It Begins by Seeing Each Other as People

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

— Gwendolyn Brooks

We live side by side. We go to work together, shop together, sit next to each other in movie theaters and walk past each other on the street, and we don’t see each other at all. We don’t know a thing about our neighbors or the people living in the same spaces as us. We won’t look the cashier in the eye. We don’t have the patience for other drivers on the road. We don’t care about our coworkers weekend, even if we ask. We don’t want to help. We don’t want to hear it. Hell is other people, right?

And that’s just the people we see day-to-day. Then we get online, on Twitter, on Facebook, on our blogs where people are even people anymore. We jump into the comment sections under YouTube videos and articles on our preferred news and opinion sites. We turn on the TV and see nothing but violence and feel fear.

Soon other people aren’t even people anymore. They are obstacles and annoyances. They are different and dangerous. They are the other side, the enemy. They think differently than us, they feel differently than us and anyone who is different from us doesn’t matter. They are wrong. They aren’t worth the time.

Indifference grows to hate, and people never run out of reasons to hate. They hate people because they’re brown, because they’re femme, or because they’re queer, or disabled, or transgender, or Muslim, or poor. They hate people who look different, think different, worship different. Eventually, the hated ones grow bitter, and they hurl hate right back in return. The hate mixes with fear, and they fight, some with fists and guns, some wielding the law.

I’m angry, and I am full of hate too. It grows every time I turn on the news, and I’m tired of it. But as angry as I am, as scared as I am, and as much as I want to shut out half of the world, and as many solid reasons as I know I have to do so, I’m not convinced it’s the right way. I’m not sure that isolating myself from the people who I don’t like, that I don’t agree with, that I don’t want to acknowledge, dignify, or give space to will make the world a better place. I’m not sure that going on hating all those people will change them.

I know what they think of me, and convincing them otherwise is close to impossible, but every so often one is converted, and it happens more and more every day. It’s my job not to just stand up to them, but to convince them, help them, educate them.

To open yourself up this way is exhausting, I know. To have to explain yourself your needs and to in turn give space in your life for such hate to be lobbed back at you hurts. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for anyone all the time. We have to take turns. We can retreat to safe spaces as needed, but we can’t stay there forever. We have to find a way to work it out no matter how hurt and angry we are because if we don’t both halves of humanity will go on fighting and living this double existence side by side and nothing will ever get better, and no one will learn anything.

But is that so bad? Is it really your job to care what people who hate you or are ignorant of your perspective think? Is it your job to educate them or drag them kicking and screaming toward compassion and cooperation? No, of course, it isn’t. Giving them space in your life is a purely personal decision but I think it might be the best thing to do if we want to make the world better. We are all we have, and I think it’s important we all care about each other, whether we agree or not. That doesn’t mean I accept your thinking, or that I will compromise my values. I can fight for whats right and still let you know I care about you. So, it’s not your job, but it is your problem. It’s all our problem to solve.

And solving it begins with seeing each other as people.

Both sides have to begin by understanding that we are all much more alike than we are different and nothing that any human feels or believes is beyond another human’s understanding. It takes stepping into the shoes of another and imagining their whole life had been your own. You may think and believe the same that they do now, and if you did, would the way you isolate and shame them make you change your view if you were them? I doubt it.

To think we can go on making progress with the world split and going for one another throats every day is delusional. The reality is someone is going to have to find a way to take the first step and the longer we tell ourselves that to do so is to compromise your integrity the further we drift from each other and the harder it will be to reconcile, but it will have to be done one day. We are going to have to care. We are going to have to stop seeing each other as the enemy.

We are going to have to start seeing each other.

We are one country, and one world, and in this vast, cold cosmos all we have is one another. Each of us is precious, even those among us who we disagree with. Even those we find ignorant and stubborn and who put themselves at the center of the world to the exclusion of all the rest, even they are rare and precious. Like Carl Sagan said “If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” So, yeah it should matter to you who hs healthcare. It should matter to you who has food, who has a job, who has a home, and who doesn’t. It should matter to you why people feel the way they do, hurt the way they do, and fight for the things they fight for. It is your problem too!

Your fellow human beings, whether you like them or not, agree with them or not, understand them or not, they are your responsibility.  We have to learn to get along sometime, so let’s try a little harder today, and a little harder the day after that. No matter your race, your class, your nationality, immigrant status, gender, sex, or sexuality, no matter how you were raised or what you believe, start by seeing each other as people.

Start by seeing each other at all.

***

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Featured image is by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Be Kind Instead of Right

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a fresh start, every week. Mondays are our do-overs, our reset buttons, our first days. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is off to an about average start. I ran a bit late, I had a meeting, I have a lot on my mind, but I’m motivated. I feel good, but I could use a dose of caffeine to keep the momentum going through lunch. I just have to get through this week. After that, I’ll have nearly two weeks off of to do whatever I want. I can do this.

“I am practicing being kind instead of right.”

— Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

One habit I have been working hard to break is my need to be right all the time. I used to argue a lot. I used to but in and correct people, give my two cents, and I kept talking until the other person yielded and admitted I was right. I worked hard to win. I dropped facts, science, statistics, and lead people along the lines of my own thoughts and feelings to convince them. No matter how angry the other person got, no matter what insults they threw or what they said I kept at it.

I thought I was helping. I thought I was teaching people. I thought people would appreciate what I was doing. I wasn’t helping, though, and I doubt anyone one looks back and thinks fondly on that time that short girl berating them about evolution, healthy diets, the meaning of obscure words, or their brand of politics.

Looking back I am sure I didn’t improve anyone’s life by acting the way I did. When has forcing knowledge or opinions on anyone ever made them feel better?

Even though steered clear of direct insults, I often took on a condescending tone. I talked down to people. I laughed at them. I talked to them like they were simple and stupid. I thought them all backward or falling behind. I didn’t know it then, but I thought I was better than them too. I thought my love of science and my curiosity meant I had a right to educate and dismiss people. I thought I had a right to force everything I’ve learned onto the people around me. I was not acting in kindness. I just wanted to be right, even when no one was arguing with me.

What made me unkind was that I never just listened. There was never a time that I wasn’t judging someone or trying to change them in some way. I didn’t make people feel smart or important. I was pretty awful sometimes.

For awhile now I have been trying to do things differently. I have been trying to listen. I have been trying to let other people teach me things. I have been trying to keep my mouth shut every once in a while.

I can tell you that not only am I sure that the people around me feel better, but that I feel better!

It’s a huge relief not to feel the need to force myself on people. It’s nice not to spend so much energy on trying to bend people in the direction I want them to go. It’s nice to wait until someone asks me what I think. It’s nice to just accept people and let them bend me a little from time to time.

This week, let people be wrong, let yourself be wrong. This week, just accept people. Listen a little more, keep your opinion to yourself, and stop trying to force people to think, believe, and know what you do.

Try not to think of people as stupid just because they see things differently. Try not to talk down to anyone or dismiss their perspective.

This week, try being kind instead of right.

***

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Featured image via Unsplash

Never Say Never, Never Say Always

Hello dear readers, and welcome to the beginning of another work week. If you are anything like me, Mondays are hard for you. It’s not easy to adjust yourself from the relaxing weekend to the rise and grind mentality of Monday thru Friday.

You can find yourself feeling tired, depressed, and disappointed, but that’s no way to live. Instead, let’s try something new. Let’s think of Mondays, not as the first of five miserable days but the first of five days we get to make all the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world around us. Mondays are a new chance to get it right.

My Monday is a dreary one. Here in Colorado, we have cloudy skies, fog, and cool temperatures. I went to bed later than I meant to last night and the lack of sleep and horizon to horizon cloud cover means I’m having a hard time keeping my eyes open.

“I never say never, and I never say always.”

// Grace Kelly

This week I am going to try not to use the words never or always unless I am 100% sure I really mean them. I am under no circumstances to use those words when I am angry or sad. I’m especially not to use use them when talking about another person’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.

Those words on their own aren’t so bad but the mental states they induce or perpetuate are. Those words do not allow us to see or accept the ever-changing and often cyclical nature of reality. Those words and words like them keep us from seeing the big picture or moving forward.

How many times have you said things like:

  • I always do that,
  • Bad things always happen to me,
  • I am always messaging things up.

How many times have you said things like:

  • They never listen to me
  • They never care about my feelings
  • They never see me.

Saying never or always traps us. When we say we never or always we forget that from day to day we change and the world around us does too. When you say never you can’t see that things are good sometimes and they will be again. When you say always you can’t see that things can’t always be good either.

You can’t see that the ups and downs are normal and that you are not, in fact, getting “more than your fair share” of the good or the bad. There is always someone who has is bettered, and always someone who had it worse. There have been times when you yourself had it better or worse than you do now.

Do not give in to feelings of hopelessness or forget that good times and bad times are always on the way. People get better and people get worse. Remember to stay present and see the good and bad you are given in life as it comes and goes. Use other words to describe how you feel.

  • This is happening more than I’d like.
  • It feels like this rarely happens.
  • I am frustrated I’ve been unable to do this lately.
  • I am frustrated that you and I have been unable to agree on this so far.
  • I’ve been needing this lately and I haven’t been able to get it.

These kinds of phrases allow for change. They allow you the opportunity to see a solution. They allow you to keep lines of communication open with yourself and with others. They allow you to make your life what you want it to be, eventually.

Everything is temporary. There is no never or always, and that’s a good thing :)

***

Featured image: Lake Tahoe, United States by Rosalind Chang via Unsplash

Make Your Conversations Matter

Hello and happy Monday dear readers! I hope your work week started with positive vibes and an air of productivity. If not, remember that you can always hit the reset button. I promise you, Mondays are not the worst, it is only that our attitude about them needs tweaking. Mondays are for new chances and new opportunities. Mondays are a new chance to get it right.

My Monday is neither good nor bad. I am tired and I woke up a bit late but I had the foresight to prepare much of what I needed last night. Unfortunately, I also went to bed way to late but I slept well, which is rare anymore, and I am in a good mood. I think I can get stuff done today.

I hate small talk. I want to talk about atoms, death, aliens, sex, magic, intellect, the meaning of life, faraway galaxies, music that makes you feel different, memories, the lies you’ve told, your flaws, your favourite scents, your childhood, what keeps you up at night, your insecurities and fears. I like people with depth, who speak with emotion from a twisted mind.

// Breagha Young

Last week I found myself feeling very annoyed by people who would interrupt a book I was reading, a podcast I was listening to, or a blog post I was writing to talk about nothing at all. It was all small talk and I hate small talk. I hate conversations that aren’t intended to do anything but fill up empty space. I hate to be interrupted for waste time pretending we are getting to know each other.

I don’t mean to sound anti-social, I’m really not, I love talking to people, I just want to talk about something meaningful. People don’t like to do that, though. To ask personal questions is rude and over time the realm of what is personal grows. Anymore I feel like talking about anything more that weekend plans and the weather are too deep for most.

To be perfectly honest I’d rather not talk at all than have one more person tell me the weather is gorgeous and the weekend was too short. I look around and I feel like I am surrounded by robots. I feel like my mind is the only one that exists. They say others do but what evidence I have is wanting.

So, this week I am going to avoid small talk like the plague. Not by checking out, no. This week I am going to ask people real questions and give real answers. I’m going to give details and ask for details. It doesn’t have to be anything too drastic. Instead of asking “How was your weekend?” ask “What did you do this weekend?”. Subtle but the answers will be very different and that little detail will make the conversation worth your time.

I often wonder how we can be on the internet all day liking and commenting, replying and sharing, and yet we can’t even talk to each other face to face. I often think it is because the safety of the anonymous internet has given us all a little bit of social anxiety. We are always trying to escape each other and do the bare minimum until we can get back online.

But the bare minimum is mind numbing. The bare minimum is a waste of time. For a change let’s talk about something more. Let’s talk about something controversial. Let’s talk about something important. Let’s share some opinions, even if we don’t agree. Let’s get to know each other a little, yeah?

If not, leave me in silence. Let me read my book, listen to my podcast, or finish my blog posts, please. I’d rather that, I’d rather anything at all, than any more small talk.

Featured image via Unsplash

You Will Be Misunderstood

Hello and happy Monday dear readers. I hope your day started off on the right foot, mine has been bumpy since I woke up. I was running late, I forgot half of what I needed for the day, and I have more to do than I have time to accomplish. It’s going to be rough but I’ll do my best to stay positive, or at least remember that if sometimes, just making it to the end of the day is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

This week I am thinking about how much time we all waste being frustrated with each other over misunderstandings. I think most conflicts are misunderstandings and most could be resolved if people realized that it is necessary to explain yourself sometimes and people should not just know what you meant or what you want.

I have a friend who thinks that if you don’t understand what they are saying it is because you are not listening. This can be incredibly frustrating when you are in fact doing the best you can because you really do care and you just miss her meaning. My friend just doesn’t understand that language and meaning are not black and white and that she must try a little harder to get her meaning across.

It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.

// Karl Popper

Language a slippery thing and humans, the inventors of it, are notoriously horrible at using it. Couple that with all the subtleties of tone, emphasis, and body language, plus whatever is going on the head of the person you are talking to, and you can see how being understood at all is a miracle.

I have noticed people have very little patience for being misunderstood. We want to say as little as possible and we don’t like to repeat ourselves. We lash out at another person for taking our words the wrong way and ever even consider that half the fault might lie with us. You may have to elaborate, you may have to explain, you may have to try more than a few times, but stay calm and don’t give up.

It takes two people to give words meaning, the one saying and the one hearing. Think of any interaction as two (or more) people working as a team to give words meaning. You cannot do it all on your own and you cannot make it all about you.

Don’t get defensive, don’t get frustrated, that only makes things worse. If you yell or give up the people around you will too. If you are misunderstood, if your words are taken the wrong way, if a mistake is made because someone thought you wanted one thing and you asked for another, just stop, start over, and take the time to try again. It won’t cost you much and, in the end, your relationships remain intact and you feel better for it.

No one is an island and you cannot pretend for long that connecting with others is not important. Just make sure you are doing your part before blaming someone else for misinterpreting your words.

Featured image via eflon

Patience Is the Goal

NaBloPoMo Day 1: Do you find it more helpful to talk things out or to let things quietly rest?

I immediately thought of me and Chardonnay. The way we argue, they way we try to work through our issues is completely different. I like to talk about things but I also like to talk too much. I get emotional quickly and cry and all I want is for what is wrong to be fixed. I think talking it out and trying to understand each other is the best way to work anything out. Chardonnay is the type to let it go and work out her feeling within herself. The more she is made to talk the more frustrated she gets. It’s not that she never wants to talk about anything it’s just that she needs to do it in her own time. Sometimes all she wants is to say she was upset about something and have it NOT turn into a conversation.

It’s hard for us to communicate effectively sometimes. I think it is remarkable that we are able to work anything out at all considering we deal with problems completely differently. We work hard to get past our differences and find some kind of common ground. She has to try to talk and I have to listen when she says she needs a break. If she doesn’t talk then she puts up a wall between us and that affects our relationship negatively. If I don’t give her a break then I don’t make her feel comfortable to talk to me and she won’t try harder to do so.

Most of our arguments seems to be about petty things. I often wonder if most of our fights have to do with much bigger issues than what we think we are arguing about. I read a post on Zen Habits awhile back titled “How To Make a Marriage Work“. In the post Leo talks about how “most disputes and other conversations are about two things: do you care about me, and can I trust you.”. I think this is true for me and Chardonnay. Everything is about those two things. Having accepted that I have tried harder to let her know that whatever it is she is upset about, she can trust me and I do care. I try my best to let her know that that is what I need too.

I used to think that my way was the right way. I used to think that talking everything out right away was what everyone should be doing. I admit I judged Chardonnay harshly for not being able to communicate the way I did. One day I realized I had been wrong. Everyone deals with things in their own way and Chardonnay needs to time to process her feelings. When she is ready to talk she can tell me exactly how she feels and what she needs from me. I may talk about my feelings right away but often times I am so mixed up and emotional I may not know exactly how I feel or what I need.

So I guess both ways are right. We are both right, we are just different. We still have arguments, every couple does, but things are getting better. We just have to be patience with each other. That is the goal now, patience.

NaBloPoMo September 2014