As the general election inches closer, so does the tension within our country and within our communities. It seems as if the worst in humanity can be on display during these seemingly inconsequential moments in time (and I am including myself in this messy lot). As I think about playing my part in democracy, I am reminded of how much I do, in fact, care. It is important to care; so long as we are members of this earth and this nation, in particular, it is important to care about how our decisions, policies and laws affect its inhabitants. However, amid these countless issues, I am also reminded of the things that matter even more.
People are not one-dimensional.
People are not one-dimensional: a phrase I have been actively reminding myself of recently. I know this — I understand that people are multifaceted and complex; however, often when I’m faced with a difficult situation or conversation, I can be so quick to jump to conclusions: “They are narrow-minded,” “He is inconsiderate,” “She is ‘fill-in-the-blank.’” These are such harsh labels, and yet, it can be so easy to try and sum an entire person up to “that one thing.”
In one of my classes earlier this semester, we talked about the idea that humans tend to fear that which they don’t understand. This thought sat with me and challenged me: Even if something or someone is harmless, there can be a serious tendency to fear it, still, simply by not understanding it. Possibly this is because we do not like being wrong, or because we do not like being uncomfortable. Or, quite possibly, it is a little bit of both. As I think about these “difficult people” or “difficult conversations,” it is a whole lot easier to draw conclusions and assume them to be “this way” or “that way.” Because, if they are “this” or “that,” then it validates my disapproval and disdain. I do not have to seek common ground because I already know we would not find any. However, when I remind myself that they, too, have emotions; they, too, can be brought to tears; they, too, have things of immense importance to them, then I am dissuaded. Then, I am faced with the reality that they are not one-dimensional.
I wish I could say this thought process was my gut instinct, but most of the time, it is not. Most of the time, I let my pride, assumptions and temper get the best of me. By default, I want to disregard people’s depth. Yet, when I challenge myself to look beyond my frustrations — even if they are perfectly valid, at times — I can make the slightest bit of progress.
While our elected officials do carry immense worth, as does the way we approach our civic duties, we cannot forget the weight of our day-to-day actions. Rather than instantly assuming a person who thinks differently from us to be “completely this” or “completely that,” ask of them, “What matters most to you? What makes you laugh? Cry?” Just as we have our own list of responses and experiences to coincide with these questions, so do they — so does every person who has walked this earth. It is in these confrontations that comes growth, no matter how miniscule. For in increasing our threshold for uncomfortability and our desire for mutual understanding comes a higher capacity to live among all variations of people.