“Can you believe what Porter tweeted today?” “I didn’t realize that Alucard was a person-ist. He’s never talking to my child again!” “I am going to have to unfriend Quartz.” “Anyone who thinks that kittens aren’t cuddly – I just can’t even deal with them.” “That’s it – there’s no way I’m volunteering for that school when so many parents wear purple.”
With a few simple word exchanges, I’ve read every single one of the above sentences on social media this year. It seems as if the world as we know it is currently exploding with judgment and division. I’ve seen more people leave Facebook in the last week than in the last five years combined, and that’s simply an indicator of the damage our political differences are doing in real life. In real life, friendships and family dynamics are being tested just as much – after all, Facebook is a user-generated community that simply reflects what is really happening in the flesh-and-blood world. In real life, women and men are cutting their sisters off from contact with their nephews. Church groups are cancelling meetings that may be deemed too volatile. Friends are cancelling poker nights because the hosts are of a different political persuasion – as if a pair of pocket aces cares what candidate a player cast a vote for.
Regardless of where you stand politically, the issues that we are facing right now are critically important and therefore extremely polarizing. We feel parts of our way of life being threatened, and we are righteously up in arms about it. As our political environment gets more and more heated, so do our own lives, identities and relationships.
When we question ourselves, we question other people, too. We are currently living out the famous declaration of Gloria Steinem when she said, “The political is personal and the personal is political.”
Politics are ridiculously personal. Politics don’t, however, have to be cruel.
I believe it all comes down to labels. I have personally felt the most political angst when I have been labeled. It doesn’t matter which label is bestowed on me – feminist, liberal, elitist, hypocrite, lunatic, dimwit, hateful fear-mongerer, paranoid fascist … each term is hurtful and unfair, and most infuriating – incomplete. The labels madden me. They have been making me extremely defensive and on edge. I have found myself questioning everything about my identity and the people around me.
Can you relate?
I think you can – because I think that, like me, you’re not an extremist. You’re probably a moderate. And there doesn’t seem to be a safe place for moderates right now.
Most of us are moderate, but right now we aren’t allowed to be. And that is what is causing the angst and strife right now.
To be a moderate right now, to show compassion for someone who believes differently than me, is to be a traitor. Extending an olive branch to my cousin is somehow offensive to the people in my Pro-Choice tribe. Allowing my grandmother the grace to have her own opinion is an attack on those that fight for the environment. This is incredibly stressful and is causing much damage to our relationships.
The moment we label is the moment we lose. The second we call someone an elitist/deplorable/lunatic/racist/sexist/homophone/xenophobe, we fail. We fail each other by reducing others to manageable objects that we can explain, manipulate and set aside – and we fail ourselves by closing our minds to the nuances of belief that we claim to value.
Let’s take just one issue among many to illustrate my point – the issue of abortion. It’s virtually impossible to be a Pro-Life Democrat or a Pro-Choice Republican in America today. There’s an incredible amount of emphasis placed on the issue of abortion as if it is the founding principle of each party, yet each party holds stances on dozens of additional issues. Must those who consider themselves Pro-Life also deny climate change? Must those who advocate for a woman’s choice also support ObamaCare?
Are we missing the forest for the trees here?
I recently heard a wise observance – people tend to judge others based on their actions, but judge themselves based on their intentions. We give ourselves a little latitude in terms of consistency and good-heartedness, but we label and judge others as hypocrites and –ists of every type imaginable. We simply don’t tolerate anyone disagreeing with us.
When we project multiple beliefs on a person based on just one aspect of their belief system, we fall into the assumption trap. We assume that because they believe one thing, they must believe another. Yet, when it comes to our own personal beliefs, we give ourselves an incredible amount of leeway. This is the most hypocritical action of all – and yet, in defense of ourselves, we each do it, and we do it often.
It’s unreasonable to wholly judge a person based on their belief in one social or political area, yet we do it all the time – and right now, it’s killing us. It’s causing tension in the workplace. It’s causing family feuds and friendship breakups. It’s causing Zylar to leave Facebook and me to question my personal spiritual and religious beliefs. It’s causing further division at a time when we need each other more than ever.
In a society that values and touts individualism, labeling causes our individualism to be squashed. We aren’t allowed individualism if we are to get along with those in our political parties, and so our contributions to humankind are reduced.
We live in a ridiculously colorful world. People are free to think and believe and act in any way they want, and we applaud them for their diversity – at least on the surface. We are at an important crossroad right now, where we need to figure out how to reconcile the competing values of diversity and individualism with our need to be liked, admired, agreed with or accepted.
Right now, I feel raw and vulnerable and defensive. I feel attacked and cornered. Therefore, I’ve seen myself attacking back. I feel labeled and judged, so I’ve been judging and labelling. I feel confused and torn, so I’ve been masking it with aggression. I want people to understand me, but I don’t really want to understand them.
I have seen myself turning me into everything I despise, and I’m not willing to let that continue.
I am more than any label that you decide to bestow on me, and you are more than any label I could bestow on you. It’s time to stop slapping labels on each other, and start listening to each other, instead.
Maybe we can stop this hatred after all.