Friday, January 30, 2015

Crossing the Divide Between US

An Interview With Myself

Do you believe in God?


Do you believe in evolution?


Do you believe global warming exists?


Is it caused mostly by human actions?


Should we have strict gun control?


Should Darren Wilson have been prosecuted for killing Mike Brown?


Do you believe in LGBT rights?


Do you believe in a woman's right to choose an abortion?

Do you belief in capital punishment?



There you have it! Everything you need in order to judge my entire being, if internet comment sections and TV pundits are to be believed. Hell, you probably don't even need all of that information because according to statistics, most of you stopped reading after my very first answer. The rest of you angrily closed the browser window after my Mike Brown response.

And I can't say I blame you because I'd probably do the exact same thing if the roles and responses were reversed. There are certain perspectives or stances on issues that make me harshly judge a person based completely off that one stance. Creationist? I know everything I ever need to know about you. Think that social security should be privatized? Clearly not someone to be taken seriously on anything. Fan of Iggy Azalea's music? I have no time or respect for you.

But these attributes or characteristics, like all of the statements I made above, don't comprehensively define us as individuals. Not even close. We all know that stereotyping is wrong, but we still make highly biased and presumptuous judgments about people based on small aspects of their character. Only real assholes judge somebody based on race, gender, or sexual orientation anymore, but we don't hesitate to label someone a Libtard or Gun-nut if they have a varying opinion on public policy. We never stop to think about how insane it is to define someone based on their viewpoint of a single topic, or even a few topics. Clearly, if they are being purposefully and personally offensive, that's a different story, but if they simply don't see something exactly the way you see it, that doesn't make them a bad person.

It doesn't make them ignorant, either. People equate "differing opinion" with "lack of intellect." Belief has nothing to do with intelligence. I don't believe in God but that doesn't make me mentally superior to those who do (contrary to what many atheists will have you believe). I'm pro choice but I don't question the intelligence of everyone who isn't. They just have a different opinion. People always assume they know more about a topic and those who disagree will change their mind if they just listened to you and watched this one video on youtube that explains it all.

You can point out facts all day but not all beliefs are based on facts alone. You can't argue facts on topics like religion or abortion because they are very personal issues. Of course, there are some issues where facts should play a big role in forming an opinion, yet even then it's no use: when people's strongest convictions are contradicted with overwhelming factual evidence, people become firmer in their beliefs. In these cases, it's hard not to question a person's intelligence and simply yell in their faces. Anti-vaccine people, for example. However, even though they have an idiotic, dangerous stance, they're position comes from a place of love for their children (usually). With a topic like that, the goal of any debate should be to inform and change the person's mind, so patience and understanding of their position is vital. You can't get angry and start yelling at them just because they are putting their children and the community and society as a whole at risk you goddamned mor--sorry. I'm fine. It's fine.

Seriously, though, this is the braintrust of the anti-vaccine movement. Not a joke.

For most topics, though, there aren't such clear cut "right" and "wrong" sides. Unfortunately, there's a whole industry trying to tell us the opposite. Television pundits literally get paid to divide us and make us think of every single issue in terms of black and white, simple right vs wrong. The truth is, life is one big gray area; right and wrong isn't always objective, and most beliefs can't be summed up in a simple "yes or "no." If you asked someone who identifies as pro-life if they think abortion should be illegal, they would say yes. But that same person might allow for exemptions in cases of rape or if the mother's health is at risk, as many pro-lifers do. Just like most pro-choice people don't advocate for an abortionplex to maximize the number of abortions. Most people aren't that extreme on any side of a given issue.

I understand the urge to be like Elaine and completely disregard anyone who doesn't agree with your stance on abortion or any other number of topics, but it's inherently ridiculous. (The great Jessica Williams just did a hilarious segment on The Daily Show about this very thing while I was writing this. Maybe we've reached a tipping point?) Even labels that are supposed to say a lot about you (Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative) don't tell much about a person. Do you honestly think it's possible to equate a 55 year old man from Missouri to a 25 year old woman from New York City just because they vote for the same political party? People can't be defined so narrowly.

Think about your own friends, especially long time friends. There are most likely some things you disagree on, but you are still friends because you appreciate them as a whole person. I don't question the integrity or character of my friends when we disagree on things because I know there are more important qualities in a friend than sharing the exact same viewpoint on every issue. Yet, when someone I don't know has a differing opinion on an issue, I automatically assume the person is a mentally impaired racist who tortures puppies.

It's absurd, and I'm trying to be more understanding and patient with people who I disagree with. I think it's okay (good even) to be passionate about your beliefs and stances on issues, but passion and patience (and kindness) shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Passion shouldn't be nonexistent, either; it needs to be balanced with logic and reason. I've seen debates where a person calls someone out for being too emotional, claiming passion was making them blind to reason. Again, that may be true in some cases, but it doesn't negate the benefits and importance of passion. Maybe this person studied the topic for years and has a personal connection to the topic; there are many good reasons to be passionate about issues. When a person claims that someone else is being "too emotional," it reminds me of the treatment of "female hysteria" in the 19th century. Women would show a little independence or creative thought or god forbid, emotion, and they'd get tagged as hysterical and locked up in the loony bin. Nowadays, people show a little passion about police brutality or rape culture and they get called "too emotional" and discredited as illogical.

It's just another way to shut someone up and keep yourself from hearing any opinions that challenge your own. We don't want to learn something new or question our own beliefs, we want to be right. It's why we all read news stories and articles that confirm our already held beliefs. It's why, during election season, I've heard people say they have to "unfriend" someone on social media because of their political views. This is our exact problem. We blast partisanship in our government, but we do the same thing in our personal lives. We actively ignore people we disagree with. The thing is, they aren't just going away, and the issues you disagree on aren't going away either, so we have to engage with each other. Or, ya know, just scroll past their political post.

Here's where I drop the Gandhi quote: "Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress."

Honest disagreement.

We can, and should, openly express our disagreements, that's how we progress as a society and individuals, but we should work on doing it a little more respectfully. Again, I'm working on this, too. I've always tried to see all sides of a given situation, but there are certain issues I avoid discussing because I know I will end up thinking less of someone who disagrees with me. Becoming a teacher has helped because my goal is to foster productive debate and conversation about sometimes controversial topics, and initiating the conversation requires me to see both sides of arguments that I normally might not. If I'm going to encourage respectful, honest discussion among my students, than I should be able to do it myself and teaching has helped me do that.

Besides, if I'm truly passionate about something, the goal should be to help others see it my way. The current thinking seems to be that the person who yells the loudest and longest wins the argument, but that doesn't encourage anyone to learn something or change their mind. It feels good in the heat of the moment (so so good!) but afterwards there's no satisfaction on either side. Nothing is learned. No progress is made.

So what's the point? We're all just yelling into the abyss. Judging each other every chance we get, over opinions even, our flimsy ass opinions. People change their minds all the time. Maybe they are presented with information they didn't previously have or their life experiences alter their views, or maybe they just grow older and think differently. That's a good thing; people should adjust their views according to experiences and information. My 34 year old self would argue all day with my 24 year old self. I'd probably just slap the shit out of my 14 year old self, but that's beside the point.

The point is, opinions and beliefs are not the best measure of a person's character, and we could all stand to be a little less judgmental. The hypocrisy of our judgments are on display every day. The smoker judging the obese man. Out of shape fans sitting on their couches judging the skills of professional athletes. I see adults blasting the youth all the time about how much they are on the internet. Where do I see these complaints? On the internet.

I certainly appreciate the irony, but it's not really doing anybody any good. Judging others is part of human nature and even a little necessary at times (murder, rape, personal hygiene, etc.) but we should just ask ourselves what we're basing our judgments on. Is it their stance on welfare and drug legalization, or how they treat their friends and family? Is it their opinions or their actions? Because what they do and how they act tells you a lot more about a person than who they vote for or their feelings on the latest crop of presidential hopefuls or what type of music they like.

But I'll still hate you for liking Iggy Azalea.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed.

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