tr.v. baf·fled, baf·fling, baf·fles
1. To frustrate or check (a person) as by confusing or perplexing; stymie.
2. To impede the force or movement of.
[Perhaps a blend of Scottish Gaelic "bauchle", to denounce, revile publicly, and French "bafouer", to ridicule.)
This verb has been bothering me. Recently, in response to the controversial subject of the Muslim community center/mosque being erected near Ground Zero, I have seen numerous facebook entries using the word baffled. It has been used to express astonishment in response to those opposed to and supportive of the building. For example, "I am baffled that people are unable to differentiate between moderate Muslims and those who perpetrated the attack on 9/11." Or, "I am baffled why the Muslims need to build their center there, of all places."
My gut response to this bafflement was to become baffled myself. And as a result, a little frustrated. And then a bit angry. How could anyone not understand why people might make a connection between the moderate Muslims of New York and the terrorists who have declared war on the West? After all, as a recent reader questioned, "What about the London bombings? The Madrid bombings? The Bali bombings? What about the Turkey bombings a few years ago? All Muslim." Oh, let's not forget the Lockerbie plane bombing, either.
On the flip side, how could anyone not do a little reading (myself included) and realize that the plans for this center/mosque were in the works before 9/11? And that American Muslims also died in the bombing? And that the center will incorporate recreational spaces for all kinds of people to convene in peace? With a little poking around, you would think a person might figure out that there will be a contemplative space for all people to access that will honor the victims of terror. And as for the mosque? Don't the Muslims who live and work in that area, who raised the capital to buy the space, like every other Christian congregation, deserve a space to worship quietly?
At the heart of being baffled is a judgment. It's not the same as confusion, which is a lack of clarity. Rather, bafflement starts simply with a person becoming frustrated when he or she hits a barrier of understanding. This person becomes stymied by an opposing person's mindset. Generally, this block impedes the force or movement of the person's own "logical" ideas. The Baffled One ultimately judges that the other person's viewpoint is worthy of ridicule.
It's interesting that the original French and Scottish Gaelic meaning of the word was to "denounce or revile publicly." We humans (not just Americans)have a hard time being just confused. Instead of seeking clarity through discussion, it is infinitely easier to be baffled, to be stymied and then fill in the obscurity of understanding, the blanks, with judgment.
We almost always fill in these dead spaces with a negative, with revilement. Humans rarely believe that the "The Other's" intentions come from a good or positive place. Most recently (okay, probably always), conservative AND liberal politicians have used these lapses of understanding to their own advantage. At the moment their constituents start to wonder why...they quickly fill in the gaps with ridicule of the opposition's intentions. Modern high-speed information media just help them get the job done faster and more efficiently.
Today's powers and principalities, aided by the media, would like everyone to believe that a "liberal" viewpoint does not care about solid principles but only vague, emotional concepts. Liberals are selfish and not to be trusted. Likewise, the "conservative" viewpoint is too obsessed with traditional principles and could care less about how those rigid beliefs affect real, modern people. Conservatives are all bigots and are not to be trusted.
What would happen if we stopped trusting the media (liberal and conservative) and the politicians who have honed these stereotypes to a sharp point? What might happen if we gave The Other the benefit of the doubt until his or her intentions are clearly stated? Unless the opposition says, "All Muslims are scum" or "People are so stupid, they need to just get over it", we ought to pause a minute...30 minutes...24 hours...a week. If a person is not being impolite, we could take that time to get some more information. We could seek out and kindly questions someone who doesn't agree with us.
Americans are not just liberal and conservative stereotypes. We are generous and demanding, impatient and caring. Instead of baffling or impeding the good yet competing forces of one another's best intentions, we could just take some time to listen to one another. As Americans. For America.