Being Uncomfortable and Finding the Middle Ground
I swear to god, if I have to hear one more conversation that begins with “Did you hear what Donald Trump said today,” I’m going to lose it. It’s not because what Donald Trump said today wasn’t stupid. It’s not because what Donald Trump said today was stupid. It’s because I did hear what Donald Trump said today. I heard it because I read the same news sources as everybody else - the ones that are all reporting on “What Donald Trump said today” - which makes it almost impossible to have not heard what Donald Trump said today. By asking me this question, what we’ve done is we’ve stopped having a meaningful discussion and we’ve started having a twenty minute, self-indulgent agreement fest. This “self-indulgent agreement fest” is both infuriating and also indicative of the most common problem I see facing us as a generation, at the moment.
Listen, obviously people disagree, and the country is very polarized right now. That’s not a new or revolutionary idea. But it seems like, amid all of this polarization, people are clumping together, pointing to the other side and just yelling. And amid all of that yelling and screaming, nobody’s having a conversation anymore. To the liberals you’re either a liberal social-justice extraordinaire or a wretched conservative evil villain. Whereas the conservatives think that you’re either a rational, down-to-earth conservative, or you’re a liberal ignoramus ruining this country. Everybody has adopted the mantra of you’re either with us or against us. Putting aside the statistical likelihood that one side has gotten every issue 100% right and the other 100% wrong (hint: it’s very low), I think this issue of polarity is a huge one that needs to be addressed, not from an academic, fact-based perspective. Rather, it needs to be addressed from a human angle where I wildly conjecture why things are the way that they are, based on nothing but my own youthful arrogance.
I have no hopes to change the world (though I wouldn’t say no if it happened), or even to change your mind (again, wouldn’t say no if it happened). I only hope that you’ll read this and, for a second, you might take a breath, stop posting annoying political commentary on Facebook, and humanize the other side. If only just for a moment.
With that being said, I’ll lead by example and talk about myself for a little bit, even if it’s a little embarrassing and hard to talk about.
I’m uncomfortable with a lot of things. I get very uneasy with change, and things that seem strange to me. I get uncomfortable in tense social settings, around dogs, in the company of babies, or when I’m given public responsibility. To give a personal example, I never quite know how to behave when somebody gives me their baby, expecting me to interact with him or her. I know I’m not supposed to talk to the baby like he or she is an adult. And, with that off the table, all bets are off. In other words, babies scare me.
But here’s the thing about feeling uncomfortable: it, like all feelings, is not a choice. It’s this thing that lives inside of me, that pops up every now and then, dictating many aspects of my life. Furthermore, it’s not something I enjoy. In fact, I basically live my life by the mantra of avoid as much that makes you uncomfortable as possible.
Now here’s where I make a controversial statement (especially for my Northeastern liberal tendencies), that, if you’ll bear with me, I hope will seem less absurd. Here we go. Deep breath. And:
I’m uncomfortable with the transgender movement.
I want to be tolerant and accepting - and think I am, on an intellectual and practical level. But, emotionally and personally I’m just not there yet. As much as it pains me to say it, there’s nothing I can do about this feeling right now. As I said before, feelings are not intentional -- they’re deeply ingrained. The idea of the transgender movement is too new to me. It’s too foreign to me. I don’t understand it, and because I don’t understand it, it, like babies or dogs, makes me uncomfortable at a gut level.
That’s not to say that anybody should be treated any differently for making a personal choice. The fact of the matter is that there are people who feel transgender whether I like it or not. So now I have a choice before me: Either I ostracize a group as “other” and subject them to my hatred because they make me uncomfortable, or I just learn to live with things that make me uncomfortable. I’d rather choose the latter, and, while I’m not there yet, I’m trying my best.
But, here’s the part that I think a lot of people who yell and scream fail to take into account: I don’t like hearing that my being uncomfortable with something is evil. It sucks to hear that your feelings, things over which you have very little conscious control, are wrong or immoral. It really sucks when somebody throws words like “oppression” or “privilege” around when all you’re trying to do is do your best.
And so, people build up this reactionary identity. They see people screaming at them, calling them “evil”, and they say, “Well, I’m not evil just because I feel uncomfortable with something, so they must be wrong. They must be entirely wrong. Let me build up all of the reasons why they must be wrong and yell it back at them.” One side starts yelling, the other side gets defensive and yells back, and everybody ends up on this merry-go-round of shouting in which nothing gets done.
Similarly, a person who feels uncomfortable with social progressions shouldn’t yell at people to change simply because he or she is uncomfortable. Somebody who feels out of place for being gay or transgender shouldn’t be told off because you feel uncomfortable, for the exact same reason that you shouldn’t. They shouldn’t be told that their feelings are wrong, just because you don’t feel them.
It’s been my experience that, with a few notable exceptions (and when there are exceptions they are most definitely notable), everybody’s just trying to do their best. People want to make the best life for themselves and those around them, and we just can’t seem to agree on how that is. Every person comes from a different background, and everybody has ideas that they hold sacrosanct no matter how bizarre they might seem from the outside. Some people are brought up with very old ideas, and when they’re confronted by something new and different, it feels weird and uncomfortable. Others are of a sort who break off from old ideas and can’t wait for the world to change, becoming uncomfortable with these older ideas. But, at the end of the day, everybody’s just trying their best. Unfortunately, sometimes, because people are different, people are gonna get hurt along the way.
But, the response is not to yell and scream until the other side submits. That’s just going to cause the people you disagree with to double down on their own ideology and build a fortress that’s harder to crumble. The only way to make anything happen is to sit down, calm down, remove your ego for one second and find some middle ground with the person in front of you. You need to find some humanity in another person, to see where they’re coming from, so that it stops being “This person’s trying to take away my reproductive rights,” or “That person is trying to kill babies” and becomes a conversation, with two engaged, thoughtful, flawed people. Anything else is self-indulgent intellectual bullying that’s doing more harm than good.
It’s hard. It’s really hard to sit there silently while somebody publicly challenges ideas that you hold very dear to your heart. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. But maybe if we can just see each other as flawed human beings, all just taking it one day at a time, we can get, capital S, “Somewhere”.
A very real and practical idea might be that if we all open every conversation by mentioning a flaw that we’re working on - something we don’t like about our own selves. It’ll help equalize the field. If I start every argument by pointing out that I’m a flawed person just trying his best, it might help us all have better and more engaging conversations. This might be silly optimism, but that’s all I have right now.
It’s my belief, (and I’ll chock this up again to my arrogant, youthful optimism), that, as people, we’re more similar than we are different. We all feel anger and jealousy and lust and rage and all these emotions that make us human. So, conversation and discussion shouldn’t be reduced to name-calling and shouting. So please, do me a favor and stop yelling about how evil “the other” opinion is. Stop taking to Facebook to proclaim in hyperbolic terms why only stupid people believe something that crazy. And, for the love of god, please stop saying “Did you hear what Donald Trump said today”.