Thursday, December 25, 2014

Life Simply Is... Action

Dear Reader: as my education around social justice has evolved, I find that things I wrote a couple years ago are things I would not write today. In this post I  wish for people to stop expressing anger and distrust of police officers. Today I believe that when oppressed people express their anger, that anger is legitimate and needs to be expressed. If it is being expressed in words, art, or peaceful protest, those of us who hope to dismantle systems of oppression should fully support this – if we hope to avoid violence. To do anything less is both to stifle righteous expression, and to invite more dramatic efforts to be “heard.” – Kjerstin 7/10/2016

I’ve made my wish for 2015. I wish for a return of compassion and empathy. I wish for people to say, “I’m listening,” and to really mean it. I wish for an end to invalidating others just because it makes us too uncomfortable. I wish for an end to, “I told you so.”

When someone proclaims, “black lives matter,” I don’t want to hear as a response, “well what about other lives?” If we don’t understand we can say, “tell me why this movement is important.”

In 2015 I want an end to the antagonism, the headlines pushed on social media that “prove” all cops are racist killers; all protestors are lazy delinquents; Obama is responsible for this country’s racism; and police deserve our distrust because they knew the corrupt system they were getting into.

I don’t want to hear that non-Christians are trying to end Christmas, or that gays are going to destroy the sanctity of marriage. I don’t want to hear that all Muslims are terrorists, that feminists hate men (or want to be men), that poor people are just lazy, or that immigrants are taking and not giving back to this country.

How did we get to this place of blind, reckless hatred?

Why has it become so socially acceptable, so fashionable, to spew hateful judgments on large groups of people? Is everyone else really the enemy? Do we actually believe that there isnt enough for all of us, and that if others get what they want, that there wont be enough for us to get what we want? What if they simply get the basics  enough food, shelter, an education, freedom from violence and oppression – will this still take away from what we want?

Or does this judgmental superiority feed our egos somehow? If the rest of the world is filled with lazy, undeserving people of questionable morals, that certainly makes us look pretty good. Yeah, we’re looking pretty sharp now. We deserve the nice house and two cars, the decadent vacations. It’s ok that we leave a small tip for the waitress, don’t make eye contact with the guy who washes our car, and sneer at the guy holding a cardboard sign on the street corner. We know that if they worked hard, like us, they could have what we have. In fact we know that if they worked hard they would have what we do. So they must be lazy. We are pretty darned special, to be one of the ones who hasn’t succumbed to laziness, one of the ones who has made it so far.

And the gays, feminists, and non-Christians. Well, they are choosing to live an unholy life. They are choosing to indulge in a hedonistic lifestyle, disdainful of the guiding hand of God. We are the ones on a righteous path, while others have chosen to stray.

I can only guess, because I cannot understand the heart and mind of someone who so blithely judges the masses; dismisses struggle and hardship; denies that the playing field is far from level, has never been level.

In 2015 I wish for us to cease the hate speech and the judgments. I do believe that almost every human on this planet feels love, feels pain, struggles, cares for his/her family and friends, and has grieved the loss of loved ones. When we find ourselves being judgmental about a large group of people, what if instead we try to talk with a few members from that group; or if that is impractical, try to read writings from some of them? What if we try to gain some understanding of who they are, what they believe, how they experience life, what things are important to them? The very first thing we would realize is that we are all humans trying to figure out how to live.

I too am trying to figure things out, and I don’t personally plan to meet or read the writings of terrorists. I'm not interested in learning about the beliefs of those whose mission is to kill civilians. But this type of group is defined by coming together for a very specific, very violent purpose. We need to not confuse terrorists with entire religions or nationalities, for example.

So then we read, and we listen. We try to educate ourselves, and we try to understand. And without even trying, we discover common ground. Without trying we find stories of perseverance not laziness; stories of self-hatred leading eventually to self-acceptance, not stories of hedonistic abandon; stories of people running for their lives, only to be virtually enslaved, never escaping the fear of being deported.

We need to challenge our judgmental thoughts.

And then as I sit with this idea, and wonder how much this can change the world, or even this country, I am disturbed by a realization: while our discourse may be more pleasant, and while courteous exchanges and compassion may stop the current escalation of violence and hatred that seems to be taking over, it will not fix the plight of oppressed and marginalized groups. Choosing to resolve today’s unrest by being more courteous is a choice reserved for those of us who are privileged, who are not oppressed.

If we are all polite and respectful, if we ask questions and listen, if we find commonality, that all is very good. But that in itself will not resolve institutional racism; it will not prevent gay-questioning youth from taking their own lives; and it will not end violence against Muslims, women, or transgendered people (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list).

Courtesy is an essential starting place. No, I take that back. Action must and will happen, regardless of courtesy. If things continue on their current course, I fear for a very violent chapter in the months and years ahead. However if we can put our anger and judgment in check, and remember that every one of us in every one of these struggles is just trying to live a productive and happy life, perhaps the change that needs to happen will not take a violent path. It will not be easy; it will not be pleasant.

People talk with such reverence about our Founding Fathers. But at the time this government was created, blacks were considered property; women could not vote; and Native Americans had all but been exterminated. Yes, they fashioned an important foundation – one that, with a modern overhaul, might lead to equality and democracy. But true equality will mean prying the unfair advantages and power from the privileged few who will do everything they can to maintain it. In 2015 I hope we can get to work.

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