“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

If you were paying attention in the spring of 1992, you probably remember this quote coming from the mouth of Rodney King. His broadcast appeal to the violent masses was made only half way through the six-day-long rioting in Los Angeles.

And to be fair, “Can’t we all just get along?” were not his words. These were:

“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”

Frankly, I prefer the way our collective brains have chosen to remember what we think he said on May 1st, 1992: more eloquent.

Mr. King’s (mis)quote came to mind the other day when I read a similar appeal from a women who is part of a discussion group on social media. In so many words, she suggested that the members of the discussion group stop being “negative.” Based on her post, I concluded that she didn’t like the tone and tenor of some of the comments from some of the others and was appealing to their “better selves” to be more “positive” in the expression of their ideas and opinions.

I think this woman’s complaint comes up a lot on social media. There are entire memes dedicated to not being “negative.” Like this:

Image result for rules for posting

My own mother would routinely say, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Admittedly, I’ve repeated this axiom to my children. In many ways, I think those are good words to live by.

In “many ways,” but not in all ways.

Because when one chooses to be “quiet” over being “negative,” that same person loses her voice. And etiquette (which coincidentally, if you rearrange the first five letters can spell “quiet”) should never yield to an airing of a grievance about “how things are done nowadays” or an authentic call for meaningful change.

Which led me to think of another quote: “Power yields nothing without a struggle.”

That’s not really the quote by Frederick Douglass, this is:

“Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Weighing King against Douglass, I think the former slave and abolitionist got it right.

King’s “getting along” is status quo. Douglass’s making a “demand” requires that the one who takes up the struggle, be it corporal or intellectual, understands that there is work to do to ensure that the harvest comes in.

The one who chooses to criticize “how things are done nowadays” risks the judgment of others,who find her words as “negative,” and will likely be asked to try to “just get along.”

Don’t do that. Don’t silence yourself.

I say, “Soldier on, Brave One,” which is a paraphrasing of this collection of ideas spoken by Gandhi:

“Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

12 thoughts on ““Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

  1. That is the eternal question, isn’t it – do you keep your mouth shut and hands off the keyboard, or do you take part in the discussion at the risk of being attacked? Because it doesn’t come down to just being asked “can we get along?” as you very well know. You are more likely to get called “snarky” and much worse, if your comments don’t sit well with someone else for whatever reason. People dish all sorts of comments and attacks on one another nowadays. Some discussions become not worth fighting over, some discussions should never cease, because the topic is too important. In reply to everyone who says “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” I’d reply “Well behaved women seldom make history.”

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    1. That last quote is one of my favorites. It was made by Laural Thatcher Ulrich whose “innovative and widely influential approach to history has been described as a tribute to ‘the silent work of ordinary people’—an approach that, in her words, aims to ‘show the interconnection between public events and private experience.'” (Wikipedia.)

      Funny how she is seen as doing the work for the silent masses.

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  2. I would amend my often spoken phrase to “If you can’t say something ‘nicely’, say nothing at all.” Or to add another of my reminders, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” One can express their opinion without vitriolic, unkind, or hateful language. Recent politics and media reporting have displayed the worst behaviors of those that disagree. It is important to take a stand and speak out when injustice is occurring, but there should be a method to do this which displays maturity and thoughtfulness.

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  3. I am not sure that “getting along” means having to be quiet. I understand that the tone of social media and the media in general has gotten to a point of attacking. This is the problem. When it comes to professing ones opinion you are subject to attack. Some people don’t want go through this and as a result will choose to be quiet BUT if they felt that they weren’t going to be attacked and that THEY aren’t attacking yet offering a differing opinion then much more can be learned.

    I think it comes down to “it isn’t what you say but how you say it”. There are many ways to express your opinion without getting personal. The problem is that many people don’t have that skill and when their viewpoint is challenged those without the ability to craft a well thought out response get lazy and resort to vicious personal attacks.

    So I would agree with the plea of “can’t we all just get along” and for those that do provide thought provoking viewpoints have to be thick skinned enough to accept the battering they will take if they are offering those viewpoints on a public forum like facebook or other social media.

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    1. You make a salient point about the opportunity to learn from others–even those whose opinions differ from your own. It is easy to fan the flames of angry rhetoric by vicious and lazy comments to others. It’s a real loss when instead those who hold opposing views could just listen a little more.

      That said, I would still prefer a lazy/vicious comment to a hand-wringing/”can’t we all just get along” plea as the former has, at the very least, an opinion (and presumably a thought) behind it.

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  4. Another thoughtful piece Jenna. I appreciate how you are fearless in articulating those thoughts that many of us may be too timid to share (myself very much included). May we all have the courage to speak up nicely (as Sue says) or kindly, and with compassion in our hearts, and change can happen.

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    1. You, my friend, are one of the people I consistently think of when I choose to “act” in a way that may affect others. Your consistent calls for mindfulness and compassion have had a great impact on me. While I don’t always succeed in being without ego, I do try to be focused on relieving suffering when I can, and more so when I know I should and it is hard.

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  5. Both Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr, in their time, were accused of inciting violence. Not everything they had to say was nice, but it had to be said.

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