11.15.2016

Sesame Street, Politics, and The Importance of Speaking Up

I had something to say recently.

See, I get it. To those outside of my inner circle, I'm probably the funny friend, the quiet one, or simply "her mom". I agree. I'm hard to get to know if you just met me. I don't say much in groups. I deflect pain and vulnerability with humor. And I ask far more questions about you and your life rather than share any information about my own.

I'm also a sucker for harmony. Nothing makes me feel cozier than helping different types of people get along. In my mind, we're all still on Sesame Street--different races, humans and monsters, all singing songs and learning to share. I've often swallowed a controversial opinion or kept a comment to myself in order to keep this fantasy going in social circles.


But all of those things came into conflict last week. As a nation, we were asked to pick sides, and the results divided us.

I'd been quiet throughout the election process, because politics never interested me. Also, as I mentioned, I like things coming together, and politics notoriously tear things apart.

But I had to say something.

By saying something, I knew it put me on a side. I was no longer the quiet one. I also knew that I risked being unpopular... really unpopular. See, while a lot of people move amongst people very similar to them, I do not. Somehow, throughout my life, I've generally been the only Black girl in the room. I'm the only liberal amongst all the Christian conservatives. Rarely is there a woman in the room with more tattoos than me, and I know people are looking at my hair because I get asked about it all the time. I'm different.

So, no surprise (at least not to me), I had a vastly different take on the election than many people around me. I can't tell exactly what people thought. Some comments agreed, but some were a strange mix of defending the candidate, defending themselves, or defending the entire situation by calling it the will of God. I was genuinely surprised at the lack of empathy. In addition to the election not going as I thought it would, my view of many--including dear friends--shifted.

Now, the lack of empathy goes both ways. I had to come to grips with the fact that not everyone viewed the president-elect as I did. Some votes were against the other candidates. Some were for the future of the Supreme Court. Others were simply along party lines. Even if I don't agree with the reasoning, that's how the chips fell for many. If I were to lump all Republican voters into a hateful category, (a) I'd be wrong and (b) I'd be generalizing and stereotyping when both of those things are the exact opposite of what I believe.

The silver lining, if there is any, is that I wouldn't know any of this had I not spoken up. I engaged in dialogue with my friends that was uncomfortable and left us a little disappointed in each other, but at least we walked away knowing more about the other person. See, we can't expect to get anywhere if we're not talking to each other.

If you're sitting there with a mountain of things to say, then say them! If you never stop talking (if you're not sure that's you, ask a friend), shut up for a second and listen to someone else. We may not like how the conversation ends, and it may be awkward as hell in the process, but it's the only way we can learn from each other. This is how you develop empathy, and empathy is an essential tool for building unity.

We don't live on Sesame Street. As much as I'd like to see Oscar the Grouch complaining from my trash can, I'll have to settle for that on my television screen. But I can still try to see past the differences of my neighbor and share my time and love with them. It's in the speaking up where it all begins. I don't want someone befriending the most likable sides of me and the same goes for you too. It's exhausting always being on your best behavior. Be different. Be weird. So long as we can lace our truth with compassion and empathy, we can talk about anything.

I can't make the world a better place. But I can do something in my little corner. I can show up, speak up, and listen. I encourage you to do the same.

And, by the way, just a thought. If the people in your corner all look like you, act like you, and generally share your opinions, expand your corner. You'll never understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes, but if you walk alongside them, you at least have a better view.

~jennifer.

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