I believe in being positive and affirming, even when it’s not popular, doesn’t sell books, make news, gain followers, or make money. I believe in living as peacefully as possible with all people, but in doing that, it means giving up the illusion of ego and the need to be right. Having said that, I’m going to speak my heart.
I just bowed out of a Facebook group in which I had been fairly active because I was constantly bombarded by messages of people screaming for someone else to define them, all the while bashing others who were in the currently “unpopular” camp. Amazing how “enlightened” folks can be so mean, vindictive, accusing, and closed-minded to anyone who has a different or currently unpopular opinion.
I can’t help but think that the Information Age has rapidly turned into a “Self-affirmation Age,” in which people define themselves based on their social media followings, “likes” and opinions of others rather than on self-examination.
In this sea of self-absorption, it’s easy to be removed from the fact that those on the other side of any issue are also human beings and they, too, are so bombarded with messages that they often don’t know what to believe. Some people get so emotionally swayed by digital messages that they literally turn against their own families, putting politics, current events and opinions of celebrities or people half a world away (who may or may not even be aware of their existence) between themselves and the people who have supported them their entire lives! Sometimes, to me, it feels like today’s world is made up of everyone screaming to be heard and nobody listening and as Charlton Hesston once said in Planet of the Apes, “It’s a MADHOUSE!”
It also seems that many people are so polarized. It’s either this or that? Trump or Biden, Black or White, Young or Old, Bigot or Tolerant, Vaccine or Anti-vaccine…but the world, the real one, the one that doesn’t depend on “followings” or have any “likes” or votes to get, isn’t quite so polarized, it’s more blended, muted and free-flowing. It’s the child, the one that has a Black dad, a White mom, and a Hispanic step-sister, sitting in my classroom with two missing front teeth and a big grin on her face, laughing and talking to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy next to her and the Vietnamese girl beside her. They’re writing a story and illustrating it together. It’s the little girl from San Salvador who tells me she was born in an Amish bathtub and is learning to speak German. It’s the little red-haired, freckled boy who speaks in a thick Appalachian dialect, telling me he wants to be a paleontologist and the little African-American boy who tells me that one day he is going to be an Art teacher and it’s me, telling him that he will be a great Art teacher and that I’m depending on him, because one day I’m going to get old and retire and I’ll want him to take my place, and it’s all the other kids, of many shapes and shades, filled with dreams and wonder, wanting to discover who they are. And it’s my co-worker who just won a battle with cancer and takes the vaccine because she’s so afraid she might die with COVID and it’s my other co-worker who is afraid of the vaccine because she is afraid of side effects. Neither of them are a villainess. They’re just people, each trying to do what’s best for herself and her family, yet there are people out there on both sides of the issue who pounce upon them and try to paint them out to be “monsters.”
Sweeping statements are blind and end up villainizing others. Anytime you hear someone say, “Those Democrats…” “Those Republians…” “Those Biden Supporters….” “Those Trump Supporters….” “Those Muslims…” “Those White People…” “Those Black People….” “Those Christians…” “Those New Agers…” you are hearing a message that pits polarizes and divides and turns regular folks into “villains.” Sweeping statements dehumanize those who aren’t in our circle of thought and somehow makes them less human, which makes us less humane. If I had a motorcycle wreck and was lying on the side of the road, dying. Do you really think it would matter what shade of skin the ETM trying to save me had? Or gender? Or who he/she voted for?
I remember reading Bury my Heart and Wounded Knee and crying to the point that I couldn’t finish the book and I could never endure Schindler’s List, because I couldn’t understand how people could be so inhumane toward other human beings. Now I get it, when you divide people into “them and us” and begin to view the other side as somehow “less than,” you find yourself capable of horrific atrocities in the name of what’s “right.” Remember, Hitler’s snitches were just being “good citizens.”
So, my point is that we are all human beings, regardless of who we voted for, where we live, which bathroom we use, or the shade of our melanin. When we find ourselves getting angry over someone’s “viewpoint,” perhaps it would serve us well as a species to step back and view them as parents, brothers, sisters, children. It takes self-awareness to step outside yourself and be open to the viewpoints of others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, or forsake your own beliefs, but it will give you a sense of compassion and empathy for others.
I am thinking about Ghandi’s brilliant statement about how that if we live by the rule of an eye for an eye the whole world would be blind and how Jesus said that if we live by the sword, we die by the sword and then there was Saint Francis who prayed not so much to be understood as to have the ability to understand. Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use you.” What does love mean? In this context, I believe it means to show them basic human kindness, even when you disagree with them. Let go of the illusion of ego and embrace their worth as fellow human beings. I think it means to be humane.