July 17, 2011
“The man who never learns to face himself, will never know what it means to be free.”
I ask myself why it bothers me so much that there are groups of people who take a strong stance against people who are different from themselves. Groups who spread rumors disguised as facts, who make written and oral strikes that they know will cause ripples in the lives that they object to and in the hearts of the people who they’d like to recruit.
I ask myself why these people are the way that they are. I ponder about how many of them are exactly like the people they claim to not accept as equal to themselves. I wonder how many of them express their dissatisfaction with themselves by forcing that negativity onto other people. Why is it so easy for people to embrace hate for someone else, but so difficult for them to realize that they really just hate something about themselves?
Why are there white people who blame all their financial problems on people who immigrated here from another country, or who’s ancestors immigrated here from another country (or in some cases brought here as slaves), while completely ignoring the fact that they are white and therefore themselves not a native person or ancestor of this country? If it wasn’t for people fleeing the turmoil of their home country, this nation would not exist as it does. The only people who have any right to claim this land as their ancestral homeland are Native Americans who’s ancestors migrated here before everyone else, but no one ever talks about that. So unless you are of Native American ancestry, your blood is the most foreign to this soil.
Why do people fear change? Why do people express that fear as hate? Why is it that when one person of a different race or creed commits an immoral or unethical act, that for some people it means that everyone else who belongs to that race or creed must also be immoral or unethical in their behavior? Why has it always been “us” versus “them” and for how long will adults continue to act like troubled adolescent youth?
Today, I have been lost within my own thoughts, trying to answer these questions, trying to understand what’s wrong with people who do these things against their fellow human beings. Trying to understand why not every human is looked upon as human. What’s wrong with the people who do this, what happened to them, is it nature or nurture, how do we fix them, can they be fixed? Why aren’t there enough people who are brave enough to stand up, point at them and tell them they are wrong for their ideals? That it’s not okay to neglect, harass, assault, impede, punish, separate, torture, insult, threaten, condemn people on the basis of their racial, religious, sexual or cultural differences. Why is it that nothing seems to be done about it until it’s too late and someone dies?
If we humans are capable of perceiving things as individuals, why are we so quick to judge people as groups?
If there is one Christian who tolerates someone different from himself and one Christian who denies the same person the right to exist as equal to himself, then I ask what is wrong; Christianity or the person? If one Muslim hates everyone who is not Muslim and another Muslim tolerates everyone who is not Muslim, then I ask what is wrong; Islam or the person?
I cannot write this without mentioning anti-gay rights groups or homophobic individuals, of which I used to be one. I should shamefully tell you all the terrible things I thought of gay people, how I wanted them to be suppressed and be taken out of view. I didn’t want to see gay people, hear gay people and most of all not have contact with gay people. I feared them, I hated them because I was one of them. I saw them and how they accepted themselves, I saw them and how they smiled and laughed like nothing was wrong with them, how they didn’t worry about being discovered and how they seemed bravely unwavered by all the other people who refused to accept them into society. And most of all, how they loved themselves.
What lies at the heart of all this terrible human conduct is not the things we all so often blame. More often than not it is the human being him/herself that is the cause of human torment. Or another human being who has convinced a group of human beings that what he believes in is true and that the group must listen to him and do what he asks of them. I’ve written this many times before, but it never cease to be true; we should never fear mankind within the darkness, but rather the darkness within mankind.
After all the material things that we have acquired, after all the advancements in technology and medicine, all the things that make us civilized, there still exists the thing that makes us humans so primitive and animalistic. Our ability to do violence unto those we oppose and more acutely our desire to separate ourselves from others we deem unequal.
At some point we will reach a day where there will be far less ill-treatment of human beings who are seen as different. We have already made great progress, globally, in educating people, in helping them understand that different does not mean wrong or unacceptable. That change or something alien to preconceived notions does not have to be met with fear. That tolerance is not about abandoning one’s own beliefs or culture, but that it’s about accepting we don’t live in a black and white world.
I know that people can change. Human beings can learn and progress, they can understand and see beyond their own perspective, develop a perception that exceeds the one before it. However, the only way it can happen is within the singular human being him/herself. It takes “will” to embrace a new idea. It takes emotion or feeling to understand, without that we are just calculating brains, just machines. The hope that I hold onto is that it is possible for all fully cognitive human beings to understand suffering and realize that it’s not okay to be the source of that suffering.
We are all capable of facing ourselves in the mirror, we’re just not all willing to do so. I would like to believe that everyone will one day find themselves staring into their own eyes and asking if who they see staring back is who they want to be, if they are proud of what they see, if they are who they once dreamed of becoming.
I have found myself doing just that more than once in my short lifetime. To never question yourself is to walk blindly in life in total disregard of your impact on every other human being you meet. A truly selfish, ignorant state of being that I hope you never fall victim to.
I have changed so much over the years, I’ve changed because I felt like it was necessary, because I’ve met people who have shown me that I was wrong and because I was brave enough to face the reality that not everything I once believed was okay, that not all of my perceptions were accurate and I wasn’t too proud to change them for the better.
But change is a process, a continuing psychological movement that requires attention, focus and the actual desire to go through with it. I constantly find myself thinking or saying things about other people who are different from myself or people that I don’t agree with that are hurtful, judgmental or otherwise counter-productive to tolerance. It’s hard to stand up, to rise up from the seductiveness of wallowing in my own self-righteousness.
How humble it is my friend, to embrace the thought that I’m no better or worse than you or anyone else; that when stripped of every material belonging and facility, I am the same as you and you are the same as me. How liberating it is to accept that the only way to know right from wrong is to first understand that everything I do in life has an impact on everyone else around me and that my thoughts and actions must take into account the well-being of everyone and not just myself.
Today I looked in the mirror and I faced myself unflinchingly. Perhaps today, you will do the same.
This essay is available as an audio track on SoundCloud: