When was the last time you learned something new? There’s something horrifying about starting again, whether it’s learning a new job, learning how to live alone after a divorce, or learning how to cope after shedding an addiction we spent decades relying on.
When’s the last time you heard a critique of your character, had someone tell you you hurt them, been given some unsolicited feedback? Did it break you open, nip you at the root of every insecurity you’ve believed about yourself?
And when’s the last time you judged someone? Called them stupid, intolerant, worthless?
And when’s the last time you pushed everyone away?
My love, my dear friend, my sibling of the earth and the Son: what is your easy answer? That you’re stupid? That you’re too irredeemable, too worthless? Too smart, too right? That everyone else is worthless and wrong? That they’re better than you – that you’re an impostor trapped in a world moving on without you?
What’s the hard answer?
What’s the right one?
Have faith, my love. Have courage.
The right answer is out there – you just have to make it out of the forest first.
The truth is none of us do. We all kind of think we do, though.
We know the way to fix the government and steer the country into a better tomorrow. We know what words to use to speak about others. We know the difference between habitual and non-habitual sin.
Building a world towards empathy means having the courage to admit our blind spots. Like accepting the ways we aren’t perfect in terms of racism, we need to accept the limits of our own intuition and sense of self. It’s a further complexity to the paradox of the existence. The acceptance of admitting what you don’t know, inasmuch as we accept what we do, is the key to undoing all the topics we’ve discussed.
We know we’re not safe, but we don’t know how or to what degree. (Week One Day 1) This is why the idolatry of safety is such a temptation. We’re so scared of what we don’t know that we fall quickly into worship of the things that tell us we know it all – we know where the danger is and how to avoid it. When we peel that back, we’re left with the stark truth that we don’t know much of anything. And when we don’t know, we start to hate a little less and love a little more.
We think we can fix everything until we’re fighting tooth and nail with our loved ones who are depressed. When we realize neurotypical brains and sick brains don’t work the same way, we begin to uncoil the lie that they’re always wrong and we’re always right.
When we admit what we don’t know, the truth becomes a lot less one-dimensional. Political parties start to make more sense. Minority groups seem a little bigger, or at least a little more worth listening to.
You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? What to believe and who to vote for? How to get to heaven or how to avoid hell?
The less we obsess over knowing everything there is to know, the less we wrestle each other to find the one way to live, the more time we have to just exist. To watch sunsets in awe. To hold hands in wonder. To be held in the complete thrill of taking each moment as it comes.
Pick a contemporary American issue. Heck, pick a classical political issue. It can, and almost always is or has been, reduced to two diametrically opposed opposites. Women’s suffrage – for or against. Emancipation – for or against. Blue lives matter or Black ones do. Pro-choice or pro-life.
There’s no nuance, which leads to the black-and-white generalizations of others we discussed yesterday. You have to pick a side. The only time we allow for any amount of nuance is from our candidates in or around an election year. Even then, though, it all stems through two lenses. You may disagree on what education should be funded by the government – two year college, kindergarten, or full four year college – but you either think the government should fund some parts of education or should not fund any.
We’re going to explore this concept through two popular political facets, revealing what options we have in the popular, and why these issues don’t have as easy of answers as we think they do or should.
It could just be me, but I’m actually asked quite frequently if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. It’s an impossible question for me to answer. I’m very adamantly neither. There’s nuance, more and more every day to this question, but it ultimately boils down to those two options. Even the nuance we offer, is a condtion of our stance on those two options. Pro-life except in cases of rape or incest. Pro-choice except after the third trimester.
When we’re arguing about abortion, we’re very rarely talking about the actual issue. Women are left out of health-care conversations with their own bodies, a by-product of encouraging more men than women to get into the medical field, and a product of the generational decisions to diagnose women with hysteria over actually listening to their health concerns. The decision over pregnancy is one area that women can assert legal control. Trans* men and gender-queer individuals who have uteri are given even less autonomy over their bodies and healthcare. A federal ruling on abortion gives them a tiny amount of protection back, even if it’s often only symbolic than actual.
People with sperm who do not have a uterus are often left out of the conversation around abortion, typically explicitly with being told their opinion doesn’t matter. These people cannot have biological children of their own without the help of someone with a uterus. Yes, there are ways to acquire one, such as through surrogacy or artificial insemination, but these aren’t nearly as free as impregnating someone else naturally. In fairness, the cost of not being able to biologically carry children has the benefit of… not having to carry children. No morning sickness, no risk of preeclampsia, no labor pains. No periods for decades and all that accompanies it. But it is a concern. Legally, fathers are responsible for the offspring after it’s born, yet isn’t considered in the potential termination of it. That said, over $100 billion dollars are owed in child support, 82% of which are women, so clearly the legal burden rarely translates to actuality and mothers and taxpayers are often the ones that pay.
Foster care and adoption services are often posed as the alternative to getting an abortion. Babies stand good chances of being adopted by willing families. But for the average-aged eight-year-olds in foster care, and 60% spend between 2 and 5 years in care. 2% of American families actually adopt. These statistics show that adoption may not be that viable of an alternative, or at least one that carries human cost. It also disregards those who can even medically carry a fetus to term without risking their own lives.
As for the option listed above – pro-life except in cases of rape or abortion, one has to laugh (it’s a sad laugh. But it’s a laugh.) 95.4% of rapists never go to prison. Hundred of thousands of rape kits are currently untested, sitting in warehouses or destroyed by police stations. To think that this country cares about victims of rape is ludicrous. To think abortion would somehow be able to revolutionize this system without adding another layer of legal victimization is laughable. You can read more of my thoughts on this topic here.
These are just some of the complexities that surround abortion. The easy answer – to legalize or criminalize, lies outside the realm of reality.
Similarly, as an avid fan of the Live-PD franchise, and a race relations researcher, the issue of Black vs. Blue lives mattering is something I’ve long-since been fascinated with.
This argument centers less around an opposite – few people say cops should die or Black people die (emphasis on “few” is key. A.C.A.B and plenty of racially motivated hatred exists. I don’t want to pretend either of those don’t) – but rather, the disagreement often lies with which life matters most.
Police officers risk their lives every day. They run into the places people are running out. They take victims of mass shooting in their own cars to hospitals, risking their own jobs by forgoing protocols. They witness and investigate the spots of personal traumas – drug addition, murders, domestic abuse, gun violence – day in and out. They can’t investigate crimes to the full extent they wish to due to limited human and financial resources. They respond when they’re called, no matter the hour or day.
They also, inadvertently or purposely, participate in institutionalized racism; supply the economic system with the goods that replaced slavery; and are forced, like all of us, to rely on racial micro-judgements that, unlike most of us, often result in death. (Wait, what are racial micro-judgments? We’ll explore this tomorrow when we talk about “But I’m Not Racist).
So, are police local heroes or legal hate crimes? Is it possible that it’s… both? It’s a harder answer, but a necessary one. We can critique and admire, appreciate and condemn. It’s a paradox of existence that Black vs. Blue lives can’t capture.
Easy answers are plentiful. What easy answers come to find for you? Are there situations in this world you refuse to see the other side of? You don’t want to fight through to get to the difficult answer – the, could I say, right answer?
It’s no secret that America is more divided than ever before. The racist right versus the triggered left. Socialist AOC versus Nazi Donald Trump.
It’s easy to label people. It helps us know who we’re for and who we’re against. Where our friends are and what we hate. It gives the world a sense of order and justice. And we can’t see our ideological others as equals, at least, not without raising some eyebrows.
They’re on the other side of me. They’re wicked and un-American. We paint them in broad strokes, selecting a few key, dramatic examples that illustrate everything that’s wrong with “them.” People want to change Santa’s gender identity – look at these triggered little liberals always wanting to change something. People want to shoot “illegals” at point blank range for walking down the street – look at these vile conservatives always using their guns instead of their hearts.
It’s an easy answer. This person is conservative and thinks this. This person is liberal and thinks that. They’re racist and homophobic and all wrapped up in caution tape and offendedness.
This week, we’re looking at how to dismantle these simple binary explanations of the multifaceted reality. Many sides jammed into two. A two that has been demonized and generalized until the thing we think we hate is just a shadowy concoction of the reality we occupy.
It’s a mythical creature we need to banish back into the forest.
Bryce’s debut collection can be purchased here. 25% of the profits go to organizations like RAINN, 1in6, and End The Backlog. He writes short stories for free here. Support him by purchasing your next book through this special link and get FREE worldwide shipping or donate to help keep the lights on here.
Hate this post? Let us know. Love it? Share with a friend!
One of my absolute best friends from childhood is getting married next month in my home state one week before I head home for the holiday season. I can’t justify going home back to back and I can’t get off work. I’m devastated to be missing it. One of my best friends from high school got married in the spring and I had classes and couldn’t make it. Seeing their wedding photos, though, and getting glimpses of their day to day lives through Facebook and Instagram has been an immense joy. I’m poor and occupied and I can’t take up all the physical space in this life that I so desperately wish I could. Social media allows me to stay in touch when and how I can and I’m exceptionally grateful for that. I get to see my nephew grow up right before my eyes through Snapchat and FaceTime from 1,000 miles away. It would crush me to miss that.
also had full on verbal brawls with former friends, family members, and
complete strangers in Facebook comment threads and private direct messages. I
once got over 500 death threats because of a political post I made on Tumblr.
I’ve unfollowed my fair share of humans because I can’t stand even seeing the
face of some of these people I fundamentally disagree with on every single
issue imaginable. I’ve called people racists and rape sympathizers online. If
you get anything from this series, it should be that I’m one of the worst
people you know, that I’m a massive hypocrite, and that most of my thoughts are
mostly for myself to hear that I post publicly on the off chance someone else
is even remotely as messed up as me.
I love social media and I hate it. Many say that social media has led to more increased bullying of strangers. That it’s made us lonelier and more jealous of our friends.
And yet, we’ve been yelling at retail workers since we’ve had storefronts. We’ve gotten into stranger’s faces in picket lines or outside health clinics. “The grass is always greener” has been traced back to the 1500’s. Social media has not created new issues in compassion, it has simply created a new, digital landscape for our old habits to manifest.
It also gives us unprecedented access to the other, to see how people across the world think. To see how issues manifest in different communities that don’t look like ours. Are we taking advantage of the access to one another for good or for evil? Are we building a global community or breaking it down? I think if we changed our perspective and began to value the access social media gave us, we’d have no choice but to be empathetic online. To be curious about the other. To be honest about the good along with bad.
To continue our conversation from yesterday on being right, there are a two key ways to assert our correctness to those around us. We can debate or we can discuss. The key difference between the two has to do with the motivation. With a debate, someone has to win. With discussions, you get to assert an opinion and listen to one without needing to object. You get to ask questions and understand a point of view that’s different than yours.
I’m not ignorant. There are a host of issues that you, even on your best behavior, you can’t listen to an opposite opinion of. Maybe you’ve survived something and aren’t quite ready to hear a dismissal of something personal. Maybe your existence is wrapped up in it. Maybe you just like to fan the flames a little bit and feel some heat. Regardless, we can’t always discuss when we have the urge to debate. Something triggers us into a knee-jerk reaction and we say some things we might, but probably won’t, regret. I’ve been there (on more than one occasion). This is a blog series about humanness. Your mess-ups and rough edges are celebrated here.
I do wonder, though, how many times we debate when we’d be fine discussing. Posting angry comments on public stories and private friends statuses. Ranting and carrying on. Looking for ways to be offended and offensive.
I stopped debating (most of the time…) when I realized no one cared about what I had to say. I would spend hours crafting a perfect, bulletproof argument full of wisdom and heart, and then I’d get a response like “Okay liberal” and then a two sentence argument that had nothing to do with what I was talking about. Why, I asked, was I going through all this effort for nothing? Obviously, they were too stupid to interact with me. And I hated feeling like that, giving up on someone else’s perspective and asserting my own way of doing things.
I started entering into more conversations with friends who thought differently than I. After the 2016 election, I had a multiple weeks long conversation with an old friend. She shared that she felt fear, anxiety, nausea, when Obama was declared the winner – the same feelings I felt when Trump was declared. Every part of me wanted me to reject everything she was saying. She was ludicrous, annoying, baiting me. But as soon I stepped back and listened to what she was telling me, I started to understand it.
And let me be clear: I didn’t suddenly hate Obama and love Trump. I wasn’t grateful for Trump’s presidency over night. I’m still not. I still think it’s silly to think Trump is a good President or a good man. Discussion doesn’t lead to conversion. When I say I understood, I mean I didn’t lose faith in humanity. I didn’t “get” her perspective, but I started to understand why she thought the way she did, and began to see the humanity that still lived in her.
I’ve lost several readers in saying that – saying that I saw the humanity in a Trump supporter. But I did and I do. When you have conversations with people, and not conversions, when you have discussions and not debates, the heavy weight of being right starts to fall away. You allow people to be silly and stupid, ignorant and hateful but you show up and listen to them anyway. And slowly, overtime, you start to understand that no one is one thing. That people’s experiences shape them into the people they are and the things they say.
The world only looks insane if you’re trying to conquer it. When you step back and exist in it, I promise things will make a little more sense. It won’t make it less frustrating or more digestible, but you will begin to unpack the reasons the world functions the way it does. You’ll start to reject the easy answer and hold the paradox of existence more capably.
Few people are interested in discussing. I’ve learned that after countless typings of “I’m not debating you” or “I’m not arguing – I genuinely want to know more about you and why you think this way.” But for the few people who you can break through, I promise the both of you will have powerful, life changing experiences.
My least favorite saying is don’t talk about religion or politics with friends. We’re heading into Thanksgiving, a holiday famous for family feuds about politics and hatred. Would those conversations look differently if your uncle wasn’t trying to win? If you all agreed no one’s opinion would be changed?
There’s profundity in being human with humans. It only comes when we’re courageous enough to be a bit uncomfortable and to put ourselves in a position to be wrong.
Day 2: Ellen, Existence, and the Equality of Thought
In October, an unlikely thing happened. A queen of daytime TV, who many across political spectrums and identities have come to love and respect, came under fire for the very thing that made her a revolution: kindness. Ellen DeGeneres, the TV talk show host, came under fire after being photographed chatting – and laughing – with former US President George W. Bush.
Many felt that his stances, specifically on LGBT+ issues, ran counter to the things that Ellen is supposed to support. She’s a gay woman who has experienced legal firing and public humiliation for her identity as a gay woman.
George Bush fought to keep homosexual conduct illegal as governor of Texas. He considered vetoing the Matthew Shepard Act, which included sexual orientation as a protected category in hate crime cases. He tried to make gay marriage permanently illegal. He also employed an openly gay man in his administration, the first Republican to do so.
But this wasn’t the first time someone got in trouble for being friends with someone else, and certainly not the first time one of those people was Ellen.
A year prior, in October of 2018, the Christian singer Lauren Daigle appeared on Ellen’s show. She laughed with Ellen and hugged her. Christians lost their collective mind. Lauren was supposedly a good Christian girl, and here she was with a self-proclaimed, unrepentant, habitual sinner.
Neither woman helped herself when she made her public statement regarding the controversy.
Ellen discussed the moment with plenty of jokes on her show that ultimately boiled down to being kind to everyone, regardless of their belief. Sure, people said and continue to. Different beliefs are fine but there’s a difference between wearing fur and invalidating someone’s entire identity.
Lauren admitted she wasn’t sure whether homosexuality was a sin and her Christian fan base lost their minds. She went from prophet to heathen in seconds. Unsurprising, given hundreds of people called for Eugene Patterson’s best-selling translation of the Bible to be recalled from stores nationwide over similar comments.
Freedom of belief and expression is permissible only to the point of sacrifice. When it becomes hard to love, it is no longer worth it. When you have to give some part of yourself up in order to love someone else, the love doesn’t matter anymore.
You aren’t entirety wrong to think this kind of reckless opinion-acceptance is problematic. Think about your least favorite global conflict. One ethnic group believes another ethnic group should die and starts a war to prove it. One foreign government believes it can infiltrate the power of another.
the surface, it appears you’re right. Refusing to acknowledge someone’s
existence is the cause of the global strife we see today. Refusing to
acknowledge an ethnic group leads to genocide. Opinions and beliefs matter. I’m
going to call people out when I see them condoning, even through silence, acts
of oppression. Ellen hanging out with a homophobic legislator, Lauren
associating with a dirty heathen, lead to the silent acceptance of problematic
ideologies. These, in turn, promote war and violence, a fleeing from god and
god’s commandments. Chaos.
we’re missing the point in that simplistic characterization. It isn’t the
initial, identity-rejecting opinion that makes the hatred run bloody. It’s the
refusal to be wrong. It’s George Bush asking Ellen and Portia to separate
themselves or not act couple-y in the presence of his Christian wife and
himself. It’s Lauren declining a hug so as to not devalue her salvation.
lie we believe about ourselves is that we’re always right, even when we know
for a fact we are. You don’t have to look hard to see the rhetoric I’ve spread
about The Courage’s defender Jaelene Hinkle. I know Hinkle is in the wrong. I
know her stances obliterate the peace-seeking nature of Christ. I’m 100%
correct in this opinion. And, my friends and I agree about this. We’ve had many
discussions about the fact that we could not even play for the courage because
they inadvertently support Hinkle’s narrative. I am the person this post is
think that Hinkle’s rhetoric rejects the existence of lesbian, bisexual, and
queer teammates and fans. I’m correct. It does. But my rejection of her denies
her existence as a subscriber to a faith that is not my own. A faith I deem
inexcusable; a lifestyle she deems inexcusable. Neither of us have a right to
exist according to the belief systems of the other but yet both of us do. It’s
complicated and it’s hard and it leaves us with only one of two choices: claim
your own existence and reject the existence of your other, or claim the
coexistence of two opposing identities and actively choose to live in the
tension that inevitably accompanies it.
One creates genocides. One causes you to sacrifice everything that makes you you for the betterment of humanity. Your existence belongs to you, as does this choice. But the consequences do too.
Last month I wrote a post that blew up. It was seen around the world and became our most popular post. It stirred meaningful, intentional conversation on my Facebook feed, in my messages, over texts and calls. How people felt pretty much boiled down to the same basic points.
People couldn’t agree what the root cause of the issue was, although a vast majority pointed to either loose morals or general divisiveness in the country that translated into actionable violence. I don’t completely disagree, but there’s a post coming about the “loose” morals many in the Christian community point to after times of mass tragedy.
Everyone agreed that America was the best country on Earth, which is good. For the record, I am proud to be an American. I love this country. In the book I’m writing (hopefully out at the end of the year but at this point I wouldn’t hold my breath), I write an essay about love, particularly the kind I believe in, the only kind that matters. The kind that loves you in spite of your faults but is not blind to them. Love that is afraid to mention your faults is not love. If I’m wrong, doing something that’s hurting me, or if there are identifiable ways I can improve myself, I expect the people who truly love me to be courageous in addressing those things to me.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that most people who commented, love the same way I do, not blind but also unconditionally. People responded well to my criticisms, and offered some of their own, but none of us buckled on our love for the country. That should be encouraging to all of us, especially as we gear up for another grueling presidential campaign. I hope you hold that tension well. That you love your country as you critique it, that you hold your American siblings in your heart as you tear them down.
The other universal I found in these responses, was the emphasis on freedoms Americans feel lucky to have. You know them well: freedom of speech, religion, arms, ideas. Relatively uninteresting. We hash out our freedoms over every medium almost constantly. It’s what our troops fight to protect. What we expect cops to honor. It’s what we yell at football players (both kinds) who kneel during anthems, and what we sing. What was interesting was where freedoms were placed in the conversation. They were used to answer the question “What is good about America” and not just that, but the unasked question “What makes America the best?”
We forget, in our conversations about freedom that it isn’t a uniquely American ideal. Maybe, perhaps, in the 1700’s, it was, but today, I can think of far more countries that have freedoms such as ours than do not. Most of this is a result of colonialist attitudes and Western influence that have raised like-minded nations to public, positive consciousness, while ignoring or smearing others. Still. We don’t exactly hold a monopoly on freedom. And what if that’s okay?
What if it’s okay to love the country and not have a good reason why? What if it’s okay to be an okay country, to be proud of that, but not to be the best, or better than everyone else?
Is it possible to believe that you were born in the best way at the best time in the best place, while also living in the tension that the place you live is not better than everywhere else? Can it be both?
The first and only other time I have written a President of the United States was in December of 2013, after a shooting occurred at one of three high schools in my district. Many of my friends at the time were in the building. I wrote an impassioned plea to then-president Obama about gun control, mental health resources, and other possible solutions to gun violence across the country, and so acutely felt in my Colorado community, not just once, but multiple times before and since then. At the time, as I mentioned, I was careless and hopeful enough to believe that when I contacted the President, both senators, and my house Representative, something, anything really, might have been done to combat gun violence in this country I found to be wonderful, passionate, and beautiful, if, clearly a bit dangerous. In the days and years since, I’ve paid careful attention to each mass shooting. I’ve known a school shooter and lived through a false alarm. It has become far more personal of an issue for me, but it has also raised other questions about America and the land I am grateful to call home.
I will not waste your incredibly valuable time asking what you or your administration’s plan to combat gun violence is. Out of fairness, I will also not ask your 2020 opponents. I have learned that no matter who sits in the Oval Office (or in Congress), nothing will be done. After today’s events in El Paso, I have found myself wrestling with an old question, stewing in me ever since that numbing December day six years ago. Do I live in a country that is too incompetent to do anything to protect its citizens, or too apathetic? Do I live in a country that cannot do anything or that simply does not wish to?
I also will not waste your time trying to answer that question. There is no answer that you could feasibly give whilst running for reelection. And you should not be forced into a nihilistic, cynical binary, especially from a citizen who did not vote for you and whom you have never met. Instead, my question for you, and that I have posed to your congressional colleagues, is what makes you proud to be an American? What is lovely and good and pure about America, in your eyes? I know there are plenty of answers, but I am so tired.
My patriotism has taken a major hit after questioning my country’s ability and empathy for six long and bitter years. An answer to this might help me once again sing God Bless America or the Star Spangled Banner without abandon. It may help me hope again in America’s future, and be grateful for playing a part in it.
Bryce Van Vleet,
What about you, dear reader? What is your favorite thing about America? Leave a comment below or contact us.
Bryce’s debut collection can be purchased here. 25% of the profits go to organizations like RAINN, 1in6, and End The Backlog. He writes short stories for free here. Support him by purchasing your next book through this special link and get FREE worldwide shipping.
Hate this post? Let us know. Love it? Share with a friend!