As the photos started going up on social media, and I started getting tagged in them, some disgruntled online friends (who perceive me as being in direct opposition to their personal beliefs and values) began posting argumentative comments on the photos. They boldly made claims and drew conclusions about my intentions, values, and beliefs, based simply on my participation in this event or the things they saw in the photos. This wasn't new; we've all been seeing this kind of activity online for more than a year -- coming from all sides. I don't remember a time in my life when society felt like it was in such a state of "me against you" and "us vs. them" and "I'm right, you're wrong, and there is no in between."
I have grown used to people assuming that I hold the same beliefs and values as they do, because I'm able to find a common ground with most people, most of the time. I've learned to keep my mouth shut unless someone really knows me and loves me unconditionally -- and even then, I try to leave politics off the table. When people go on rants and assume that I whole-heartedly agree with them, I tend to let them do it, because it's not my job to tell them what to think.
But for some reason, the blatant assumptions on the part of these photo commentors -- that because I participated in the Women's March, I am a liberal, a Democrat, a non-Christian, a Hillary supporter, a socialist, and all the other things that they are not -- really pissed me off. I saw quite clearly that they thought they had me pegged, and therefore my motivations for marching were (in their eyes) easily dismissable, since I could be so clearly labeled and put into a box.
Thinking and meditating on this throughout the day on Sunday, I realized that these people were looking at me (and others who participated in the march) through the lens of prejudices that have become second-nature to them. They use these prejudices to navigate not only social media, but the world in general. These judgmental assumptions about entire groups of individuals -- whom they deem the "enemy" -- tend to fall into one extreme or another:
I call myself a Democrat, and if you don't agree with me, then you must be a Republican. (and vice versa)
I call myself conservative, and if you don't agree with me, then you are liberal. (and vice versa)
I call myself a Christian, and if you don't agree with me, then you are evil / an atheist / a sinner / not spiritual / not a believer in God.
I call myself progressive, and if you don't agree with me then you are right-wing / extremist / alt-right.
Ultimately, it's this: I identify as ____________, and if you don't agree with me, then you are the opposite of me. There is no grey area. Everyone must be one or the other.
This morning, I realized that the anger I was feeling around being labeled and dismissed reminded me of all the times in my childhood when I felt like I was not being heard, seen, or understood. It reminded me of feeling judged and labeled by people in my own family. And, sadly, it reminded that I learned to do this very thing to others in order to protect myself for most of my life. It reminded me that I, myself, used to be one of these people.
You see, I was raised in a home that touted the above statements (and more) as objective truths. I was raised in a home where labeling people was a survival skill. It helped us understand where we stood in the world. If I deemed you as bad or wrong, then I must therefore be good and right. If I deemed you as stupid, then I must be smart, and so on. More often, though, this approach was used in a self-disparaging way: If I deemed you as better than me, then I shamed myself for being less-than. If I deemed you as being more successful than me, then I could justify being cruel to / hard on myself -- which was the voice in my head 's modus operandi.
I carried this worldview from my childhood into my early 20s. I maintained this modus operandi as a way to survive in a world that did not feel safe to me. I was filled with judgment all the time. It was the only thing that made me feel protected.
And then, the mechanics of my m.o. started to fail me. As badly as I wanted to be able to connect with people, this "me vs. you" approach developed the unconcious belief that I had to be right all of the time, or I would die -- truly a fight-or-flight response, thanks to my overactive amygdala as a result of my dysfunctional upbringing. My need to be right, to judge others in order to know who I was, in turn caused me to drive out all the healthy, kind, good people from my life -- over, and over, and over, until there were none left.
Eventually, healthy people couldn't even get near me, and so I was only able to connect with unhealthy, judgmental, fearful people like myself. Really, we were only connecting through our survival skills, through our distorted beliefs, through our egos. I was starving for true connection, with no idea that I was the one preventing myself from connecting.
Eventually, I hit bottom. All that judging and needing to be right in order to protect myself resulted in chronic anxiety, fear, lack of self-esteem, and lack of any real human connections in my life. I reached a point where I finally had to admit that I was the common denominator. My life was one big kamikaze mission that I hadn't signed up for, and finally, in 2012, it crashed.
Only when I broke apart did it become possible for me to actually change. Desperate to find another way to live, I asked for help for perhaps the first time in my life, and since then I have been hard at work coming out of denial about my upbringing, my beliefs, my worldview, my relationship patterns, and more. My heart has opened in ways I never thought possible. I have gone from using labeling, prejudice, and judgment as my main methods of interfacing with the world to refusing to label anyone -- especially myself. I have gone from needing to be right all of the time to knowing only one thing for sure: that I don't know everything.
Today, when I see someone vehemently trying to sort out their deep insecurities and old wounds by judging others, by assuming they are the keepers of the truth, and by deeming anyone who doesn't share their beliefs as being wrong, bad, or their enemy, it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because I know that they're hurting. They're hurting like I was hurting all my life. And they don't know why they're hurting, which makes the hurt even more destructive. Like they say, "Hurt people hurt people."
And so, when people started smugly posting comments on the pictures from the march, I wanted so badly to engage with them, to point out that they don't know me at all, that their assumptions about me and my beliefs, my background, my story are wrong. I want to say that just because I marched alongside my friends, supporting equality, it doesn't mean that I'm a raging liberal, or even a Democrat for that matter. It doesn't mean I voted for Obama, or that I don't believe in God. It doesn't mean that I think I'm right, or that I think I know how everything works. It doesn't mean that I have ever voted for a major party candidate, or that I haven't been equally outraged by past Democratic and Republican presidents alike. It doesn't mean I voted for Hillary, or that I'm a socialist. It doesn't mean that I fit into any of the boxes they're trying to put me in. My goal in life is to exist outside all boxes, political or otherwise.
But engaging with them would only bring me down to their level. And I was there once, and I know where that path leads. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is to be quiet and trust that others are right where they're supposed to be.
My callenge to anyone reading this who struggles with that instinct and desire to label, judge, or assume to know things about someone who doesn't agree with you is this: Challenge your own beliefs. Challenge your approach. Challenge your automatic functions. Put the focus back on yourself. What's really going on with you? Is there a deeper wound that needs healing?
On January 21st, I did not march out of hatred or judgment. I did not march because of any labels. I did not march because I need others to be wrong in order for me to feel right. I did not march because I think I know how everything should be, or how it is all going to end up. I marched as a free-thinking human who desires connection. I marched as a person who knows that she doesn't know everything, who knows the importance of letting people figure things out for themselves. I marched as someone who has been on both sides of the line that divides us, and has decided to stop acknowledging the line.
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