I sat there sipping my coffee, still reeling a bit from the hatred I saw the night before. I have a tinge of a headache and I’ve debated what might have caused this one. I’ve engaged in some intelligent dialog already this morning, which restores a bit of my faith in humanity. I’m listening to John Prine’s Spanish Pipedream (video below) for the first time and considering it as a political statement of sorts.
I look out my bay window and see my neighbor uncovering his car in the driveway across the street. I noticed that the car was covered this morning and had noted that it was unusual. He pulls away the blue auto cover and reveals that the Cadillac SUV is also draped with layers of blankets underneath. He pulls them away, one by one with care. I realize that he had covered the car in preparation for last night’s storm. I suppose we were expecting hail.
I sat there thinking as I continued to drink my coffee. My first thought was something along the lines of “damn, we didn’t prepare at all.” I glanced out the other window to confirm that our vehicles were indeed ok. I smiled a little, celebrating my neighbor’s preparedness. I suppose we’re just not the “plan ahead, be ready for everything” type of folks. I see now that my new neighbor is. So I know where to go in case of a zombie apocalypse.
I pondered what other differences might exist between my neighbor and I. They’ve only lived across the street for a few months and seem like very nice people. Their yard is well tended to, whereas my flowers beds definitely need weeding, even in January. Their Christmas decorations covered the house, top to bottom. We technically never finished ours. They own a car cover. We most certainly do not.
I sat there thinking through other examples of differences and I realized that these differences are a beautiful thing. If I did the same exercise with another one of my neighbors, there would be an entire new list of differences at hand, along with some similarities. This world revolves every day filled with a wildly diverse population. We share this planet with people of different races, different cultures, different priorities, and talents. Just the variety of things that we can differ on is amazing. If you consider the infinite combinations of characteristics available, the variations that can, and do, exist among our peers are simply astonishing.
You and your cousin could love mayonnaise, blues music, and modern art, whereas I like modern art and blues music, but detest mayonnaise. With so many options for things to like and dislike, believe and not believe, it’s inevitable that we will see eye to eye with some people and maybe not fully understand the viewpoint of others.
An exercise I did recently in a communications course suggests that we are all holding a beach ball, with multi-color stripes. If we hold the beach ball with both hands in front of our faces, we can really only see the stripe nearest our face and maybe a few of the neighboring colors. That stripe nearest you is your color. It represents how you see the world and what you know to be true. We usually cannot see the color that’s completely opposite our color. Someone else, however, who’s looking from the other side, sees that opposing color most clearly and cannot see yours. The idea here is that we all see the world from a different side of the beach ball and therefore must remember that there are other colors on the other sides. We just don’t see those as clearly.
This weekend marked a colossal moment in US history. We saw millions of women (and supporting men) around the world take a stand, literally, for a variety of causes that they believed in. These men and women marched like we saw African Americans do under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. We’ve seen anti-war marches and marches for a variety of equality causes. Most of these demonstrations are included in history books and often cited as a causation of change. After all, the rally that included Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech only was only attended by just over 200,000 Amerincans. The march this past weekend boasted millions of attendees across the globe. Even if we don’t agree with some of the reasons in which these women marched, we must admit that declarations of the sort are important and have been known to bring attention to important issues and precipitate change. (I say “some” of the issues because it’s very important to remember this presentation was NOT about just one cause.) So again, disregarding the plethora of reasons in which women showed up for these events, let’s use our rational minds and consider some facts.
First, if millions of women worldwide took a stand on something, isn’t it reasonable that we should at least investigate their reasoning? It wasn’t just a handful of folks on a corner somewhere. Shouldn’t we do some research? Shouldn’t we consider that if we thought these marches were silly, that there could be a side of the beach ball that we’re not seeing? If millions of people, on every continent (even Antarctica!), are marching for something, anything, then there must be some sort of injustice at hand, even if we haven’t experienced it firsthand. This is when we should listen with an open mind and be sure we understand fully before taking our own stand.
Second – and this is my most important argument – if we do our research and we develop a differing belief, we can hold true to that determination while still being considerate. (Fox News alone is not research, by the way.) Having a differing viewpoint, even if it’s entirely different, does not authorize us to speak at the expense of other’s morals and views. We are absolutely given the right to differ and to feel strongly about opposing ideas. In my opinion though, that right should be conditioned upon on consent to be mindful and considerate of the other side. If we can’t develop our own opinions while acknowledging that other’s have that same right, I believe that we should elect to be silent. Even when someone’s behavior or vocalization is displeasing to us, even infuriatingly so, I believe wholeheartedly that we still must treat them with respect and kindness.
In any argument, what’s true most likely lies somewhere in the middle of your side and the other. Often, we disagree because we simply don’t understand the perspective of the other side. If we’ve done our due diligence to understand the opposing viewpoints and we still don’t agree, that is 100% okay. What’s not okay is condemning the other side. It’s not okay to lash out with cruel generalizations, painting a false picture of someone else’s reality. I like to believe that most people are good. They mean well and they’re doing the best they can, as writer Brene Brown would suggest. If that’s true, then these people that we deem unfit must know something to be true that we do not. They must have experienced something that we have not. They must be gathering together and marching for some reason that is incredibly valid in their minds. And if it’s millions of them gathered together, there must be something to it; we just might not understand it. Again, if we’ve made an effort to understand and still do not, that’s okay. We still have an obligation to treat each other with kindness, to be understanding and accepting of people that are different than us, and to shut the hell up if we can’t say something nice. (I added that last part out of frustration. Please forgive me.) Before speaking out, consider this. If the person who you love the most in the world, wasn’t being heard or was being mistreated in any way, you’d likely be angry. So before we lash out and scream cruel absurdities, decide first if you’d want those things said to your most important person. Would you want them said to you by your most important person? If not, and likely not, then those words are probably best left unsaid.
Here’s a thought. If you’re unsure if the things you’re about to post or say are impolite, send it to me. I’ll be happy to offer a different way of seeing things. If you really cannot tell if your current viewpoint is racist, small-minded, inconsiderate, or downright rude, please share it with me first. I’m happy to shed some light from another side of the beach ball. (Again, this is included a bit out of frustration too. However, I am truly happy to save someone from being unintentionally – or intentionally – offended because of a lack of understanding.)
You see, the beauty of this grand and diverse world we live in, is that it’s grand and diverse! It’s our subtle and not-so-subtle differences that lay the groundwork for progress and collaboration. It’s those differences that make this world exciting and fun to explore. The infinite number of possible trait combinations guarantees that we’ll in some way be different from every other person on the planet. We won’t all agree. We won’t see all of the colors on the beach ball. However, we can all be respectful and understanding of the fact that we only know our own color with certainty.
The chorus of the song above goes like this:
Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find jesus on your own.
What if we didn’t have a TV or paper (or cell phone) feeding us truths and non-truths? What if we built our own homes, lived our own lives how we chose, and let others do the same? What if we spent our lives trying to find Jesus on our own, minding our own business and letting others do their own exploration? Even simpler, what if we thought twice and considered how someone else that’s not exactly like us, someone who has had differing life experiences, might feel about our words BEFORE we hit that post button on facebook? What if?? I think we all need to take a stanza from this song to heart. We need to plant our own garden and eat our own peaches. And, most importantly, we need to stay out of our neighbor’s garden unless they invite us in.
If you don’t need these women marching for you, that is wonderful! You are so fortunate that you haven’t been belittled in some way and I am happy to celebrate that victory with you. (Seriously!) However, out of kindness, we must remember that just because we haven’t experienced some sort of injustice, doesn’t mean that someone near us hasn’t. Much like domestic violence or abuse, it could be happening right next door and we often don’t even know. We never, ever know the depth of struggles the people around us face, and we shouldn’t pretend to. When we make broad statements condemning the beliefs of our friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers, we are rudely disregarding what their real struggle might be.
If you read nothing else in this post, please read this:
If someone came to you explaining that they’d been taken advantage of sexually the night before, a brutal rape with details that they’ll relive every night when they close their eyes, would you claim that it didn’t happen because it didn’t happen to you? Probably not. You’d probably listen with kindness and attempt to console them. If it was a close friend or family member, you’d probably scream out in anger and demand justice. You’d probably do your best to understand because you suddenly realized that you didn’t fully understand the horror of that situation until it showed up on your own doorstep. There are many things we don’t understand because we haven’t experienced them on our own. This can be something to be immensely grateful for when the topic at hand is injustice. Just because we haven’t experienced it or because we’d possibly respond to it differently, does not give us the right to be cruel to others or disregard their pain. As a matter of a fact, it’s usually best to be silent and just listen when the discussion is a topic that we’re unfamiliar with.
This national conversation is one of injustices that have happened all across the world, in big cities and small towns that we’ve never even been too. Various women have experienced a variety of things that they feel strongly weren’t right. We don’t know these women and we certainly don’t know what’s true about their experiences. If we can’t relate to the struggle of at least one of these women – whether it be inequality in the work place, discrepancies in health care, something regarding race or religion – then we’re very lucky. If we’ve never walked that path ourselves, then we’re unqualified to speak on the topic. We live in glass houses, folks. We all have our own battles and demons and obstacles. It’s time that we be a little more understanding to the struggles we don’t actually have to bear and subsequently can’t fully understand.
It’s time we admit that we can’t see the colors on the other side of the beach ball and therefore can’t describe their vibrancy the way the person on that side can. It’s time that we blow up our TV, throw away our paper, and try to find Jesus on our own.
(Thank you, Meagan, for the introduction to this song and this mindset. Your love and compassion for others has always inspired me. Thank you for being a light in the darkness for all of those who know you.)