Pay Attention to Each Other, And Be Kind
Since early 2020, most of us have relied on what we have learned and seen and done on a computer in order to feel connected to the outside world. We experienced a global pandemic, the murders of innocent people, and the strangeness of trying to do our jobs from some portion of our homes normally reserved for something entirely different. And we did all of it electronically. Throughout that time—as I scoured the Internet instead of doing the paperwork I was putting off—I was inundated with memes and quotes and inspirational phrases. One that struck me was, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” I’ve seen it attributed to everyone from Robin Williams to Tim Ferriss, but the origin of the sentiment doesn’t change its meaning.
Looking one another in the eye to acknowledge who we are is our job. Every single day.
As we come back together in person, I'm thinking about this idea more and more. Whether we’re in a true battle or not, each of us has a history, a family, our own fears, ambitious dreams, our unique versions of imposter syndrome, and the stories we have lived by as long as we have been able to understand them. I think about this when I hear politicians and others simply dismissing systemic racism. It comes to my mind when I read about people who couldn’t get proper care for their Covid-afflicted family members because they couldn’t afford health insurance. And I am struck by this phrase when I hear the tacit rejection of any group of people based on their skin color, their lack of a home, their mental state, their physical appearance, their grammar, or anything else that someone has conjured up as a reason to hate someone else.
In the same way that we could view the pandemic as an opportunity to re-set and focus on what’s important, we could see it—and the end of the Trump administration—as a time to overhaul our opinions of those we see as “other.” And I’m not suggesting blindly changing our views from dislike to like or fear to comfort. Being isolated in my own tiny world for 15 months has reminded me of how little I truly know about the core of racism, homelessness, mental illness, and international politics. Even as I intentionally read more, listen to podcasts and webinars, and pay closer attention to the enormous roadblocks ahead of so many people, I realize how much crap I’ve accepted as fact for so long.
The truth is that we need to know each other’s stories. We need to ask and listen and act. We need to question what we’ve been taught and we need to learn more. We need to see the patterns of oppression and harassment and ignorance and dismissal, and do what we can to remove ourselves from any part of it. And we need to understand that nothing about us makes us better or more important than someone else. When we were still operating on ground, I found myself in a number of conversations with educated academicians who resisted making their classes more approachable to students because they, themselves, had experienced discrimination in their lives. This is saying, essentially, “I can’t help you because no one helped me.” To continue to behave badly because we were treated badly is unacceptable, and it gets us no where as a culture.
Whether we want to accept it or not, we live in a society that is heavily slanted toward straight, affluent white men. Maybe when we were kids, and we read history books in which these same guys were presented as the saviors, we just believed it. What else are you going to do when you’re 8 or 9 or 10? Growing up in a world in which I never saw any gay role models until I was in my early 20s, I know that the impact on a scared, young lesbian was palpable. The effort it has taken to become a person with agency has exhausted me, even in these days when being a lesbian is now considered trendy. Only now am I realizing how many brave gay women and men came before me. No matter how old we are, our job is not over. We live here with other humans, all of whom have a story. Learning those narratives and looking one another in the eye to acknowledge who we are is our job. Every single day. It's all there is.