A few weeks ago, I said something really stupid. It was insensitive and thoughtless. I do this sometimes. We all do. I was at a wedding, and my sister had just showed me a photo she’d taken of me when a very dear friend of mine walked up and gave me a massive hug. I criticized the picture of myself using the “R” word. This isn’t a word I consider part of my vocabulary, but I was raised in a different era, well before political correctness, and it slipped out before my brain registered that it was inappropriate. It did register that, but it happened too late, and I said it. In front of my sweet friend. Whose child died from a severe handicap. (Yea. Let that sink in. ) Luckily for me, my friend is kind and forgiving, but most of all, my friend knows me and that this thing I said and did is out of character. She could have called me out, and I would have deserved it, but she didn’t. That fact was humbling, and I made a silent commitment to try harder to not say hurtful things.
I have thought a lot about this and how it moves in our world lately. I have witnessed two separate incidents in the last two weeks where someone publicly said or did something that other people perceived as inappropriate and hurtful. Upon being called on it, the people and/or organization in question apologized sincerely, but continued to be attacked as not enlightened enough, not sincere enough and just overall not worthy enough for the offended parties. Dozens of people jumped on the bandwagon to magnify the offense and loudly lament what cesspools of humanity we all wallow in. I was deeply bothered by both incidents. I think the biggest factor in things like this happening is that we are, more and more, interacting with people that we have no relationship with. People have always had hard conversations that resulted in both personal and social change. But, the construct where this is happening divorced from actual knowledge of your opponent, at least on a basic level, is historically quite new.
I believe that we should all work for a better world. I believe that we should all have the right to express what we think that should be. But, the fact is, that we don’t all agree on those ideas. And, none of us can dictate to the other side of the conversation what they should think and how they should react. That, by definition, makes it not a conversation at all. Yelling louder to drown out another’s opinion is not only ineffective but also quite a weak approach to promoting change. Because, while bullying can alter what people feel comfortable expressing, it can never change someone’s heart. In reality, resentment will merely bury things that could be better addressed more gently in the face of light and love. Kindness and humanity change perspectives; meanness merely makes people not like you.
I posted this on my Facebook page last year, and this train of thought brought it to mind again:
“Every social interaction is a mutual and usually unspoken contract between the people or group involved. Therefore, no one person, regardless of their status in the group, gets to unilaterally decide or change that contract. If you don’t want to engage in that contract, that’s your call. But, you can’t demand that other people comply with interactions they haven’t agreed to. You can unequivocally do whatever you want, but you may find yourself yapping at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day. If your goal is to engage with people in community, those people ultimately get to decide if they agree to that relationship.”
I can have strong opinions. I post them here. My husband, my friends, and my family definitely know this about me. I also genuinely try to be a kind and caring person. These things are not mutually exclusive. I have had some pretty intense conversations with left-leaning friends about things as controversial as abortion. Because we have a relationship and know some of the ins and outs of each other’s lives, we were able to dialogue about it without them implying that I don’t care about women in difficult situations and without me implying that they are baby killers. Neither of those positions would speak to our mutual respect and understanding that we both have good intentions behind our beliefs – things that allow an actual dialogue to happen that helped us both to genuinely understand an opposing position.
I don’t have all the answers on how to fix all the complex social issues that we face in today’s world. I struggle with them myself. What I can say is that things that seem impossible to reconcile seem to quiet down when we experience them on a personal level. It can be hard to love a faceless group, especially when they aren’t like you, but it’s much easier to connect with a person through a story and a life you can touch. I think that if more people approached hard things this way, on both sides of the aisle, the world would be a better place, whether our disagreements be religious, political or personal.