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This isn’t about vaccination

Not really. It’s not about vaccination. Or welfare. Or religion. Or politics. It’s not about circumcision or abortion or gay marriage or Fox news or Florida or gun activists or Black people or White people or people who see the world differently or people who learn differently or any of the things that anyone, anywhere says are “ruining everything” or “causing all the problems”.

This, this, my friends, is about manners.

Here’s the thing about almost every SINGLE thing people rant about on the internet. At the heart of it, somewhere, someone’s story is there. It may not be a “beautiful” story. It may not be a “correct” story, but it’s their story. It’s personal. And when things are personal, people get hurt by the collective volume.

People have reasons for doing what they do, believing what they believe, knowing what they know, whether it is “correct” or not.

We walk a fine line, calling out the problems we see, between “shedding light on injustice” and blinding people.

It is too, too easy to forget that being right at all costs may have a higher cost than intended. And that insisting on “being right” may well guarantee that you will never, ever, EVER actually be able to persuade anyone who you feel is “wrong” of anything.

Don’t use the “Oh, but not YOU,” argument. That’s just insulting, just like saying, “No offense, but…” If you have to make that excuse, you should probably stop a minute and reconsider.

My eldest child’s school, shortly before we started there, had an issue with a child being bullied for having gay parents. The school had a long community discussion about an appropriate way to say, “This is not okay.”

They thought  about expanding the existing “No harassment based on race, religion or gender” to include “sexual orientation, disability” and a host of other things. Then someone very wise said, “Why are we doing it this way? How about we just say, “No harassment.” Because really, when, ever, is it okay to harass anyone?”

It eliminates the, “Well, but that doesn’t cover…. ” argument. Yes, I know we need to call attention to specific types of harassment because people just don’t think… but from a policy perspective, this takes the broad view, the, dare I say it, “constitutional” view, the “word it simply, broadly, and in a way that future understanding can expand the definition as needed.”

So when we started at this school, their policy just said, “No harassment.” Period. And I concur. Don’t treat people that way. Teach your kids not to treat people that way. That’s just good manners.

Now besides manners, this is also about effectiveness. About understanding. And about communication.

I grew up the daughter of a computer programmer and an attorney. To say that I was raised with the idea that logic and right and wrong are quantifiable and knowable is kind of an understatement. I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood wanting and needing to be right. The arguments I got into and my frustration at their illogic were epic. I was a lonely kid. And at the time, persuaded very few people.

The concept of active listening dropped into my life like a bombshell in my early 20’s.  I remember arguing a point of maternal fetal medicine with a nurse during my doula training, and her stopping me and saying, “The fact that you are still arguing with me means you are not listening to me.”

This is what most people miss. If you are shouting, you aren’t hearing… but if you are shouting, probably no one else is really listening to you either.

I feel strongly about a lot of topics. But mostly it boils down to manners, and understanding that people are people, and that we are all in this together and we need to start acting like it. And that doesn’t mean all thinking or being or doing the same things, it means understanding that we never, ever will and finding ways to live with each other in peace anyway.

So the next time, and every time, you are about to post or repost or share or retweet or otherwise propagate something in this incredibly diverse and divisive digital world (that is, after all, in the real world and mostly generated by real actual human beings and is about real actual stories that happen to people)… please, stop a moment. Look at it. Maybe it makes you laugh, or snort, or nod your head.

But is it doing so by putting someone down? By reducing them from real, mistake-making, struggling human beings to caricatures and straw men? If you share it, will it hurt someone you care about? Or someone they care about? Or someone you’ve never met at all but who is struggling that much harder because people find their lives funny or enraging?

If so, then please ask, “Will sharing this actually improve a situation that needs improving, or convince someone who was wavering, or improve the world?”

Or will it just get the choir nodding in the background and further plug your ears to the realities behind the situation at hand? Will it plug the ears of the people whose minds you most dearly want to change?

Maybe you don’t care. I want to think you probably do. But if your goal is merely to be “right” or to look right or to appear smarter or to align yourself with the people you respect… please, stop. Think. Go here and read for a while, it’s useful. Look at your face to the world. Stop harassing people, and start listening.

We are a rich tapestry of stories and lives and perspectives and reasons and backgrounds. The world is made more complete by the variety and complexity of us. More interesting. In the long run, it is humanity’s variety that creates our ability to persevere. Value the fact that everyone doesn’t think like you, or me, or that guy over there. We would learn nothing if everyone understood the world in the exact same way. And we are, none of us, perfect.

I get the urge to yell. I’m a mom and live in a family and it’s made up of human beings and fur beings and we’re all of us fallible, even me. But yelling creates silence, or it creates more yelling, or it creates hurt. There’s not really much middle ground here. And it’s not very useful in the long run at fixing, well, anything.

Stop yelling. Please.

Start understanding.

Published in Feminism Fibromyalgia Lessons for my kids Life Political

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