Historically, there are have been things we don’t talk about in polite company. Sex, politics, illness, money, religion – things that make people uncomfortable, things that may reveal that you are not in lock step with every other person you know. These are the things that reveal our differences, our struggles, our complete humanness.
Polite (substance-less) conversation is a building block of an empty society. It is designed so that no one will ever have anything that indicates they are different or that life is messy, hard, and most terrifying of all – that no one knows what the hell they are doing. It is wrong. It’s time to be brave, to find room in the world for every single one of us, and to find love in our hearts for those with whom we don’t agree or understand.
It’s time to get real – about everything. It’s time to put the pain in the do-something box.
My family has struggled with mental illness in small and large ways. I have loved with this knowledge my entire life. Yes – I said loved – because I love them and yes that’s not always easy. And I live with anxiety, depression, some weird not fully diagnosed, but medicated, mood disorder that who knows what the hell it means. And I am also loved. That has not always been easy either.
All the people in my family do not have mental illness. They have other stuff because we are ALL facing some kind of demon, challenge, fear, shame, sadness or hurdle. No one is immune. But the thing that I learned from my grandmother in the midst of her incredibly difficult life is that there is always room at the table for another person. There is always enough love for someone in pain. It doesn’t matter where they come from, if they look different, or who they voted for. If they are hurting you help them. If their child needs a hug you hug them. Even if you have nothing more to offer but a hug and someone to talk to – that can be enough.
In opening our hearts to those with whom we do not agree we teach our children that love has no limits. There are people in my life that I love with no limits. We disagree vehemently on politics. We still love each other. That love doesn’t change the minds of the other – though I wish it could – but it also doesn’t keep me from standing-up.
Love is not either, or. I love them AND I disagree with them. I love them AND I will continue to fight against the things they believe that I feel are wrong and dangerous. And I imagine the same is true for them. We talk about these differences, how we wish we agreed more, and when it’s possible we try to see the other’s point of view. Until recently that last one was much easier – but still we try. I realize how fortunate I am to have this kind of unconditional love in my life but there are others with whom I’ve had differences who have tried to walk away from our relationship – I’ve reminded them that families don’t get to do that. We stick around in the muck and we figure it out. I’ve had to be reminded of this before too. It’s a two way street. Relationships are hard and people are complicated.
My hope is that we will come through this polarizing time to a less polarizing time in which there is room for us all. I cannot stand by and say nothing when human rights are at risk – but my love does not waver. Just like we could not stand by when my grandfather’s fits of paranoia and rage would take hold causing him to act out in irrational ways. Someone had to intervene. Many people had to intervene. That comparison may have just lost half of my audience but don’t leave just yet. Please stick with me.
We are in a moment of collective rage and paranoia. Neither side is immune to this. We have to find our people and they have to be people who encourage us not to see the other side as “the enemy.” That is really hard but I promise you that neither side will ever be successful if we hate each other. We can despise their action, not understand their beliefs, and work tirelessly to defeat what we see as wrong – but we have to do this from a place of love – even for those with whom we disagree. Pollyanna, right? Well sorry that’s all I’ve got.
Hate cannot win – we say it – we have to believe it of ourselves as well.
These days everything I say feels like it’s not enough. The only thing I keep coming back to is that I lived in a microcosm of our current circumstances growing-up. There was worry, chaos, people were resentful, hurt, broken, and sometimes afraid – and in the face of all of that they found a way to love each other, to be there for each other in times of need and tragedy, and I think we can do this too. I know many of you grew up in chaos and didn’t see people loving each other anyway. I know this is easier said than done. I still believe in us. It won’t be easy but I believe in us.
I called my first show and blog It Runs in the Family because of my own family; but also because I believe deeply that we are all family and that we have to figure out how to make room for everyone at the table – even the ones we don’t understand, like, or agree with. There’s room.
The most important thing though is to make it clear in our own circles that “pleasant conversation” is no longer acceptable – let’s get real, find humor and connection in the fact that life is hard, we get scared, and no one knows what the hell they are doing.
And it wouldn’t hurt to widen those circles to include people who are different, look different, think differently, believe differently and vote differently. Sharing space with a person who doesn’t share your ideals doesn’t mean you condone things you think are wrong it means you recognize the humanity in all of your neighbors and that there ARE things that connect us even with those we most fervently disagree.
It’s really uncomfortable work. Ground rules have to be agreed upon in some cases. Both sides must agree that they cannot abuse the other. Boundaries must be established. You cannot abuse. You cannot allow yourself to be abused. If this can’t be agreed upon then the conversation must be tabled until a later time. People can be passionate and heated without name calling or hate filled language. There will be people who cannot meet you half way. That’s unfortunate. You may have to love them from afar. Hopefully not forever.
People have to begin doing everything differently. We will probably argue, hurt each other’s feelings and struggle – much like some families do at Thanksgiving. We have to commit to this work all the time. Yikes. That seems like a lot of work. It is. But it is the only way.
I listened to the great Glennon Melton this morning and she reminded us that we have to do the work and also make room for rest and joy and fun so that we do not become consumed by the horrors and the magnitude of the work at hand. This is excellent advice and I encourage you (and myself) to take it. The biggest lesson I am having to learn is to be as kind to myself as I try to be to everyone else. Thanks to Glennon for that reminder.
I love you all. Even when we don’t agree. Even when I can’t support or agree with your position. Even when we have to take separate sides of a fight. Even when we agree and stand alongside one another in the fight – but I don’t like your approach, your language or your energy. I hope there will be a way for us to come together in respect, love and solidarity for the future of our children and all the world’s children.
Here’s to the next moment.