Throughout election season, it has become clearer than ever that our country is very divided by ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, to name a few. There is an obsession to polarize the nation. Look at the phrase, “In this world, there are two types of people . . .”? Why? Why is there only room on this great, big sphere for only two types of people? Our need to differentiate and categorize every single aspect of human identity is setting us all against each other and leading us to believe that our differences should be condemned rather than celebrated.
At birth, humans are all generally the same. We have beating hearts, growing brains, blood, and bones. We are more similar than we are different. As we grow and develop our sense of self, identifiers such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and religion become more important. With that comes an increasing degree of prejudice. As we meet other people, we begin to recognize that we are actually not all the same. Instead, we generally start to see the differences as something that separates one from another. Differences become barriers, which often cause confusion, frustration, anger, disgust, and misunderstanding. Rather than asking questions, we choose to ignore that which we don’t understand and call it "bad" or "wrong."
I was raised Catholic, and for the longest time, in my naivete, I thought God and Jesus were about loving and forgiving, being kind to others, giving to the less fortunate. As I got older, I realized that this was not what was practiced among grown-ups who said that they followed God’s word. Remember when "What Would Jesus Do?" was a thing, and we all wore wristbands that reminded us of that? You see a homeless person on the street and think, WWJD? He’d give the shirt off his back and offer food, drink, or money because he had them and the other person did not. He did not condemn that person for being dirty, needy, and poor. He wouldn't look down on that person with contempt or arrogance. A little queer kid is being bullied for wearing something that isn’t considered appropriate based on their perceived identity. WWJD? He’d speak up for that kid and tell those bullies to judge not. He’d tell them to mind their P’s and Q’s and to get on home and be good people, practice kindness. A police officer is scared because he is on patrol and sees a black person with their hand in their pocket. WWJD? He’d reach his hand out to nurture human connection and greet that person with kindness rather than assumption entrenched in fear. In terms of religion, if we are all the children of God, why aren’t we all treated equally by each other? Because we are products of a culture that constantly needs to feel power in order to feel secure and the easiest way to do that is to judge others and feel control and dominance in what you see as someone’s weakness.
Let’s take a look at sexuality, shall we? Homosexuality has been around forever. Yet, it was only in the in the 1970s that it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Great prejudices and challenges still face those who identify as anything other than straight in many areas of our nation forty years later. Why? Because humans point at something they don’t understand and have to give it a name to understand it. Then once we can call it something, we have to decide how we relate to it, and if we can’t, all of a sudden we are dealing with a stigma. The main difference between a gay man and a straight man is the object of their attraction. But throughout history this one small difference is enough to instigate hate, fear, and violence. I will never understand how the idea of a person loving another person, regardless of sexual identity, is that offensive when it doesn’t affect anyone else but the people in that relationship. Yet, many would deem this as wrong, immoral, and unnatural, and thus they dehumanize the other person for their own inability to relate and unwillingness to even try and see the situation from a place of empathy.
Throughout the history of the U.S., it's clear that race separates us more often than anything else. Now, I’m not so naive to think that the only barrier between people is skin color. There are centuries of wrong-doings and prejudicesperpetrated in the name of one skin color, national origin, political and religious beliefs. Countless years of oppression, unmitigated hate, and racism have scarred our collective memory, leaving us with internalized prejudices that keep us from actually relating beyond what is skin-deep. The fact of the matter is you put two people next to each other, at the base of everything, they are people. They have beating hearts, thinking brains and vulnerable bodies. Everything else that you can observe about a person is a manmade social and cultural construct.
For example, I identify as cis female and straight, and I'm third-born in my family. I’m white, blond, and blue-eyed; and I come from a German-Irish, Catholic, middle-class family that resided in the suburbs. I went to public school, and I was in the marching band, National Honor Society, and the Performing Arts program. I have an undergraduate degree in liberal arts, and I am fully employed while trying to support my creative endeavors I’d love to turn into a career. I do not currently practice any religion, but I consider myself spiritually open. All of these things are descriptors, things that could place in me into a category, a box you could check off. In addition, all of these things also have connotations that could lead people to make assumptions about me. Then those assumptions become beliefs and then truths.
These truths that we discover are all perceptions taken from a culture that is rooted in fear and power. Being able to label someone makes it easier to figure out if they are someone who is worth your time or worth your judgment. Once we make that choice, it becomes easy to put that person in their place so you feel better and above them, unless you’ve decided you are the one worth judging. Regardless of the position, insecurity is what we end up reacting to, whether that insecurity stems from not fitting the standards of society, or not knowing which standards to judge yourself against. It is an endless cycle of excusing our need for control, influence, and power, to allow the degeneration of countless human beings.
No one loses when you decide to be kind. In this world, in this country, we are hungry for compassion. Sure, our struggles might be different, but we all struggle—that’s part of the human condition. We all grieve, we all win and lose, we all feel pain and love or lack thereof. It helps to remember that we can all share in one thing; we were all born and those of us who still remain on Earth could stand to try a little harder to make things better not only for each other, but for those who will be left with consequences of our actions.