Thoughts on attention, passivity, street harassment, narratives, and freedom

The grammatical passivity in a situation thought of as ‘being stared at’ is misleading in that there is always an active element, an element of participation in acknowledging and thereby giving relevance and priority to the way I see others and their actions as relating to me in a specific intentional way.

A rock can’t ‘be stared at’, at least not from the perspective of the rock itself. A rock can’t be penetrated by eyes, can’t be shaken by voices shouting hateful utterances at it, can’t be moved by a convincing performance of social exclusion. A rock doesn’t fucking give a shit. You’re going to have to go up to it and physically move it to make it care.

I am not a rock, but maybe I can come close by watching carefully over who I give my attention to and to what degree, and whether I might accidentally validate their attempt at creating a situation in which I play the part of a puppet in a story they tell themselves and each other by indicating to them that they’ve broken through, they’ve gained access to my attention, to my inner world of care, to a place of vulnerability. If need be, my eyes can be a camera on a body-shaped tripod that can see many things in its view without specifically and visibly needing to look at any of them.

But how can I overcome the enabling passivity of a puppet in a story that is a vehicle for my exploitation? Do I need to become active and do something to override the attempted narrative with my own? Not necessarily. I may just be able to refuse to even give relevance to the situation in the first place. If I don’t see myself as being gawked at or laughed at or shouted at, then that situation isn’t happening in my world. Instead of being passive in a situation, I can be passive not-in a situation, or put even more simply: instead of being in a situation, I can not be in it.

This more radical passivity can alternatively be seen as a state of freedom: the freedom to care or not care, the freedom to give attention to who or what deserves it, the freedom not to be in a situation that I haven’t brought into conceptual existence by my own choosing but that was rather brought upon me uninvitedly by a hostile invasion.

“But why so closed?”, you may ask, “why would you support a narrative of hostility by making your inner world impermeable? Aren’t you implicitly and paradoxically accepting their terms by choosing not to engage with them? Wouldn’t openness be an even more radically free and freeing attitude?”

I had that question myself, but realized that it is really not like that. What it comes down to is the specificity of the terms that my caring or not caring implicitly accepts: At any moment in time, there is always an infinite number of arbitrary things that I could care about, but don’t, and none of my non-carings need to be justified. If I care, I care.

Care is always free to be assigned without any justifying basis whatsoever and therefore the choice not to engage with a hostile and hostilizing narrative doesn’t need to be grounded in accepting any terms that may be seen as relevant from the perspective of the narrative itself, but whose relevance is arbitrary from any number of alternative perspectives.

I will so aim to be
a rock that can care
but will only do so
on its own terms.

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