“Heather, you have to remember that everyone around you is wounded and suffering.”
“So am I and I don’t treat people like shit.”
“Yeah, but not everyone’s brain works like yours.”
I have a firm and deep commitment to the belief that nothing justifies treating each other poorly. In fact, I believe that if humanity shifted its thinking from “I was hurt so I’m going to hurt others” to understanding that nothing justifies hurting each other the world would be a different place. But when I first heard this from my own mother as she rationalized the abuse my family had put me through over the years I was stopped in my tracks. This happens to me a lot, the discussion gets ended because my brain is not replicable, but the thing is, I don’t believe that my brain has anything to do with it. It makes it easier for me to process pain, for me to reach the right conclusions faster but it also makes it easier for me to rationalize my own evil behavior. How do I know? Because of my mom. I’m not saying my mom is evil, but I am saying that she has made a lot of choices out of spite that hurt people and my mom is incredibly gifted, maybe not to the degree I am but she is a member of MENSA. History is littered with brilliant people who did very bad things to each other. The reason I’ve reached these conclusions has a lot to do with being very systematically oppressed for most of my life and my gentle nature, but I am human and I have a dark side too and when I had to face that piece of myself I realized that I had a choice. I chose the better angel of my nature. That is a choice that we all can make and must make if we ever want to move forward as a society.
I’m not saying that I don’t understand anger, and how abuse and oppression warps the soul. I understand it to a level that few will ever know, because I saw it personally when I was a child. I have great compassion for people who have suffered and their anger. But at the end of the day, we still have to hold people accountable because it is still a choice. There are so many problems on this earth because people are trying to act out their suffering on each other instead of trying to heal. The abuse, oppression and the pain I have suffered makes me angry, and I’m not sorry for that. Anger is not inherently bad, there are things it would be nuts to be not be angry about, but our response to anger can be good or bad and it is a choice. It’s not an easy choice, but it is still a choice.
My stepdad left a note this week explaining that he’s been yelling about me and kicking me out because he has “a chip on his shoulder.” You see, my family has come to expect me to accept whatever they dish out, because for a very long time I thought it was my job to absorb all anger because I have a larger capacity than they do, but the problem with this is that it is destroying me, healing no one, and is what keeps us in the endless cycle of poverty and drug addiction. I know too that my brain has very little to do with it because there is another one of me in my family, my brother. My brother is very intelligent and artistically talented, and he was severely abused when were kids, especially by my older sister who took her anger out on us. My brother and I both have made the decision to not allow our pain to be an excuse to hurt others and our brains are very different. We are the members of the family that end up having to absorb everyone else’s suffering. This is what makes me not buy that it’s about intelligence, because everyone in my family is smart but two of us choose, consistently to be kind. It also sells everyone else short. It is oppression by virtue of low expectations. All of us have the capacity to do this and when we pretend we don’t we deny the best pieces of humanity, our free will. I’m not religious, but I do think that people misinterpret the phrase, “made in God’s image.” What this means is that we have the power to create, to choose our lives and society, to bring life into the world, and yes to destroy; it all comes down to what we decide to do with it.
I want to live in a world where people say , “bullshit” anytime someone tries to rationalize terrible behavior. There are moral absolutes. It is ALWAYS wrong to hurt innocent people. Can you imagine how different things would have turned out in Germany, if instead of saying, “our economy sucks, lets find a scapegoat and someone to take our anger out on” they had focused their resources on providing for everyone? Imagine how different the world would be if poor white people didn’t take their anger out on poor minorities, if wealthy minorities didn’t take their anger out on poor white people, if men didn’t take their anger out on women, and if parents never took their anger out on children. What would the world look like if we all adopted the ideology that hurting people isn’t ok and that there is no excuse for it? How different would things if we held each other accountable to treating each other well? If we accepted no rationalization for hurting people? There have been human beings around the world and throughout history who have done just that and they accomplished some of the greatest progressions in humanity. If people can do it during the Holocaust and slavery then you can do it too. We’ve been through worse than this and if some people hadn’t chosen to do the right thing we wouldn’t exist.
We are better than this and I don’t believe anyone who tells me otherwise. I believe that because I am alive, and a woman and I can vote, and I’m not an indentured slave, and I don’t work in a factory, and I have medical care, and if someone hurts me there are some pathways for recourse, and I received a free public education, and I went to Stanford. All of this is made possible by the people who came before me and said, “there is no excuse for dehumanization and I’m prepared to put myself on the line to prove it.” There is an accountability that is lost when people don’t live in communities. Where I come from, if your friend is doing something morally reprehensible you have an OBLIGATION to intervene, and that’s why my friend group is full of a bunch of kids who have been wounded but tried to make the best of it, because we don’t accept that from each other.
But if you are battling demons, and if you don’t have that community, and your brain isn’t mine and your life experience isn’t like mine what can you do? For me, when I want to learn, I do research, and I would suggest with starting with the biographies of some of the inspiring historical figures. If research isn’t your thing, then think about the people who have been kind in your life. Do they have pain? Yes. Are they still kind? Yes. Ask them why. Talk to people about that choice and how they overcome their suffering. Ask yourself what supports you need to be accountable? Talk to a therapist, or a priest, or a wise elder about it. Send me an email and I’ll set you straight myself. But above all else, don’t relinquish your humanity and sell yourself short by giving up on the best of yourself.