You know that story about how EVERYONE who supports [OTHER GUY] is really supporting [OTHER THING]? Of course you do! Twitter, Facebook, and all the other social media sites are screaming about it. And, because you are a normal human who does normal human things, [OTHER GUY] is usually someone you don’t agree with.
Sometimes, however, it is someone you support. And now that EVERYONE who you like to mock is YOU, and now you know that your friends, family, and social network think you support [OTHER THING]. But you don’t support [OTHER THING]! Of course you don’t! [OTHER THING] is monstrous!
Who posted that? Who wrote this slanderous thing about you?
NO ONE IS THE SAME.
Perhaps it’s the man that taught you “never judge someone by the color of their skin” saying that “the wetbacks are stealing our country”. Maybe it’s the girl who gave great head in high school saying that “sluts deserve to be raped.” Maybe it’s your hero rallying a mob with cries of “vaccines cause autism.”
Everywhere you look, the people around you have changed.
Well, they’re not alone.
We’re all changing all the time. Physically, the constant changes in our own bodies cause us to slowly slough off the body we had before. Mentally — in as much as those can be differentiated — we experience new things and grow as people. These changes are something which we traditionally applaud.
We’re all growing up, and we’re doing that growing up all the time.
Were we stagnant, unchanging avatars of some older time, we’d be monsters. Part of the whole purpose of this information age is that we can learn new things and change our outlook to reflect new evidence. We don’t want to be the past, we want to become a brighter future.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE: YOU ARE TERRIBLY ALONE
You may feel totally isolated. You may feel betrayed by the people from your former life. But don’t worry, so do they!
As explained in Hank Green’s excellent video above, you only share a tiny connection with the people from your past. That connection, is only a tiny part of who they are now. The further you’ve been apart, the less you have in common.
On top of that, memory is a funny thing. Each time a memory is accessed, that memory is also written to. Whatever thoughts and fears caused you to recall something are now recorded back onto that memory. Neuroscience is a cruel mistress.
You don’t even really know yourself.
The astonishing loneliness that accompanies this reality can tempt us all into destructive behavior. One of the most dangerous ways of dealing with this is to seek out strong connections in a quick panic. We do this by reaching out for memories of when people stood united, and we repeat what we heard then. This cry for help finds listeners, and these become our closest friends. Whether that cry was “state’s rights”, “All Lives Matter”, or “Back the Blue”, we’ve now gotten ourselves into a terrible trap.
We’ve chosen to define ourselves by the [OTHER GUY], we’ve chosen to follow. We just wanted help and community, but now we’re lending power to someone with an agenda.
We just wanted to stop being so terribly alone.
WHAT IF YOU COULD MEET THEM ALL AGAIN
Nobody’s Business is a strange book. In it, the protagonist gets an opportunity to meet all of his old associates while acting as an entirely new identity. It takes a lot to set this scenario up — and it would take more to do it in real life — but it gives him a chance to decide what his relationship to these people would be were he to meet them again for the first time.
Additionally, due to the context, the protagonist gets the chance to meet all these people again as a presumed member of their in-group. They don’t hop to discussing dog-whistle issues because they don’t have any need to identify themselves.
Free from the desperate cries for identity, the protagonist gets to see what his former friends and family are really like. He sees what is in them to love and to dislike. It’s not all roses, but it is liberating.
I wish we could all have a chance for the same experience. I wish we could meet our loved ones again. It would teach us empathy. It would teach us what is important to ourselves. It would connect us in a way that our fear of being alone cuts off all too often.
Have you ever had a chance to meet your friends and loved ones again? Have you ever been happily surprised to meet an old enemy after a long time only to find that you are friends?
Trick Dempsey is the author of Nobody’s Business, a social-media noir set in a world obsessed with celebrity. It may be purchased on Amazon.
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