This has been a sad slog of a week for humanity, with suicides, overdoses, abuses, and intolerance of everything brought to the fore. Can we take a deep breath as we approach the weekend and think happier thoughts?
My high school had a once-a-year (not enough, but better than nothing) scheduled event, "Bias Awareness Day." No classes, just a day spent in various workshops, talking, and discussing the biases we individually and collectively encounter.
I get ribbed by friends when I mention this — it's seen as crossing into the borderlands of being too PC for PC's sake, and the product of overzealous and overpriced New York City sensitivities.
But it was the first time I heard a bi girl express her frustration over ideas and objects being called "gay" pejoratively. I had never heard it used in that context, but I was oddly sheltered at 16, and she was in tears, and I will never forget it. Nor have I since stood for hearing anyone use "gay" in this fashion, ten years gone.
It was the day where we could talk about the vast disparities of wealth at the school and how it felt for some students to fly to Paris for their fall wardrobe while many of us went to Old Navy. It was the day the few minorities in a sea of white talked openly about how that experience felt.
It was the day we stood as a school at the close and allowed ourselves to be divided by shouted-out biases: Who had been teased? Who had been bullied? Who had been called an ugly name? Who had one parent? Who had divorced parents? Who had no parents? Who had been marginalized for their religion? Their skin color? Their bodies? Their intellect? Who felt uncomfortable with things said about their sexuality?
It was incredible to watch people walk up and join groups when a condition was mentioned: a visible representation of how many people feel ostracized or have been victimized, only physically unified then as a crowd, brought together. It was often surprising to see the results of who stepped forward when, and all this before Mean Girls.
I know our school's approach was unique, and even a once-a-year panacea can't fix it all. And judgmental as ladies can be, the all-female environment likely led to more openness than such projects might produce elsewhere. But the main take-away of the week seems to be that many, many people are experiencing mass amounts of confusion, intolerance, sadness and cultural dysphoria, amped up and amplified by our new technologies. We need an awareness day, or year.
Surely the opposite stories are out there, or at least the productively educational ones. It's infrequent that we get to read or write about happy resolutions: scandal and sensation and sad, mad things reach wider audiences, and "happy" on the internet can come to mean teenage vigilantes tracking down teenage puppy-killers. We're poised now to expect the worst, desensitized by clicks, but still each new situation manages to shock—and change the national discourse, if enough get involved.
I read your mourning comments, your fury, your depressions, your passions. Amongst all of the sad things we've experienced there must be extraordinary examples of tolerance and love, too. For every person horrifically bullied, out there must also be its opposite, the triumphant outcast, the bully reformed.
There must be schools full of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. There must be beautiful, lovely coming out stories, or young people living in places now where no coming out is needed. We so rarely share the good things that have happened to us, the triumphs, big or small, personal or public; we are too scarred by the past. In order to do so, we must often expose the adversities that brought us there. But that's the fascinating thing about people: They surprise you. And you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't gone through a fair amount of shit.
It's easy to riff on the gilded and the guidos, but everyone has been intensely shaped by their unique, hidden lives. We know now that bullies often come from neglectful families, that good parents still breed bad kids, and vice-versa, that voiced hatreds can frequently hide corresponding hypocrisies.
So let's tell good stories instead. About how you helped someone, or they helped you. Or how wonderful a friend or an exceptional teacher can be. Or how at your college or in your new state you found a whole new world awaiting, different than the one you had long been cast into. Or how the asshole from high school apologized 15 years later on Facebook. Or how life really fucking blew but maybe it made you more interesting and infinitely cooler along the way. Or how you saved a basketful of kittens that one time. Let's have a cuddle and learn from each ways not to suck. These stories can be harder to tell than the sad. But we need them more.
Now's your time to comment after lurking and reading, stirred by that thing you did. Put your cursor to the screen.