In case you missed it, last week I did something I never do: I posted about my political beliefs on my Facebook page for all to read! It sort of felt like the equivalent of letting loose a clan of gerbils in a kindergarten classroom: why why why did I think this was a good idea?!
Nevertheless, I am a 23-year old, and therefore in the time of life when I embrace strange life circumstances with boldness, channeling my inner Leslie Knope. So instead of saying “nope” I said “Knope!” and changed the privacy settings from ‘Friends’ to ‘Public,’ hit Post, and literally wiped nervous sweat from my face as I did it. While I figured some of my friends would be curious to read the post, I was genuinely surprised at what happened next.
A week later, almost 5,000 people have viewed my blog post titled “When Mike Pence Comes to Your Alma Mater.” To that I say: WOWZA. I honestly did not expect that many people would care about this, but they did. I can tell the blog spread further than I thought it would whenever some person I didn’t know commented that my thoughts were “FAKE NEWS!” To that I provide this response.
The past week has been a challenging one for me as I tried to figure out how to participate in thoughtful discussion, engage in respectful dissent, and grapple with the feelings stirred up by all of this. But as Brené Brown says in Daring Greatly, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.” So last week was a week of attempting to not avoid the glare, attempting to not retreat, choosing to be vulnerable and seeing what I could learn from the experience of opening myself up in a way I’d never done before. I’d do and say it all over again and I stand by my comments, but to be honest, last week was kind of exhausting!
Folks: civility takes work. If you’ve ever engaged in civil dialogue, you know that it’s not simply giving a smile and a pat on the back; rather, it’s about seeing the humanity in another person’s perspective and learning to come not to a mutual agreement, but to a mutual respect for one another. It’s about showing courtesy and thoughtfulness and a willingness to learn, and not retreating further into feelings of defiance, anger, or malice.
I was thankful for last week, for folks who showed me kindness and civility even as I posted a letter which may have made them kinda mad. In an age of anonymous commenting, trolling, and blind rage, I was thankful to see challenging dialogue, an openness to learning from one another, and a commitment to critical thought. Albert Einstein once said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
“Change and progress can only come when we are willing to engage with opposing viewpoints, challenge the status quo, and seek truth and humanity in our discussion.”
For many of my peers who engaged with the post, you proved Albert wrong. You did not numb yourself to the dark, or shy away from a topic that we all could just smile at and move on from. You expressed a willingness to learn, challenge me and challenge yourself, and question authority in a respectful way. I find this to be a very encouraging thing, for change and progress can only come when we are willing to engage with opposing viewpoints, challenge the status quo, and seek truth and humanity in our discussion.
Last week didn’t feel like a trial run of learning to be okay with vulnerability, it was no turning back, welcome-to-three-months-of-summer-camp kind of experience. The secret is out! As I look back, I realize that last week’s big lesson for me wasn’t about being right, or other people being wrong; it was a lesson in the importance of vulnerability, of a willingness to dare and question and doubt and mourn and hope all at the same time. As our friend Brené says, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
I don’t know what the future has for Grove City College, for Pittsburgh, for America. There may be many more occasions where I get frustrated, mad, angry, etc. But I hope that for myself and others, we can continue to engage with matters that make us uncomfortable, open ourselves to different perspectives, and all the while, dare greatly. We can encourage others to do the same, and learn how to respectfully engage in that effort. This is how we’ll get through and emerge stronger and better in the end.
I am going to try to continue to try to challenge myself and not just show empathy to others I can love and respect, but care for the people I don’t understand–the ones that hate me or disagree with everything I believe in.
So Internet: here’s to Leslie Knope-ing it. Here’s to learning how to disagree and still be civil. Here’s to rejecting apathy and choosing to care even when it doesn’t look cool. Here’s to long conversations on the phone, via email, in the coffee shop on Buena Vista Street. Here’s to seeing the darkness in yourself and in others, and choosing not to numb ourselves to it. Here’s to coming into the light, even if that means it exposes a lot of our ugliness. Here’s to the pain that comes with being a human and the joy that comes with it, too.
Here’s being all in, however that looks, whatever it teaches us, wherever it takes us all.