I was raised liberal. In a sea of extended family members that touted conservatism and gun ownership, my mother and I remained the black sheep of our family – an anomaly. For most of my life I had some pretty standard liberal views, obviously climate change is a thing, pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, anti-dogmatic religion, pro-renewable energy, pro-stem cell research, pro-universal health care and education, anti-gun, anti-orange monkey governing the most powerful nation in the free world. You know. Standard.
These things I just assumed were correct. I also assumed that people who didn’t align with my views were a combination of inferior intelligence, privilege, and judgment. (Diagnosis: early 20’s) These were people I just had to deal with, especially here in rural Alberta. Over the years I’ve come to understand that things aren’t so, cut and dry. It started with my grand-father. A classic white-collar conservative. One who owned guns, worked in oil and gas his entire life, and yet still very much hated religion and believed in a woman’s right to her own body. This was hard for my brain to rectify. For so much of my life I was taught that we as a people fit into these convenient little boxes. If you’re a conservative, you’re this way. If you’re a liberal, you’re that way. And if you claim to be somewhere in the middle, you’re just confused.
As a person I had a hard time trying to fit all my rolls and folds into this box, that seemed awfully small and awkwardly shaped. I knew that I wasn’t the only person who felt constrained by this standard definition, which seemed to ripple out into other areas of life, not just politically. Socially, economically. What circles you floated in and what your Facebook feed chooses to show you.
You can probably see where this is going, and probably know for yourself that people aren’t so easily defined. The same constraint vs. freedom problem can be seen clearly in expressions of gender and sexuality as well. We KNOW that as humans we’re floaty, and fickle and sometimes we’re ‘going through a phase’ that doesn’t quite fit A or B. So my question is why do we often find ourselves desperately holding onto these traditional belief systems? Ones that often don’t provide any room for wiggles or growth. And ones that leave us so fucking polarized that we now can’t talk about politics at Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe it’s because our traditional system of beliefs is how we define ourselves, and without it we’d be left bare. Maybe it’s because we feed off the fire and fury (#reference) of being adamant and unwavering. What’s worse, though, is that we’ve all become keyboard warriors, doomed to troll and instigate but have nothing to say in real life.
My most stark realization as an adult however, was that hard-line liberals are just as ignorant as hard-line conservatives. It was an actual paradigm shattering moment for me. This belief system that I had built my life, my circle of friends and a large part of my identity around was now proving to be as intolerant as the ‘other side’. This intolerance can be described as a refusal to listen – which is proving to the be the underlying problem with everything. We’re so busy on both ends of the spectrum putting our hands over our ears, closing our eyes and shouting ‘LA LA LA LA LA’, that we have omitted our obligation as humans to listen and come together. Equally reaching for the same goal: to solve present day problems.
And I get it. It’s really fucking uncomfortable to step out of that box. We’ve nested in that box for so long, now it’s cozy, it’s home. It’s who we are. But check this out, humans don’t fit into boxes, and you can have a multitude of beliefs on every part of an infinitely massive spectrum. So do yourselves and the world a favour (#tellingyouhowtoliveagain), listen. And REALLY listen. Don’t anxiously await your turn to speak. Don’t stop listening after the first sentence because you disagree with it. Really listen. And show the person you’re engaging with that you’re present and absorbing what they’re saying. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be a challenge. It’ll push buttons and ignite emotions. But just try it. Listen.
Then, speak. But before you do, is it accurate? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Shift your paradigm, or we’re stuck in this never-ending loop of yelling and screaming and then having weird make up sex, and then screaming again.