My old life coach Nina Rubin hit me up online after the new year. It’s been a while since we’ve really talked, so she said, “I’m curious how you’re feeling about work, dating, and the political landscape,” because she cares about my well-being, and remembered that I am known for having very specific opinions on politics and pop culture, and it feels like the two have merged in recent days. Since I have some decent job prospects, and the girl I was seeing reached out to let me know she was going to try to be more available (she’s the assistant dean of a California State University, in the midst of getting her PhD), I guess you’re stuck with what I think about the political landscape. And what do I think?
I think that our country is in danger, real danger. Not from politics, or terrorism or a draconian leader, but from our disconnection from one another. And to me, in a world where human beings genuinely need other people, we cannot continue this way. Like it or not.
Here’s the thing: I believe that if America comes asunder completely, it will be because we cannot get along with people who don’t agree with us, and don’t think that we that we have to. Terrorism or Russia or anybody else can’t beat us like we can beat ourselves in my opinion, and that won’t change unless we change our thinking about people we don’t like. For me, this post is not about politics, because at the end of the day, politics is just the study of how we choose to govern the country, and because we in the United States live in a representative democracy, that means how we choose to treat the people that live in it.
This past election cycle, I saw people “unfriend” (as though that’s a real thing) old friends on Facebook because of who they voted for. On both sides. I saw people say absolutely vulgar and hateful gutter things to people online that they’d never met and didn’t even actually know. On both sides. And I saw many people complain about how miserably lonely they were, and how they felt isolated, despondent, and that nobody understood or cared about them. On both sides. While I’ve felt low myself over the past year, it’s not because I felt alone, thanks to social media. So I find it ironic that in a time where I’ve had the ability to reconnect with people I went to grammar school with on the other side of the country, we seem to have large groups of people spending thousands of dollars on dating sites to learn to connect with other people, while living in terror of people they don’t even know. And I’m terrified that this is a breeding ground for people with a fanatical ideology to convince those despondent people that the way to make their seemingly meaningless lives worthwhile is to sacrifice themselves to hurt those people they hate or they feel have otherwise rejected them. And in my opinion, that has got to stop.
Here’s reality: by actual fact, human beings are social animals. No matter how many dogs or cats you hoard, you came from a woman, and I believe that without people of both genders actively in your life, regardless of what your particular gender orientation is, you will be miserable. I realize that people are tough – oftentimes, family members will drive you up the wall more than anybody else you encounter. What I’ve found though, is that nothing will make you feel better than connecting with somebody you didn’t believe you could connect with, and nothings enriches you more as a human being than when you do.
My first girlfriend and I had almost nothing in common. She came from poverty; growing up I came from wealth. My family raised me to believe that her religion was the enemy, and while I’ve been a geek my whole life, she was a popular cheerleader, known for being the prettiest girl in her family. We had two completely different races. While I will admit that our relationship ultimately did not work out, I grew more as a person as a result of trying to make it work than in any other experience I’d had before or have had since. Though most people refuse to believe this, I learned that there may be no universal “good,” “right,” and “wrong,” but that there’s mainly what works and what doesn’t, which differs from person to person. In spite of all that difference and grey area, somehow, some way, people still need each other, and for me the easiest way to discover what works is to measure one’s own beliefs against those who believe otherwise. If you’re open to it, you’ll either confirm what you believe more, or learn a new way of thinking that will give you answers and options that you didn’t even realize existed.
Every human beings deserves respect, in my opinion, even those you despise. Please do not confuse respect and admiration. Those people you ignore, belittle, and who escape your notice are the same people that can one day turn around and rob you for it, bomb your country, or take it over outright. Despite your not respecting their opinions, their mere existence alone will make them matter to you eventually, I have found. Again, because people need people, people eventually affect each other, no matter how hard you try to hide from them. The family member you hate may be a part of you, and your hatred of them may eat you alive inside. The person you ignore may affect somebody you care about, pulling you into their orbit. The welfare queen that you reject may give birth to the person who kills your relative. And the terrorist who bombs a country you never heard of may affect your country’s economy with his or or her craziness. Again, I believe that if you arm yourself with knowledge of those different from you by respecting their ideas and trying to understand them regardless of whether you agree, you can shield yourself from harm somewhat, and perhaps enhance your reality. Bury your head in the sand, and you may not even see the danger of changing circumstances until it’s too late.
At the end of the day, I believe that there is no good reason to be a jerk. “I don’t like this” and “this stinks” are two very different things. While we live in a country where confidence is king, I believe that you can be confident without putting down somebody else. The world, as I see it, is not a zero sum game, and I think that turning it into one will drive you further and further away from the rest of society, and leave you unprepared for what I see as the inevitability of having to deal with it. We inoculate people from illness by injecting part of the disease into the body, so that it can learn to protect itself. The more we avoid the opportunity to do this, the weaker we become, in my opinion.
All that said, I also believe we need to leave people alone. Not by neglecting them, but letting them be them. In my opinion, the most you can do is protect yourself and your loved ones from harm – you cannot change other people unless they want to change. If you can learn to understand them however, I believe you can make it – we all can. By learning to respect and live with other people, as they are, I believe that we can do and survive anything together. I think trying to cherry pick only the parts of life and people we like is not only harmful, but impossible. We are all human, we all have traits that people like and those they don’t. If we can learn to accept that, regardless of who we’re dealing with, I believe we genuinely have a shot at making this thing work. I think it is literally the only shot we’ve got.