We are a few days away from the Presidential Election in the United States. There is so much at stake and stress levels are volatilely high. Racial tensions, global pandemic and natural disasters are adding to the burden of our daily lives and existing pressures. It is no wonder we want to shut off the world of voices that conflict with our ideals and values.
The heightened problem with shutting off is that we have also fallen into a pattern of self justification and righteousness. We are not challenging our own assumptions, learning and saddest of all we are cutting away at community and disconnecting from friends and family. I am an advocate for self care and I whole-heartedly understand the need to disengage from unhealthy situations, but the current conditions have amplified fragmentation. It is sad that our relationships and interactions have decayed to a level where we no longer allow anything counter to the way we think and feel to enter our space, even when they are embodied by loved ones. What happened to civility, empathy and humanity? When did the need to be right become more important than friendships, relationships, trust and love?
We feel that those who hold opposing views do not know, understand, see or respect us. Much of that is true, but we have reached a point where there are few openings for interactions which could bridge those divides.
How did we get here?
When I was younger, I remember hearing adults say, “children should be seen and not heard”, “know your place”, “do not talk back”. We went along to get along and there was hierarchy, order and norms of behavior set by those with power dictated to those without. A group of people were identified as the ones that had knowledge and privilege and those who did not. As we were educated and reached a certain age, we were bestowed with opportunity and grace to have opinions… sometimes. It was a rite of passage and as we took on responsibilities and contributed to society, deemed worthy of a voice.
I grew up in an era where a rising middle class acknowledged and acted against the disparities in our culture. Women, people of color and people with disabilities rose up and challenged the existing systems. Breaking down the barriers that held them back and dismantling the dictatorial framework of oppression. Using collective voices to speak out and expand the understanding of what existed in the old system that failed to advocate for vitality and left a large segment of the population disenfranchised.
With growth and knowledge came discomfort and missteps; like riding a bicycle we hit some bumps, wobbled and crashed as we navigated this new landscape. In learning this new way of being we started to incorporate and refine language to tilt the playfield towards more equitable and inclusive balance.
Understandably, it was awkward for everyone. The people leading efforts in these movements were exploring and exercising their dexterity. Stretching and delving into new spaces and ways of being; processing, trying things out and gathering information to move outside their previous constraints and pushing back against existing boundaries. As people were working through all this, those who previously moved about comfortably were confronted by realities they were previously unaware of or had not acknowledged.
How can people be so oblivious?
People know what they know and do not know what they do not know. If your daily existence is living in a circus community, how would you not know that people do not dress up in clown face and perform acrobatics on a daily basis? Too extreme? Cultural norms and habit are a social construct. Driving on the left side of the street as opposed to the right, wearing head covering, eating ‘family style’ as opposed to individual portions are familiar depending on where and how we were raised and interactions with those around us. There are places in the country that do not observe daylight savings time, if you live all your life in those areas and do not work or communicate with anyone outside, would be expected to know when we ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’?
In this modern era, the world is hyper connected and information abounds. But if you only pay attention to the things you have been exposed to, comfortably in spaces that are familiar, how would you know things? When you watch a news channel you are not regularly tuned into, how does it feel? Would prolonged exposure skew your view of the world and your known reality. Do you watch Fox News, MSNBC, or get your news from social media? The New York Times reports differently than The New York Post or Daily News, which contrasts with Newsday, even though all of them are published within 60 miles of each other. There are disparities in stories covered by the BCC and Al Jazeera; even in the reporting from CNN US versus CNN Global. You may argue that one media outlet is wrong or reports erroneously, but they serve a demographic and look at the world through diverse perspectives. All this to say, we are communal creatures and we flock to those we feel share our affinity.
These natural ways of being started to move us apart and the chasms widened and hardened. The discomfort felt as we explored new ways of being were deemed unworthy of the time and effort compulsory for growth. Movement leaders grew weary of repeating themselves and tones shifted. Patience thinned and those who adapted quicker questioned why others were so slow to get it. People who previously moved about effortlessly experienced something new: pushback.
“Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners” ~ George Carlin
In “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?” (published in 2004), comedian George Carlin said, “Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance, and it is especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people’s language with strict codes and rigid rules. I’m not sure that’s the way to fight discrimination. I’m not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech.” Whether or not you like his brand of humor, Carlin was undeniably influential and masterful at calling things out. I am not saying we should not call things out, but how and why we do it matters.
Americans trended from “it’s not polite to talk about religion and politics” to Google results of 1,190,000 results (0.56 seconds) of political correctness memes. In an effort to circumvent the awkwardness of growth, we retreated and reverted to the safety of our effortless bliss. Conflict avoidance has lead to disengagement; schools once revered for expanding understanding and ‘higher learning’ have cut humanities programs and dodged opportunities to engage. Civil discourse is no longer a skill we aspire to achieve, like unused muscles that atrophy, we have forgotten how to use it or that it even exists at all.
Broken communities, fragmented societies, hate and fear; it’s pretty depressing. Unfriending and blocking people, shutting off news and social media is not going to make the problem go away. We have insulated ourselves in cocoons of like-mindedness, locked ourselves in our self righteous echo chambers, continuing to shout angry retorts and diatribes into a megaphone, it has not worked yet.
The end is not nigh…but it requires effort.
This is not over, it is simply a point in time and not wholly new. History is repeating itself. Empires have crumbled and risen up. The world has suffered pandemics and come out the other side. Politicians and elections have come and gone. Dictators and despots have reigned and been overthrown. There are casualties and we will not come out unscathed, but we will endure…what other choice is there?
How do we move towards compassion, empathy and love? One small act, one person, one conversation at a time. One million memes will not open hearts and minds, but listening and actively engaging does.
COVID and 2020 has brought a lot of things into this world and taken even more. In this time of clarity, veils have been lifted. This is a time of great transition and you have some choices beyond voting ballots. Are you the best version of yourself? Who will you choose to be? Is this your legacy?
We need leaders who create “islands of sanity in the chaos”. Fear, anger, and shame will not lead to good outcomes. We must choose not contribute to the destructive behaviors that run rampant. This is a rally cry…a prayer…wish…a call to action…a plea…an invitation.
Warriors for the Human Spirit are awake human beings who have chosen not to flee. They abide. They serve as beacons of an ancient story that tells of the goodness and generosity and creativity of humanity. You can identify them by their cheerfulness. You will know them by their compassion. When asked how they do it they will tell you about discipline, dedication and the necessity of community.~ Margaret Wheatley