What is it like to be you?
I’ve had this particular pondering rattling around in my head for a few months, for various reasons. It was there long before the election, and it’s gotten louder since.
I want to say that I don’t *think* I discriminate against a person because of color, gender, religion, nationality, sexual preference, age, political persuasion, etc. (I’m sure I’m leaving possible categories out of here.)
I care who a person is inside, and I care how they walk through the world.
With that said, though, I’m also aware that I’m extremely naive, even at my age, and with my life experience, about how others who aren’t me, experience the world. (Sometimes I’m naive even about how I’m experiencing the world. Haha.)
I can say that I am happily friends with people who have a variety of sexual preferences, who are of different races, belief systems…who are from different countries. I have friends from all different kinds of political persuasions, too. I also have artistic friends, tech friends, animal friends, etc. (again surely leaving out LOTS of categories!).
I have friends who are definitely 11s, and I even have friends who are 6s at best.
Too soon? :)
I can also point out that I’ve hired people as a manager and as a business owner, based on their skills and personality, and not on their gender, sexual preferences, age, religion, race, or nationality.
I can share that I regularly host people in my home through airbnb, and I can tell you I’ve had several people specifically comment on how welcomed they’ve felt at my place vs others, because they’re used to encountering prejudice, and they didn’t feel that with me. I’ve teared up a few times when they’ve gushed just because I’ve been kind to them. What kind of experiences have they had!? I’m horrified.
BUT, I am also realizing that me even pointing all this out? Even naming these “types” or categories…is me grouping people. It’s me distinguishing myself from “others”, even if I’m not saying I’m better than anyone else.
What’s bringing this up now, why I’m finally posting about this, is because of a conversation in a private group about the safety pins.
Someone asked if the people that others are wearing these safety pins “for”, as a message of solidarity and safety, find them insulting or welcome. (This same person didn’t want to hear from white women, which is saying an entire group has nothing to contribute that she wants to hear.)
The variety of opinions in that thread, even from women who others might group together, say gay women, or women of color, is as varied as our DNA.
After many, many people responded, one of the women commented on the thread that she still doesn’t have a definitive answer on whether or not the pin is offensive.
Of course she doesn’t. And she shouldn’t. There IS no definitive answer. That’s the point.
For me, that post and the comments contain the crux of the issue…Grouping.
But…we are wired to group and categorize for many reasons, including convenience and perceived safety.
It’s necessary for our survival to group and categorize and recognize alike and different, safe and unsafe, preferred and disliked.
However, our diversity is also how our species survives. Variation and change and growth are the core essence of the continuation of life.
Because our species seems to prefer the easy way out, prefers not to rethink every single thing presented to us, we tend to group over seeking variety. And once we’ve settled into what we believe, we often stop re-examining those beliefs and just discard anything or anyone that doesn’t fit them.
So when confronted with differing opinions or experiences from individuals we’ve “grouped”, our responses range from failing to realize we’ve grouped, to ignoring the differences, to avoiding the perceived “group”, to trying to force change on another, to just being baffled on what to do, how to proceed, what to ask, how to alter our worldview to include the variety that’s just become visible in a group or category we previously assumed was all the same.
The recognition that people are all unique individuals and should be approached as such, as often as possible, is the point.
Equally important, is the self-awareness and courage to act as an individual, instead of seeking approval.
If you want to wear a pin, wear a pin. If you want to approach someone with a pin, do it. If you want to hear what others think about it, ask, and then make your own decision based on what you’ve learned.
Because all this chaos has occurred and is still occurring, a lot of us have been jarred out of our comfort zones and are starting to look around. We’re organizing and discussing and disagreeing and seeking on levels most of us have never done before.
But because we don’t all have skills in actual discourse, or conflict resolution, or regularly seeking new experiences, or remaining curious and open, a lot of us are awkwardly tripping over ourselves and not sure how to stand upright to move forward.
It takes a lot of self-awareness, work and courage to NOT group and categorize…to avoid shortcuts that we perceive make it easier to find our way through the wide variety of people in our lives and our country and our world.
The challenge is to be constantly aware of when it’s appropriate and when it’s not to ‘group’.
I don’t think it’s bad to recognize that someone is different.
I don’t even think it’s inherently “bad” to interact with someone differently because they are different from me or from another person. I wouldn’t interact with one person exactly as I interact with another.
However, before interacting with someone “differently”, it’s important to KNOW them individually. Learn who they are, what their life is like, what their experiences are. Find out what they love, and what rubs them raw. Approach them with openness and curiosity.
And no matter what their differences are, it’s never acceptable to treat them poorly because of it.
So, back to my original reason for this post…I do spend a lot of time trying to figure people out.
But that’s not enough. To grow, and truly learn how to avoid discriminating, I need to ASK people who they are, what they’ve experienced, and what they want and don’t want. I need to ask this of everyone, from my most intimate friendships and relationships, to total strangers.
So admittedly, despite all my interactions and friendships and experiences, I’m partially responsible for what’s going on, because I’ve not often stepped outside my own conversations to ask what I really want to know….
What is it like to be you?