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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People are People, Just Like You

Hello, 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 to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is a reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

People are simple, and stupid, and complex, and feeling, and wise, and fallible, and beautiful, and dark, and ugly, and so much more than we can ever convey with words. We know this because we know ourselves and deep down we know other people feel and think and go through what do, even though we rarely act like it.

We know we have rich inner lives, profound thoughts and feelings, shades of emotions, wants, and needs that language can scratch the surface of. We know there are reasons behind everything we do that rarely ever fall fully to one side of good or bad, selfless or selfish. There are more shades of human motivation and reason than there are stars in the universe or grains of sand on every beach but humans aren’t good with subtle shades of being or thinking.

We know that our psyches are deep and varied and we know that because of this, because every thought and action and all that we are is a product of all we have been through and sometimes all that many generations before us have been through, we know we are deserving of understanding and patience. Somehow, we know this, but at the same time, we know that other people are simple beings with simple and often nefarious motivations for doing what they do.

We forget that people are people, all over the world and all throughout time, same as we are.

They have the same thoughts, the same questions, the same failings and triumphs, the same daily, grueling, inner struggle between who they are and who they ought to be. They share the same complex inner life and painfully vague understanding of why they do what they do. They are hurt and hoping and fucking up, and we should be working harder to understand their needs and motivations, the way we would ask them to do for us.

We are too quick categorize and condemn each other in ways that are radically different from how we think of ourselves. They are mean. They don’t care. They aren’t good enough. They are stupid. They are trying intentionally to sabotage and set me back. They are the enemy, but it isn’t so simple. They are human, and so are we, and they do all the things they do for the same reasons as us. Because they don’t know any better.

 

Of course, in all the ways we are the same, there are as many ways in which we are different, and that is where the work of understanding happens. Besides the fact that we all come from different places and were born in different times, besides the fact that each of our parents was raised in a time with different struggles and different values, besides the fact that no two perspectives can ever be the same, we all simply have very different brains. We have different thoughts, needs, motivations, wants, and ideas about right and wrong and every shade in between.

Even on our best days, when we are listening well and using language as precisely as we can, no human language is articulate or exact enough to ever explain who we are, what we feel, and what our motivations and reasons may be. Each of us no matter how we reach out and to how many is alone within our own minds. We can never be understood and we can never fully understand, but we can try harder, and do better, and stop treating each other like simple beings and react with simpler solutions and emotions.

This week, before you judge who is right and who is wrong, who is worth listening to, and who is worth compassionate understanding, or friendship, just know that each person you encounter is a complex mix of history, culture, experience, emotion, and wisdom that you will never fully comprehend.

We owe it to ourselves to treat one another better. To owe it to each other to understand each other better. To step into each other’s shoes isn’t so hard when you stop acting as if you are the only one who can be right, who can be hurt, who can have needs, or can make mistakes.

This week, try to understand that you have no right to presume to know who a person is, why they do what they do, how they ought to act, or what help they need or don’t. Get to know people and do the hard work of letting them exist on a spectrum rather than at the easy to categorize extremes.

This world has become far too black and white, I’d love to see some grays, and one day, when we are better people than we are now, we might even be comfortable with color and hue and brightness too.

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Featured image via Unsplash