The Blind Spot
This weekend I have been teaching a young person to drive. Like all new drivers she was focused on what she was doing and not how others perceive what she was doing or might do. Why? Well, for her, driving is a new experience and her priority is her own personal safety. After a bit of practice, we pulled over to get a drink (“non alcoholic” of course). After commending her on her progress, I introduced another aspect of safe driving. First, I reinforced that her navigation and control of the car was getting better and better and safer and safer. But, I also introduced the idea that she would be a much safer driver if she communicated better with other drivers. For example, she needed to work on “signalling so that others would know what she intended to do. She needed to communicate her intentions so that she and others would be interact better and be safer on the road. By increasing safety for all, she would increase the safety of herself. We then discussed one of the most hazardous aspects of driving – specifically “The Blind Spot”. The “Blind Spot” is a place where a driver can be seen by other cars, but cannot see those cars. A driver in relation to his “Blind Spot” is in a situation where:
- He can see what he is doing.
- Others can see what he is doing.
- He cannot see what others are doing.
An “emotional blind spot” exists when one cannot see the effects of his behaviour on others.
I believe that that the REACTION to activity on the Isaac Brock blog, over the last few days can be explained by an inability to see the “emotional blind spots” of other posters. In fact, to some the reactions are incredible and inexplicable. To wit:
@ renouncecitizenship: I agree completely. I’ve never posted because I never had anything to say. I’m posting now because I am finding this latest exchange of posts unbelievable. Petros managed to create the most helpful, informative and essential website at a time when the combo of scare tactics by the IRS and the multitude of OVDI accountants turned all our lives into a living hell.
And now what? Some skirmish over exaggerated notions of political correctness is going to sabotage this amazing endeavour? Surely we’ve all noticed that this is possibly the most civilized, well behaved, intelligent website of it’s kind.
It would truly be a huge self defeating shame if intolerance of self expression and occasional satire were to be curbed by poring over every word and finding offense where very obviously NONE was intended.
This is the rational, logical, reasoned perspective. Of course it doesn’t account for emotions in general and “emotional blind spots” in particular.
What is the Isaac Brock Society and where are we emotionally?
From my perspective, the Isaac Brock Society plays two key roles.
First, it is an educational portal. Almost all people (including many cross-border professionals) are confused about FBAR, FATCA, OVDI, PFICS, and other realities of U.S. Citizenship abroad. The research offered is as good (and in many cases better) than any other online source. I didn’t say perfect. But, I have yet to see anything that is consistently better. For those who doubt this, take a look at the resource links on the right side of the blog. But, what kind of people would take the time to research and organize this wealth of information? Answer, only those U.S. Citizens abroad and immigrants who have been deeply affected – to use emotively neutral language – by the conduct of the Obama administration. For many the U.S. Citizens abroad, the events of the last year have permanently changed their lives, changed their perception of the United States as a country premised on freedom and justice, and caused them to question the viability of remaining a U.S. Citizen. Quite obviously, as an educational portal, the Isaac Brock Society has the effect of educating a large number of people (including legislators).
Second, (and this follows from the first) it is a place where a lot of frightened and confused people seek and find emotional comfort. “Form Nation” is a leader in job creation in the form industry. It has created lucrative opportunities in the area of international tax and compliance law. It has now also created the need for a new kind of therapist – “The FBAR Therapist”. But, not just any therapist will do. Those who have not been personally threatened by the events of the last year cannot even begin to understand the “emotional fallout” associated with it. (Because they have not experienced it, they have an “emotional blind spot” for what others are feeling.) What I will call “The Year of the FBAR”, has affected my relationships with those around me. I am sure that it has affected many of yours. But, my point is this:
When one is in a situation where emotions run as high as they are, people are less likely to see things from another point of view.
Our personal “blind spots”
Many of us have “blind spots” when it comes to the emotions of others. This point is quite evident from various comments on the Isaac Brock blog. Examples are easy to find. But, an example as good as any would be the sequence of comments starting here:
The issue is one of trying to understand the point of view expressed. Again, I am saying “the point of view”. The “point of view” is a combination of experience, logic, emotion and our “emotional blind spots”. I have been told that, anybody who has been through marriage counseling will recognize this. What are the real issues that are behind responses and behavior?
What is the context for determining the point of view?
I believe that I am on safe ground when I say that the context is:
“The United States of America, through the use of citizenship-based taxation in general, and very specific aspects of citizenship-based taxation in particular, has launched an attack on U.S. Citizens abroad and immigrants inside the United States. The purpose of the attack is to identify them as being in violation of U.S. Laws (which were never publicized) and then not allowing them to come into compliance without incurring “life altering professional fees” and indeterminate, but massive penalties. Or to put it simply: the United States is destroying the lives of its citizens abroad who wish to be law abiding and tax compliant. Interestingly only those who saved for retirement and wish to be compliant with the law are affected.
Furthermore, the U.S. Is taking steps to enlist other governments to seek out and join the U.S. Attack on U.S. Citizens. FATCA anyone?”
If anybody takes issue with this characterization fine, but I think this describes (and frankly minimizes the situation in emotively neutral language).
Recent posts/conduct at Brock have been dividing us rather than uniting us. Our understanding of the positions of others is a function of our “emotional blind spots”. Former Defence Secretary McNamara, in the movie “The Fog of War” explained how the mistake made by the United States was a failure to see the world from the perspective of the Vietnamese. Whether we are dealing with friend or whether we are dealing with foe, it is vital that we understand the perspective of others. Our ability to “problem solve” with others is a function of our ability to understand their perspective.
So, what’s this got to do with Isaac Brock?
Although this has been brewing for some time, the fact pattern that seems to have been MOST responsible for igniting the controversy was the Hitler spoof video. The depiction of Adolph Hitler in a video was extremely offensive to some people and it had little effect on others. The particular “blowout” has its antecedents in earlier posts, including the the infamous “Bobby Fischer” post.
That post included a video of Fischer saying very disparaging things about Jews. I am the author of that post. I am not Jewish. From my point of view, the purpose of including the video in the post was to demonstrate how the conduct of the U.S. Government can generate hatred and irrationality. Now Fischer may or may not (to use the words of one commentator) have been a “nutbar”. But, he is clearly an example of the U.S. Government treating its citizens as property – and that was the purpose of the post. When I wrote the post, it never occured to me that the video could have been interpreted in any other way. But, I was wrong. I was wrong because I had a “blind spot” for the effect that the inclusion of the video, could have on someone who was Jewish. Furthermore, I can also understand how for some, the content of Fischer’s remarks could have been so emotionally upsetting that it would make it impossible for them to see the central message. Therefore I understand, how my “blind spot” (which was an inability to see another person’s “blind spot”) made it impossible for some to see the central message of the post. That said, I am NOT retreating from the content and the purpose of the post. The purpose was to demonstrate an example of how the U.S. Government treats its citizens as property. Even disagreeable U.S. Citizens like Mr. Fischer have the right to fair treatment.
So, what is the purpose of this post?
Let’s consider the recent post featuring Adolph Hitler in the context of his wanting to “round up” U.S. Persons in Toronto. Very powerful stuff! But from a purely objective perspective, how is it different from the videos about the banks hunting U.S. citizens abroad? The answer depends on who you are. The way we interpret things is a function of who we are. Who we are, is a function of our experiences. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What are the dominant experiences of those who might have seen the video?
Group 1 – U.S. Citizens abroad or immigrants who have unquestionably been subjected to a vicious assault by the U.S. Government. They (with justification) experience the U.S. Government as being a government of unfairness, oppression, unreasonableness and irrationality. I suspect that many of them feel a strong sense of betrayal from a government they believed they could trust. That is their logical and emotional paradigm. They understand that Hitler was an oppressor and they see the personification of the U.S. Government in Adolph Hitler.
That said, some U.S. Citizens abroad have been damaged by oppressive governments (for example Hitler) and others have not.
Those who have NOT been damaged by oppressive governments are less likely to understand the effect of a Hitler video on those who have been damaged. They can focus only on their own pain.
Some U.S. Citizens abroad may be part of families who have been damaged by oppressive governments. The Serbian community is an example of group that most certainly bears the scars of Hitler’s oppression. How might a U.S. Citizen abroad with Serbian roots interpret the Hitler video? I could imagine a variety of responses. These responses could range from one extreme (no reference to Hitler should be tolerated) to the other extreme ( a conviction that there is a parallel between Hitler’s conduct and that of the U.S. Government). This explains why some U.S. Citizens abroad are offended by the Hitler video and others are not.
Group 2 – People who are not U.S. Citizens abroad or immigrants. These people will understand logically why U.S. Citizens abroad feel oppressed and persecuted. But, they will never experience it on an emotional level. There is no way that they can. Furthermore those who are NOT U.S. Citizens abroad or immigrants fall into two groups.
One group may be composed of members of ethnic or religious groups who were so damaged by Hitler that any reference to Hitler incapacitates them from seeing anything else. In other words, members of this group have an “emotional blind spot” when it comes to understanding the position of the first group.
A second group would be those who are not emotionally invested in the oppression of Hitler, but at the same time, can never be emotionally invested in the plight of U.S. Citizens abroad.
What does the comment stream reveal?
Most comment streams are an attempt at some form of dialogue in the sense that people are talking about the same thing. What is striking is that although people are talking about the same set of facts (the Hitler video) they are not talking about the same thing at all. Although everybody agrees that the video depicts the Hitler’s oppression of a number of groups, all commentators are hostage to their “emotional blind spots”. A U.S. Resident with a strong emotional reaction to the Hitler atrocities has a “blind spot” that makes it difficult for him to understand how a U.S. Citizen abroad would perceive the video. A U.S. Citizen abroad who is on the receiving end of “U.S. Exceptionalism” has a “blind spot” that makes it difficult for him to understand how the U.S. Resident might react to the video.
Who we are is very much a function of our “emotional blind spots”.
How to deal with our “blind spots” as members of a community
Drivers must contend with the “blind spot” in their driving. Individuals in a community must contend with their own “blind spots” in relation to other peoples “blind spots”. The need to be aware of the “emotional blind spots” has nothing to do with free speech or censorship. Anybody on this blog (as far as I know) is perfectly free to say what they want. But, our job is to encourage dialogue and participation for the purpose of nurturing a common front which will make make a difference. If people won’t participate in the discussion then we cannot achieve that objective.
To be clear, I am not taking any position on any content. That is for each of us to decide. But, in deciding on that content, it might, from time to time, be worth asking the question:
What “emotional blind spots might come into play in interpreting what I am about to write?
A necessary step on the road to helpful discussion is to become aware of our own “blind spots” and the “blind spots” of others. As former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara said:
That’s what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.
That’s the only way we can understand what somebody is really talking about!
The road is long!
Some of you have mentioned that our struggle with the U.S. government will likely be a long one! As I suggested in an earlier post: