Apr 272020 1 Response

Sometimes You’ve Got to Stir the Pot

In My Favorite Things the Haters Say, I wrote that the accusation “you’re just stirring the pot” often has the reverse influence on me than what my critics hope. They say, “You’re just stirring the pot.” It’s not the statement that is odd, but that assumption behind it. They act as though the pot doesn’t need to be stirred.

I’m not much of a cook, but thankfully I married one. On occasion, as she is cooking dinner, she might ask me to assist her by stirring a pot. She knows that if the pan is just left to itself, a film might form on top. It will not be the form in which she wants the substance to be, so I’m asked to keep stirring in hopes that the goodness at the bottom of the pan will be mixed into the top and everything will have the feel and taste for which she is aiming.

Sometimes the pot needs to be stirred.

It’s true in the kitchen and it is true in life.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was in jail in Birmingham, he had time to respond to criticisms made by white pastors in the city. It was a rare reply, but King said he knew that they had good intentions so he chose to respond. Their critique was that King was unnecessarily disturbing the peace. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King responds to the criticism and he points out that while the pastors have been very vocal in their opposition to his protests, they have been very silent to the conditions creating the protest. He could have lived at peace with the powerful in Birmingham, if he was willing to overlook the oppression taking place. The white pastors condemned King for his protests, but said nothing about the injustice in their community.

That’s a common pattern of the powerful. They will use the label of peace to protect their power. They will rail against the peaceful protestors and say nothing about the injustices being protested. They will protest the protesters rather than actually listening to the ideas.

Stirring the Pot as Accusation

The powerful say, “You’re just stirring the pot.” They pretend as though the appearance of peace is the ultimate concept which much be guarded. They accuse anyone who is challenging the power, specifically their unjust power, as agitators. They will attempt to make the victims the perpetrators.

On occasion, it is a fair critique. In a social media world where so much money can be made by garnering clicks, there is an entire sub-culture of pot stirrers. They don’t care about the truth, justice, or social good. Their only goal is to create as much tension as possible in order to segment a population and then monetize them. (See the documentary The Great Hack)

While some intentionally seek to disturb the peace in order to make money, the accusation is often used by influential people in order to protect their power. Unable to admit that’s what they are trying to protect, they pretend, instead, to be looking out for the common good. Who doesn’t value peace?

Yet the peace they claim to value is not true peace. It is their comfortable life which is the byproduct of power and often built on injustice. (See: Picking a Hill On Which to Die)

When a woman speaks out against sexism in the workplace, she will often be accused of disturbing the peace. She is seen as unnecessarily creating tension in the lives of her male employers even as they ignore the difficulty of her work environment.

When a man speaks out against a system that benefits the majority culture and unfairly penalizes a minority culture, he is accused of “playing the race card.” He is told he should keep quiet and not make others feel uncomfortable even as he expected to continue to live in discomfort.

While there are some who stir the pot simply for selfish gains, more often than not, those accused of stirring the pot are simply seeking fairness and truth even as they speak against a system of injustice and power.

Stirring the Pot as Essential

Sometimes the pot needs to be stirred. Sometimes if the pot isn’t stirred, an ugly film forms at the top and it prevents you from understanding the goodness that is underneath it. If no one is willing to stir the pot, only the ugliness will be seen and it will control everything underneath it. But sometimes if you stir the pot, the goodness of what is underneath rises to the top and overtakes the film of ugliness.

We need to stir the pot of:

Racism. We need to call it out in ourselves and others. We need to recognize the peculiar role race has played in building America and not foolishly downplay its lasting presence in today’s society.

Sexism. We need to stop pretending men and women play on an equal playing field in today’s society. While things have improved, they are far from equal.

Injustice. We need to call out injustice wherever it is found. We have made great strides in how those with special needs are treated, but we often still fail at recognizing their humanity and valuing the contributions they make to society.

Truth. We should never be afraid to tell the truth and to expect others to do the same. We should never lower our standards to such an extent that we tolerate lies.

Character. We must demand strong character in our leaders, refusing to believe it is not possible in today’s society.

These pots need to be stirred. But as people have the courage to speak about such important truths, some will become uncomfortable. Feeling threatened, they will attack. And the most likely accusation they will make is that you are disturbing the peace.

Disturb it. Because the peace that is being disturbed is not true peace. It’s comfort for a few which is built on the suffering of others.

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