Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

Snapshot thoughts: A cost/benefit analysis (of sorts).

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some adults and kids, and the talk turned to Trump and Pence. One of the kids asked who he was, so I responded with, “He’s the guy from Indiana who made it legal to deny services to the LGBTQ community.” Boyfriend followed that up with, “To be fair, he made it legal to deny services to anyone; that just happened to be the main outcome.” And then in chimes a known right-leaner who says, “Well, it actually just gave businesses the FREEDOM to choose who they wanted to serve.”

*record scratch*

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange. How it is that two arguably decent human beings can view the same situation from such different perspectives. What causes that? Where did those two roads diverge? And I guess the biggest question of all… how can you place more value on the freedom of a business (or, like in the state of TN, a mental health provider) to choose who they want to serve than you place on the needs of underserved and marginalized populations?

This all led me to thinking about where we currently are as a society. So divisive in our thoughts and conversations and behaviors, it’s as though there’s no room for respectful discourse anymore, much less the possibility of being open to changing our minds – or at LEAST seeing things from another perspective. Like, politics and religion and “alternative lifestyles” are off-limits, because how dare you question what I believe! How can you challenge yourself to grow, if you’re not willing to listen to other sides? How can you be so firmly entrenched in your beliefs when you won’t venture outside your comfort zone? Why are you so afraid to admit you might be wrong, or that you might be a racist, or at the very least, contributing to the systemic racism that is so pervasive in our country? Why does it have to be one thing or the other? Why can’t people see that just because you criticize something or someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the good, as well.

Constructive criticism is as important as critical thinking, and I think our society is drastically lacking in both right now.

A lot of this can be attributed to what I have dubbed “snapshot thinking.” You know, the way we only get little bits and pieces of information, usually stuff that is already in keeping with existing belief systems and usually from sources that align with bias, and we just let that further affirm that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. Like, for instance, people who are convinced that WE ARE IN DANGER AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WE MUST BE SAVED, despite evidence to the contrary:

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/07/psychology-why-americans-afraid-low-crime-levels.html

The snapshot thinking comes into play with the internet, too. You’re only getting snapshots of the lives people are leading, and it’s only what they want you to see. Facebook? Snapshots. Instagram? Definitely snapshots. Twitter? 140 character snapshots. And if you don’t take the time to investigate and flush out the picture with research and questions and critical thought, then you’re left to fill in the blanks with your own bias and assumptions.

This never turns out well.

It’s my understanding that, as humans, we’ve evolved to make snap judgments in times of danger. But so much has happened to complicate that process that now we rely on it for our entire existence. We don’t ask probing questions. We instead get lazy and expect the little bits and pieces to suffice when it comes to educating ourselves, whether about the world around us, the community in which we live, or the people we profess to love. Snapshot thinking – the satisfaction with bits and pieces that likely reaffirm what we’ve already assumed, because we are quick to dismiss anything that challenges us in any real meaningful way – is corroding our ability to relate, our desire and ability empathize with others.

But we need connection, now more than ever. We need to be willing to learn, to grow, to be challenged. We need to ask questions, and we need to evaluate how our thinking and our behavior might be contributing to the marginalization of others. Doing so does not take anything away from who we are or what we have; instead, I like to think it adds to our character, makes us better as humans.

I find myself conducting my own cost/benefit analyses on different areas of my life. Should we get a cat, or should we get two? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not we should get one at all…) What are the costs associated with one vs. two, and what are the benefits? (Final answer TBD next weekend, but probably the answer is TWO.) Should I continue the MSW program, knowing it’s no longer the actual path I want to pursue, but also knowing what I learn would lend itself to my growth in the human services field and as a human being? (No.) Should I return to Facebook, knowing it was such a chaotic and disconnected experience before, but also knowing that most of my friends rely on it for communication and otherwise we’re all just out of touch with each other? (Yes. And so far, so good. Mostly.)

And, finally, what are the costs of having these difficult conversations with people I love? What are the benefits? Is it better to just keep everyone comfortable in their existing beliefs? Should I just worry about myself and my own expansion and growth as a human, or is there a moral responsibility to try and bring others along?

Final thought, courtesy of John Gruber on Twitter, and it’s honestly something that should drive home what racism looks like to ANYONE, if you think about it long, hard, and well enough: What if, instead of Trump, Barack Obama were the one with three wives and five kids between them? What would the discourse look like then?

Equity Equality and Justice