Us vs. Them

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite sayings was, “Stand for something, or step aside.” It gave me a powerful image of what it meant to be alive on this earth right now. The problem was, most of the time, the ideas and opinions I had, the things I wanted to stand for, were in direct opposition to most of the people around me, and so I kept them hidden. I was not standing for anything at all, I was stepping aside. No, even worse, I was standing there while they walked right over me.

I’ve always known I was different from my family, and from a lot of the people I grew up with. From a very young age. Before I knew why, before I could articulate any of it, before I knew it was ok to forge my own road. I just knew, on some level, that I didn’t quite fit in.

It started becoming more apparent sometime in my teens. When things that people said in church didn’t make sense. When the things we did in church didn’t make sense. And no one had a real answer for me. I started to feel I didn’t fit in the way that they expected me to.

And around this time, I started to have close friends come out to me. And I had a group of people over there telling me I needed to turn my back on those friends. And me not understanding, and not wanting to. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to fit in the way they expected me to.

When I started to mature and move into adulthood, and I found myself wondering why expectations were so much lower for women. Why women seemed to get the raw deal on a lot of things. And the people I knew and trusted told me that was just the way the world worked. Men were stronger, smarter, more trustworthy. They belonged in the positions of power. This was a message that was actually conveyed to me as a young woman. And it was not the 1950s. I knew on a gut level that it wasn’t right.

And after I moved out on my own, and started to see the real world with my very own eyes, without this sheltered cover of everyone else’s opinions over everything, I felt like I was finally seeing clearly, and I could finally form my own opinions, and feel and think however I wanted to. I started getting answers to my questions. Answers I hadn’t expected. Answers I knew I couldn’t go and tell those people from my past, it would only make them turn away from me more.

Of course, the Christian guilt lasts for a long time. A very long time. It never goes away, truthfully. So, I still have a pretty difficult time, even now, actually voicing those opinions, making them clear to anyone. I feel that the burden is on me to keep the peace, not hurt anyone’s feelings, not start any trouble. I know I have every right to my opinions, but I’m never made to feel that way, by the people who are supposed to love me. I’m sitting in a mini panic attack right this very minute at the thought of publishing this piece. The backlash that will follow.

And while this election is not the first time I’m feeling completely shunned from just about everyone I knew and loved growing up, it is certainly becoming the worst example and the most hurtful situation.

Everyone has taken to social media in the new year like a dog foaming at the mouth, and posting all kinds of hateful, divisive (and often inaccurate and false) statements, messages and pictures. I have purposely avoided posting this sort of thing myself because a) there’s no actual point to it, and b) it only serves to hurt, divide, enflame, incite. I don’t believe in doing any of those things. Ever. It makes me realize I’m not getting the same respect and dignity I so often give to everyone else. I don’t treat your political opinions like a pile of poo left by a puppy, and rub your nose in it until you feel awful for just…being. But, I do feel like that’s what keeps happening to me.

I was browsing Facebook the other day, and unfollowing people who posted these sorts of things. And I found myself unfollowing people I didn’t want to. And lots of people. And I didn’t want to unfollow family, or have my feed turn into one big echo chamber of all the people saying only the things I wanted to hear. I want diversity of opinion in my feed. I want good, healthy discussion. But…where has it gone? Where has civil discourse run off to? Are the days gone where we could just state an opinion and it wouldn’t get much more attention and response than a couple of thumbs up?

I urge you to stop and think before you say something or repost something. Who is on the other end of this? Who will see this? Do I have friends or family members that might be hurt by this? I’m not talking about “offended” here. Being offended is typical of most of the people who will disagree with you. Being offended is a fleeting feeling, and can be solved by answering back with your own opinions. Being offended is fixable, and often it passes on its own.

No, I’m talking about real, actual emotional hurt. Knowing that a member of your own family, who knows you and knows what you’re about, would go ahead and post something anyway, something that insults you personally. It’s about people like you, and whether they intended to or not, it was aimed at you.

I urge you to watch yourself more carefully. Watch what you say, watch what you post, think about what you are saying actually means, in a big picture sense. I don’t just mean people who think differently than I do, I’m talking about everyone, even those who agree with me. This goes both ways. There are ways to have opinions, express those opinions, and still be tactful, civil, and kind.

It’s easy to have an opinion. It’s even easier to state it in a way that’s completely insensitive and insulting. And it’s even easier still to shut down someone who might try to discuss it with you. We have to try harder. This is how we’ve gotten where we are today as a country: completely divided, almost exactly in half. No one can side with anyone else on any issue, no real problems will actually get solved, if we can’t learn how to discuss things, and find a middle ground.

I have felt the hurt a little more each day since inauguration. I have had to go entire days without using Facebook at all (which isn’t a difficult sacrifice, but I did used to enjoy keeping in touch with family and friends) because my anxiety was spiking, I literally couldn’t take it.

I hope it gets better soon, and social media can be fun again. But, the way things have progressed, I don’t see it happening. Unless we consider our actions before acting out, ponder our words before saying them. Unless we choose to do something, it will only get worse.