Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I had an overdue convo with a friend yesterday. My recent graduation came up along with my plans for the near future. I talked about my eagerness to research social justice volunteer opportunities here in Spokane as I spend time figuring out what lights my fire. This prompted her to share her recent shift in thinking regarding LGBT issues after taking a Sex & Gender course. Specific details aside, her account buoyed my hope in humanity at a time when I needed it.

Here’s why: in registering for that course, entering it with a mind eager to learn, and allowing the material and the participants to influence her, she exemplified to me some essential traits of being a decent human. She accepted her classmates (most of them members of the LGBT community) as equals and validated their humanity by listening to them instead of deeming them “less than”. Prior to taking the course, she had very definite opinions concerning the topics covered, and she exited a changed person.

Would she and I agree on all topics of importance? Of course not. But on the heels of that phone call, I feel more connected to her and grateful for the confirmation that the world does indeed contain stellar humans. As I mentioned, timing-wise I needed a reminder of this. I’ll get to that in a bit.

This post is in large part prompted by FB interactions. I have developed some fantastic friendships online in addition to “real life” friends and greatly appreciate the encouragement, broadening of knowledge, support, and shared laughs that I experience within my particular online community. This, despite the brutal vitriol that often lurks within comments sections and a plethora of memes which take lack of sense and inducement of disgust to awe-inspiring heights.

When I took Intro to Sociology as an elective course at GU, prompting my switch of majors, I had no idea how profound my transformation would be. I am extremely grateful for the type of education I’ve received. However, at times it is also the cause of pronounced distress. More precisely, the awareness that I now have as a result of said education is what can be overwhelming.

It’s not like I’m a stranger to all-encompassing changes of worldview. I lived about 25 years of my life as a born-again Christian. I’ve long since abandoned that way of thinking. It governed every detail of my existence, no matter how insignificant it might have been to a life considered well-lived. My stance on most issues of morality is now the polar opposite of that chapter in my history.

Sociology, focusing as it does on social relationships and institutions, challenged me to think about the really pressing concerns that we face as citizens of communities, cities, states, our nation, and the world. I see things through a different lens now. Race, gender, class, power dynamics, deviance, wealth, privilege—these are not subjects that can be studied in isolation. They intersect in such a way as to necessitate examining them all together and thoroughly.

Here’s where my struggle comes in: I now have a much more informed understanding of social issues. I also have a burning desire to reduce inequality and make this world a better place for all of us. Those two things combined are a recipe for discouragement if I’m having a hard time narrowing my focus. I know I can’t save the world. Some days I’m content recognizing that in my little sphere of influence I made it a better day for at least one person. And some days I just want to bury my head and cry.

This week has been a crying week. First, the death of Sandra Bland, under very suspicious circumstances. Then the shootings in Chattanooga. As we collectively mourn these fresh tragedies, the weight of sorrow is increased by the cognizance that we could easily name 10 other recent anguishes that are still in the forefront of our national psyche. As horrific as these incidents are, the hope-in-humanity crisis I’ve been battling hits a little closer to home.

Clearly, the daily crimes against humanity that occur are not within my control. What I can do is continue to educate myself, be an ally to those outside the dominant groups in our culture, and be involved in working toward change. Simply put: cultivate kindness and empathy, and let my efforts proceed out of that mindset.

Now here’s the rub: the folks that reside within my sphere won’t always agree with me or with each other as to the “correct” view or the proper action to take in any given scenario. Given my status as a recovering people-pleaser, this proves difficult for me. Of course it’s silly of me to expect any different, given that we all bring to the table a complicated mix of our history, beliefs, worldview, experiences, etc. I’m becoming more consistent about not taking things personally and setting boundaries when necessary, but the emotional reaction piece has some catching up to do.

As I was trying to make sense of my astonishment concerning certain opinions expressed by people that I’m connected to in one way or another, I decided to make a Venn Diagram as a visual representation. Behold my creation:

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I’m represented by the purple circle. The rest of the circles do not represent actual peeps of mine, but possible combinations of the given information. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m assuming that all groups represented are productive members of society who love their families, friends, and pets.

Some observations:

• I could ostensibly get along with every group represented. And by “get along”, I mean at the very least, be civil. Say hello in passing. Wish them well in their endeavors.

• Even though I oppose every statement the blues express, we are fellow humans, and on that basis I’ll do my best to treat them fairly and with kindness.

• I’d likely never go bar-hopping with a yellow, because their propensity for “I”-ing combined with their poor “G” management skills usually makes for a shitty night. However, they might be fantastic company for a daiquiri-fueled movie marathon.

• We’ll never agree concerning the authorship or inerrancy of the bible, but I appreciate the fact that reds welcome rousing discussions about sexual ethics or marriage equality and that they recognize the value of empirical evidence.

Now to those observations I’m going to add another layer: the influence of levels of trust and/or depth of relationship. If I’m FB friends with a blue who thinks that Donald Trump will be our salvation, appears to have access to exclusively far-right conservative media outlets, and refuses to take into consideration the lived experiences of not-blue people, this blue will be unfollowed. Perhaps I’ll check in occasionally to see their latest critter pic. If this blue makes a habit of calling my friends or me “libtard”, and their contribution to conversation consists of various iterations of “Pssshh, total bullshit!” they’ll likely eventually be unfriended and blocked if necessary.

I grant more leeway concerning behaviors I deem uncool to those with whom I’ve developed higher levels of trust and/or with whom I have a deeper level of connection. The lower the level the easier it is to cut ties. Recently a friend of a friend posted this comment concerning a hell-themed article I shared:

“This priest has thrown the baby out with the bath water. THERE IS a place of torment, pain, suffering, death, disease, and a place of reaping the DESTRUCTION OF YOUR SIN. .IT IS CALLED HELL…..BUT IT EXISTS RIGHT HERE ON EARTH. THIS LIFE IS LIVED IN HELL ON EARTH UNTIL A PERSON IS BORN AGAIN…..in which you then have the power of the Holy Spirit to AVOID SIN AND AVOID THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ENEMIES OF GOD. HELL is not in some AFTERLIFE…..it is in THIS LIFE. When a person passes beyond the veil in death, they will go to Eden or Paradise/Heaven. No more tears, no more suffering, no more death, no more torment, no more disease, no more sin natures, no more SIN. This world is NOT OWNED BY THE DEVIL AND HIS KINGDOM, but IT IS POSSESSED BY THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS, SATAN, the god of THIS WORLD. Satan’s AUTHORITY was removed by Jesus Christ, BUT NOT SATAN’S POWER OR POSSESSIONS. When a person is born again, that person is then REMOVED FROM THE POSSESSION OF SATAN AND HIS KINGDOM and is transferred into the POSSESSION OF GOD and HIS KINGDOM. Don’t believe me? Read Genesis with a clear new EYE.”

I don’t know this lady, and perhaps she’s quite delightful IRL. At any rate, I had way too much fun reading her majestic masterpiece aloud to my friend while screaming the parts in all caps. I played nice and left this reply for her:

“I’ve read Genesis, and the entire bible, many times over. I studied it for 20 years. I no longer believe it to be either inerrant or inspired. However, if one chooses to use it in such a way as to become a kinder, more loving human being, then fantastic. :) “

The second time she decided to weigh in on one of my posts, I wasn’t as charitable. I deleted her comment and blocked her, without hesitation.

Conflicts with friends that I interact with in person are trickier for me. Case in point: I developed a friendship with a former neighbor and his husband a few years back. We spent many enjoyable evenings downing adult beverages and shooting the breeze. He made me laugh when my relationship troubles had me down. I met his best friend and went to lunch with them when she was in town. He enjoyed my kids and my kids loved their dogs. They ended up moving away and have since split up.

Several months ago I posted a thought-provoking review of the American Sniper movie. He commented, I replied, and what started out as a civil discussion very quickly devolved into him calling me and my friend “fucking idiots” and unfriending me. (But not before posting a very involved rant on his own wall about how folks like me should get the fuck out of the U.S.) It was unsettling how quickly the whole debacle went down. I blocked him after deciding I didn’t want any interaction with someone who behaved in this way.

A downright unexpected plot twist occurred a few days ago. From my bedroom, I heard a knock on the door followed by my son talking to someone in the living room. Imagine my discombobulation when I recognized the voice as the subject of the above anecdote. My response? I walked out and greeted him with a rather awkward “Heeeeeyyyy stranger, what are you doing back in town?” Catch up conversation ensued, with no mention of the FB Falling Out. I really don’t know what he was thinking just showing up at my house, but I extended to him goodwill on the basis of what came before. Perhaps he struggles with verbalizing “I’m sorry” and this was the best he could do. I’m okay with that as of now. I won’t ever be friends with him on FB but IRL I’ll cut him a break.

All of this brings me to the impetus for writing about my present source of consternation. Handling the dreaded comments sections in connection with super-charged issues is solved simply by not reading them. More problematic for me is how to manage the deep down ick I feel when someone I truly value expresses an opinion about a highly significant issue that is diametrically opposed to how I view the situation.

I err on the side of empathy and an attempt at understanding when I see (for me) cringe-worthy sentiments that friends “like” or share. The events of this week brought out the worst of the worst. One example presents as a good litmus test for revealing deeply held beliefs that are incompatible with my key ethical convictions. Imagine you see these two items, exactly as described:

Item #1: A photograph of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez emblazoned with “Lock and load. It’s open season on Muzzies!”

Item #2: A photograph of Dylann Roof emblazoned with “Lock and load. It’s open season on young white males who self-identify as white supremacists!”

Now before you answer my question, please consider what both of these items are advocating. Words have power. Both items propose murdering an entire group of people. Murdering. An. Entire. Group. This is not a discussion question. I have no interest in diatribes or explanations. Here’s the question:

Would you “like” or share either one of these items?

If your answer is yes, you can fuck right off. Now, please. And if you’d only answer yes to one of the items while criticizing those who would approve of the other item—after you’ve fucked way off, you might want to brush up on your critical thinking skills.

Here’s some more food for thought. If you see images of white sports fans rioting and shrug your shoulders, mumbling about how “boys will be boys”, while images of people of color rioting during times of intense social unrest evoke an immediate condemnation response, I implore you to check yourself. I get that conversations around the subject of looting and rioting aren’t easy, but do you not see the hypocrisy required to be okay with those differing reactions?

The litmus test is easy peasy for me. A yes is enough for me to send you packing, with no regrets. I wish you no harm and hope that somewhere along the way experience will alter your perspective. The food for thought is more involved. If I love you, this disagreement isn’t enough for me to give you the boot. But it lessens my connection to you, and that makes me sad. It takes a concerted effort for me to overlook the disparity and focus on the parts of you I relish. Of course, I get that you are granting me the same courtesy. If it’s choice of tasty beverage we disagree on, I couldn’t care less. But when our points of disagreement involve value judgments, shit gets real.

If you are my friend, no matter our type or frequency of interaction, know that I do my damnedest to understand you, appreciate your uniqueness, and attribute the best of motivations to you. If we end up parting ways, I wish you the best. I’d prefer we both stick around, committed to working out our ideals in a respectful manner. Be assured that even though I might let my emotions get the best of me at times, my intention is to focus on your fab-tastic attributes, and I’m hoping you’ll do the same for me.