Once again the “isms” and the “I know betters” and the wave of hopelessness, name calling, and violence that has been washing through the United States and other parts of the world is in the forefront of the news. Recently (or it feels recent), I’ve written about white privilege, addressed hopelessness, and shared laments. All Spirit Moxie posts address the day-to-day actions we can do to change the world and ourselves for the better. Weekly “fill-in” content for Spirit Moxie is usually photos tagged as #randomsigns and #changingtheworld and share images and words for hope, or at least thought.
But behind, or beneath, or through the dark places, I have a simple theory. One of the underlying causes of this violence is that people either don’t know who they are or are uncomfortable with it. When you truly know yourself, you aren’t threatened by the “other” because it can’t touch you or reduce your inner strength. In other words, you have no need to bully or attack others to prove your worth.
As you probably know, I’m female, white, middle class, heterosexual, educated, American, Christian, and aged, well, more than 50. All of this is just fine with me. I’m kind of allergic to movies, most metals, and insect bites. I prefer conversations about ideas rather than about people or even about most situations. I love to dance, have only once been proven wrong as to music I don’t enjoy, am an introvert who loves parties, and get energized in airports and on planes. Other than following where this idea that’s named Spirit Moxie leads me as a vision of how we can change/improve the world, I love to cook, read mysteries, and explore. Sometimes I even see myself as fabulous. So while I like compliments, I don’t on most days need them.
I could go on because who a person is is truly fascinating — yes, you are a fascinating topic, too. (If you reacted to this by saying, “No!,” you’re wrong. By definition. Really.) But this sounds a bit general so let me be slightly more specific.
Let’s start with bullies. To me, it seems that a bully attacks others because by doing so the bully reduces his (or her) own insecurities. It’s a way of saying, “My putting you down proves that I am better, stronger, more attractive, smarter, etc. than you.” If bullies truly felt good, strong, attractive, and smart—and act accordingly in that knowledge—they would have no need to bully. If they are secure in who they are, bullies would realize that the act of bullying actually detracted from their true selves. Bullying actually is evidence of weakness.
Homophobia (and related “obias”) seems, to me, to be the same. Peopled who are secure in their sexuality have no problem being around others with different balances of hormones and pheromones. Only if you’re not completely sure of your sexuality is the “other” threatening.
All of this on the individual level. I know that people I know who are truly comfortable in their own skin aren’t racist (in the overt, hating people that don’t look like me way—being aware of one’s racism is a different topic) or ageist. If they have something to prove it is against another’s actions, but not about their very being.
In the larger world, this doesn’t seem to be true for wholesale violence. Mass violence manifests in several ways. Defending perceived (which may or may not be real) encroachment of space or resources is a historic one. But the violence I am addressing here is the violence that results from being taught that the other (race, sexuality, custom) is somehow evil or wrong. (This includes religious persecution.) And that it is part of one’s personal identity to destroy the other. Then violence can become a societal expectation, a privilege, or an obligation. Nazis and other white supremacists claim part of their identity by embracing Aryanism. It is apparently true that many people are carefully taught to distrust or even hate someone different from themselves.
But I still think extreme expressions of this indicates unease. When violence is ingrained as a socially acceptable norm, it has been transferred to physical competition and maybe a need to belong. But when people are secure in who they really are they have no trouble putting aside or even decrying violent (whether physical or verbal) expectations.
Unfortunately I have one final warning — or maybe just an observation. Even when we know that physical differences are expected and not threatening, we still come to the world with our own experiences and expectations of what “normal” is in terms of behavior and practice. This means we often assume we know what is best for others, how other people should act and what that action means, and how we ourselves are perceived. It’s hard to grasp that we might, simply, be wrong. An unthreatening (I hope) example is a friend’s horror at people randomly crossing the street, apparently with no regard to traffic laws, crosswalks, or their own safety. However, when I visited Belize City, that was how people crossed the street. If you waited for a light or for there to be no traffic, you would never get to the other side. Which is right?
That was a trick question. “Right” doesn’t enter into it. The rules are just simply, different, depending on where you are.
So, where are we? Unease about the “other” is often, I dare say almost always, unease at something within ourselves. And no this doesn’t necessarily make us bad or wrong, but simply points towards areas of self-growth and self-knowledge. Even more, toward self-love.
So, when you are sure you know what is best for your neighbors, your friends, your family, your employees, and that dude on the street, and you want to advise or help — at least ask them what they think. Be willing to be wrong.
The secret to adding to a peaceful world is to know who you are.
So now, it’s your turn. Who are you? Double dare you to answer here in at least 20 words, but in no more than 50 or so. Go.
Who are you?
Illustrations from the top:
Mirrors — photos by Spirit Moxie, graphic adaptations by Gary Templeton
Shadow — Spirit Moxie