The Power of Not “Viewing Labels as Ending Points”

Read this book.

For two years (and longer for those who who are either more enlightened than I am or who have experienced the evils of our society more than I have) many of us have been beside ourselves. Truly beside ourselves. And the more overwhelmed, angry, and scared we become, the more we fall into the tactics we don’t believe in. I include myself in this group.

We must get this right. We must defeat this administration that is hell bent on taking our democracy away from us. But are we going about it the right way? As I read the above book I find myself asking that question. The author, Irshad Manji, guides us to ask this question and guides us further to explore an answer that will work in a way that unifies us rather than divides us even further.

“View labels as starting points, not as finish lines,” she says. So I find myself wondering, “Do I label? And if so, how do I use the notion of labels?” I’m saddened by what I realize. I find that I do label people and groups of people. I thought it was a way to make sense of things. But as I read this book I find that it may in fact do the exact opposite. As someone who has always believed in the gray areas of morality and swore that the world’s problems are not black or white, I find I am breaking our country’s issues into black and white, or what I consider right and wrong. I have come to the depths of my despair by grouping, categorizing, and labeling those whose belief systems are different than mine. I am now beginning to understand the possible depths of this mistake. In labeling fellow human beings, I give myself permission to not get to know and understand them. I give myself permission to dislike them or worse. I am doing exactly what I say I am so steadfastly against. This is not who we are. This is not who I am. Despair and fear can bring out the worse in us. Understandable. But why is my fear more superior than the fear of people who I so vehemently disagree with? Well of course, it’s not.

Manji talks about the long lasting effects and power of humiliation. She shares the notion of how someone who has been humiliated is not going to, now or ever, understand the thinking of those who caused such humiliation. That humiliation is going to instead fuel their beliefs no matter how right or wrong they may be. This is not what we want. This is, what I now finally understand, may be part of what happened at the end of the Civil War. I have asked myself a lot lately what did we do wrong after the Civil War that caused so many to still feel such deep resentment and hate? Could it be humiliation? I don’t know. I think it is way more complicated than that but I wonder what role it could have played. Now I’m not saying that we give up our belief systems, especially if the central tenent is that all humans are created equally and deserve love, respect, and safety. But I am saying that if we are to practice what we say is a core belief system we need to think about this. Deeply think about this.

As I watch what is happening along our southern border, to our planet’s environment… well the list could go on and on, I get so angry. A deep, deep anger. I should know by now that anger is an emotion that covers deeper emotions. My goodness I’ve told my children and students this for years. “Dig deep if you’re angry. Something else is going on. Is it fear, hurt feelings, jealousy?” My anger comes from fear and sadness. Fear and sadness for what we are doing, the people who are getting hurt, and the longevity of the repercussions of these decisions and actions. That is the first step. Understanding where the anger is coming from. Anger that has allowed me and many others to label those we don’t understand or agree with. Those we fear.

So with this post I promise to try to pack those labels away and give myself permission to get to know “others”, those who think so drastically different than I do. Because there must be something we have in common and that seems as good a place to start as any if we are going to build true bridges rather than walls. While this may be a pipe dream, I now understand the necessity in our need to try.

In peace and solidarity that we may solve the problems of today through the ability to listen to understand,

Mary

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