I was already struggling with whether to publish this post, before COVID-19. Now I’m even more unsure. It is so heartening to see the amount of good will that is going around, even among people who normally are at each other’s throats.
I wish we could bottle this good will and sprinkle it around whenever people start to get caustic again. Because we will – start to get caustic again, I mean. I guarantee it.
I don’t want to rain on the warm and fuzzy parade we are all experiencing as we are united globally against the coronavirus foe. But I’ve decided I’m going to publish this post anyway. I started it weeks ago, and I believe it still matters.
Maybe, during this time when we are giving each other so much grace, we can see clearly how crucial it is to find common ground, and how much the words we use towards each other matter. So, here it is…
None of us deserve a free jerk pass
I have struggled to find my voice since I began writing again. This time, this place in history, demands a different kind of narrative than what it did when I started my newspaper column back in 2008.
Twelve years ago, personal essays and confessional tales of the minutia of daily life resonated with people who were struggling to find meaning in the mundane. Personally, I was on the high that comes after surviving a life crisis, ready to share my gratitude and newfound joy and freedom with the world.
As it happened, my enthusiasm was infectious and just what was needed. People ate it up.
But we are in different times now. When I tried to write in that old voice, I couldn’t tap into it. It felt awkward and forced. Inappropriate. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
Now I know. In 2008, people were bored with their day-to-day and agitated by recession. They needed an injection of happy into their routine. They needed somebody to say, “Yeah, life is often dull, but it’s also funny and beautiful.”
We aren’t bored anymore. We are scared.
Cutesy stories of the adventures of raising a toddler or amusing accounts of trying to cram myself into old bikinis after having a baby feel trite. Today, we are hungry for solace; for reassurance that it’s going to be okay. We want someone to explain what the hell is going on.
I’ve stumbled through posts to both my blogs, The Sara Beth Times and Redefining Love,for several years now, trying to figure out what to say, to put my finger on the Zeitgeist. I think perhaps I’ll continue to struggle. These are, after all, confusing times.
But I think I’m getting closer.
All of this to say, thank you to those who have stuck with me. I think I’ve probably offended just about everyone at one point or another, which goes with the territory of writing so I’m not really sorry about that.
I’m not sorry, but I’m also not entirely satisfied with the product I’ve been producing these past few years. I’ve known I can do better, but as with any creative process, there’s this learning curve, this stage of development before mastery.
One thing that has always been important to me, as a writer and as a human, is maintaining my integrity. I try to be consistent in my message, and make sure that everything I publish upholds a standard of character that I and my children can look back on with pride.
This can be tough when you publish your personal journey. People change. They grow. Or at least they should. There have been things I can look back on now in my newspaper column that clearly reflect a change of direction on my part.
Through it all though, I’m proud to say that in almost all cases, my column upheld my character standards and values. (It didn’t hurt that I had the feedback of an editor and publisher to guide me from time to time, a luxury I no longer have as an independent blogger.)
All this to say, there have been several posts I’ve made, particularly in the last couple of months, that I’m not sure reflect my character. And since one of the basic tenets of Redefining Love requires accountability, I have decided to use this as a teachable moment for myself, my children, and you, my dear readers.
Let me be clear before I go any further.
I stand by the main point in all of my posts. I don’t take back the gist of anything I’ve said. I’ve been debating even mentioning this for several weeks, whether I should explain myself or “apologize.” Like so many people, especially women, I am afraid of being “mean” or offending anyone. And I kind of hate that about myself.
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve encountered as I struggle to define my new voice is this idea that, as a woman, I’m supposed to be “nice.” Not nice as common sense defines it, but as culture defines it. And honestly, I find that boring, uninspired, and entirely ridiculous.
So… This. Is. Not. An. Apology.
This is a clarification. An apology, in this particular instance, would be pandering to appease others. A clarification, on the other hand, I do for myself, as a reflection of personal growth. Just as I grew through the writing of my column for all those years, I am growing through my blogs now.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here goes…
In January in The Sara Beth Times, I posted an article titled A real man isn’t afraid of a woman’s voice. In the post, I address what I consider the absurdity of a conference being hosted by men to teach women about femininity. I still think this is absurd.
Where I veered off course was that I didn’t take enough deep breaths prior to characterizing the men hosting this conference. The audacity of these men is no less exasperating to me now than it was in January. But the clarity of hindsight reveals that I violated some of my basic values, as encouraged in Redefining Love.
By stereotyping these men with generalized invectives, I sink to their level. Instead of rising above, I lowered myself to meet them. I am better than this. We, collectively, are better than this.
I reacted rather than responded.
I let my emotions be the boss. We have way too much of that going on already. We need to raise our expectations of ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our communities, and our leaders or we’re never going to get through all that we are facing globally right now.
My goal is to always reflect my primary values of accountability and loving boundaries with whom I disagree. My post in this instance fell short of that. Although I do not change my stance on this issue, in hindsight I would have taken a different approach.
There is another post that received some pushback, and I do understand why.
In my recent post titled People crave community: Narrowing the urban/rural divide, I used some provocative language. Things got really real. I don’t take it back. I don’t apologize for it. But I do think it warrants further discussion.
The goal of this post was to make people uncomfortable, to make people really reflect on how they are talking, what they are encouraging their children to value, and at whom they are laughing.
Specifically, I addressed the unproductive way we disagree. If we are using inflammatory language and cheap insults, how are we ever going to move forward? The answer to this question is simple. We won’t.
I think a lot of us – myself included – like to believe that the people driving around with crude words stickered all over their bumper are residing in some alternate universe. We bury our heads in the sand, or maybe even snicker a little if we happen to agree with them.
By maintaining our silence or sharing, even in small part, in this behavior, we are complicit in the whole mess.
I need to maintain the same standard I apply to everyone else.
What has bothered me over the last few weeks has not been anything I said in the urban/rural divide post. It was my hypocrisy in scolding everyone else about taking cheap shots when I had done the same thing in my previous post about the men hosting the women’s conference.
We absolutely must stop giving ourselves and others a free jerk pass just because we happen to agree with them. We might think it’s funny when a politician makes up a catchy name for an opponent, but how is that actually solving the problems facing our nation and the world?
And what are we communicating to our kids when they watch us laughing, maybe even repeating these kinds of words?
Somebody needs to speak up about toxic shaming.
Petty insults don’t create progress. In fact, they distract us from actual problem solving. There isn’t a single person I know who doesn’t make mistakes. Often what is even more important than the mistake itself is how the person responds to it.
Do the people you admire admit when they are wrong? Are they accountable for their own actions? When faced with confrontation or contradiction, do they offer calm and knowledgeable discussion or do they simply try to distract you from the issue with petty insults and accusations? Are they constantly blaming others when things go wrong? Do they take responsibility?
We’re all angry.
And anger is okay, productive even. We can disagree vehemently, passionately, emphatically. But if we can’t come to the table with more to back up our stance than childish name calling, we don’t have the maturity to be a part of the discussion.
I knew the provocative words I used in the urban/rural divide post would make people recoil. But somebody needs to get straight to the point about this. Somebody needs to say out loud that these horrible things we are saying about people who view the world differently than ourselves are not okay.
I wanted you to stop and think. I wanted you to have to face the full impact of toxic shaming, away from your hipster coffeehouse friends, away from your Bible studies where everyone agrees, away from the cable news channel of your choice.
Half of us are so obsessed with being politically correct that we simply stick our noses in the air and entirely dismiss the humanity of anyone who disagrees, and the other half of us either openly or secretly think these cheap shots are hilarious.
Either way, this is not adult behavior.
This is childish playground bully behavior. We work so hard to teach our children to be kind, yet when it comes to people who disagree with us on politics or religion, we suddenly lose all sense of basic human decency. What, exactly, does this teach our children?
This isn’t about political correctness or even kindness. This is about what we stand for as Americans. We live in a place where we should be able to disagree with dignity. But we either cannot or will not do so.
You guys, the way we treat our fellow Americans is disgraceful, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.
I am not talking to only one side of this issue, not conservatives or liberals, Democrats or Republicans. I am talking to every single person who has a visceral reaction to entire groups of people simply because they view the world differently.
I have my opinions. They are strong opinions. And I vote accordingly. Protesting is American. Openly disagreeing with our leaders is American. But there is no section of the Constitution that outlines our right to be jerks about it.
If you aren’t an active part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Whether you’re giggling at the one-sided comedian on late-night television, or nodding in agreement when a talk-radio host validates your views without questioning whether there is another side of the story, you are part of the problem.
I hate to be the one to have to tell you this, but just because he sits behind a desk and wears a suit and tie, a comic is still a comic. Comics are meant to make us laugh, not give us the news. (The most talented comedians don’t have to rely on cheap shots to get a laugh.)
Not every voice you hear on the radio or official looking person with a microphone on cable news is a “journalist.” These are people who are paid to entertain you, or in the very least capture your attention long enough to hear the station’s advertising or renew your subscription.
We need to move beyond an F-you culture.
F-you may feel really good, but there are no solutions there. We’ve all vented our frustration. We are all fully aware of how much we dislike each other. Now it’s time to get down to the business of solving problems. Together. Whether we like each other or not.
Copyright © 2020 Sara Beth Wald