaction to me saying so (which, yeah, that happens) and copped a bit of heat back. Bokay. No tears. That also is going to happen.

Let me say the writer is someone I respect and admire for all sorts of solid reasons. She’s also someone who has influenced my thinking about a number of things, I’ve said as much, and she’s still well and truly in the ‘credit’ column as far as I’m concerned. I *think* we’re OK, but it got chilly for a little bit.

Anyway, it got me thinking. 

Our readiness to dismiss others, even those with whom we share a lot of common ground, because they don’t toe the line in a particular discussion or debate, or they say the ‘wrong thing’ – or worse, didn’t catch on to what we were saying quickly enough – that really doesn’t serve us. As a community.

I can be the first (well, second?) to admit I’ve goofed or expressed something badly, or failed to consider a point of view.

An example I recall (and this is just a recent one, not a particularly ‘hot’ issue) was a series of interchanges around a topical and what I thought was another excellent cartoon by NZ Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson which riffed on a selfie that Kim Kardashian posted (I can’t believe I’m saying this) to her Twitter account, which, being Kim Kardashian, was reproduced all over the world.

The original pic was of Kim posing naked in a mirror (with strategically placed black bars strapped across the pic keeping it from being ‘indecent’ – well kinda sorta). The caption read “When you’re like I have nothing to wear LOL”.

So, cue outrage and delight, criticism and adoration – in roughly equal proportions.

Some Kim Kardashian fans were thrilled with her openly embracing and ‘owning’ her body image – yes, it was a naked image, but SHE PUBLISHED IT HERSELF so therefore, they held, no exploitation.

She’s an international megastar choosing to put an image of her body out there on her terms – the very ‘My Body, My Terms’ theme that Lizzie Marvelly and some collaborators celebrated in a slick video campaign some months earlier.

I won’t go into the shit fight that broke out in social media after one of the (male) participants in that #MBMT video campaign – someone I see as a good guy, generally – dropped a line that was less than effusive praise of Ms Kardashian.

Suffice to say this guy got called on the obvious dichotomy of appearing in a publicity campaign titled ‘My Body My Terms’ then suggesting young women should find more positive ways to seek ‘validation’ than posting nekked pix on the web. An opinion piece by a talented young journo called Jessica McAllen pointed that out unsensationally, but he responded poorly. As I say, that’s another story. I can see his point, but boom!

So, the Kardashian pic was topical. About the same time, the NZ Herald reported Auckland burglary figures from about three years ago, with the news that in many cases Police weren’t even turning up to investigate. Judith Collins is the Police minister. Some see her as having a similarly ravenous appetite for self-promotion to Kim Kardashian. (Well I do.) So Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson, as he so often does, cleverly combined those news stories into a humorous satirical image.

Mrs Collins didn’t like it and called it out as sexist and demeaning to women (that’s a paraphrase) which was an opinion she was fully entitled to express, naturally, and for others to join her in. Totally fair enough.

I didn’t see it that way. I thought Emmerson’s point was Mrs Collins’ aforementioned penchant for self-promotion and an emperor’s new clothes aspect of Police not turning up to burglaries. I didn’t ‘see’ the issue of the naked woman. Plenty of male politicians have been portrayed naked in cartoons, and I said so. So yeah, naturally, I was called a sexist, kinda.

Yada yada, back and forth, and I tweeted: “I apologise for seeing it differently, but the “woman” part isn’t on my radar. The attention-seeking publicity hound is.”

Fortunately for me, I have a few Twitter buddies who, like my writer friend above, were minded to help me see their point. Gently, one of them, Frances Cook, said (and I am grateful to her for this):

“There are ways to show that without making her naked. If someone drew me naked, I’d feel violated.”

And ker-plunk! There – in that tweet – was what had been missing in my consideration at that moment: empathy. “If someone drew me naked …”

While the ‘argument’ had remained at the philosophical – feminism/symbolism/satire/freedom of speech – end of the spectrum, I was missing the connection. Even as someone who strives for empathy (Jeez, it was my word of the year in 2011) I’d dropped the ball. I’d missed it.

I honestly think that was because I do and had comprehended Mrs Collins first and foremost as a political actor. I don’t, as other commentators in the discussion/scrap suggested, ‘hate’ her. (Some might, but not me. Read my posts.) Nor do I think, as someone else I discussed it with suggested, it  was a case of feminists suspending their normal outrage at such a depiction of a woman because it was Judith Collins.

But by helping me shift focus to how Mrs Collins might *feel*, my twitter pal got me out of the deoxygenated and thin-blooded philosophical discussion.

I still think Emmerson’s provocative and multi-layered cartoon was brilliant, and an excellent example of his skill at combining media, social and political ‘events’ in a humorous and sharp-edged way. Despite Mrs Collins’ objections, and perhaps, hurt feelings, I think it was valid political/social commentary. She gets the ‘glory’ of the Crusher Collins, tough-on-crime persona, so the buck for Police action/inaction stops on her desk.

But I’m grateful for the input of some sincere and intelligent people – who disagreed with me and (luckily for me) didn’t disengage.

– P

PS So, I’ve thought about whether to share the images referred to in this post. I decided to, for clarity. Here they are. Am I wrong?


Kim Kardashian’s selfie which sparked Emmerson’s cartoon of Judith Collins. Sexist? Meh. (click to enlarge)