Listening To Other People

I try to remind myself in all of the ways I’ve had to be enlightened to other people’s experiences in the world and how they contrast with my own in ways that often hide my own privilege. This is not me “being hard on myself” or punishing myself, this is me trying to always remember that now matter how much I try to educate myself, there is always so much more to learn and if I want to help make my world better for everyone, I have to listen to stories and testimonies and meditate on other people’s experiences when I feel like it opens my world view in important ways.

When the straw frenzy took over recently I was on board with the bans simply because I’m on board with ANYTHING that gets people talking about the environment as long as we KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT.

(Reminder: Plastic straws are less than 1% of the pollution in the ocean so if you’re looking for more dramatic ways to reduce ocean pollution then avoid single-use plastics in the form of food and beverage packaging.)

But it turns out? Banning straws disadvantages disabled people who need straws. And – as usual – I felt dumb. BUT! I added it to my list of ways in which I have been enlightened so that I remember there is always room for enlightenment.

And then Wesley broke his dominant arm and he was unable to lift a can or cup and I experienced that same enlightenment in a very real and tangible way.

Those personal experience lessons always hit harder, like when I was driving my Mom around when she was not stable on her feet I learned exactly why there are options for handicapped spots with the slashed space on either the driver side or the passenger side. If the handicapped person is the driver, they need that extra room on their side. In my case it was the passenger, so I needed that extra room on the passenger side. My point? People who just quickly use a handicapped spot and justify it because there are others open, don’t realize that not all handicapped parking is created equally.

I also listened to a podcast on Eliah‘s recommendation that discussed that terrible history of horror films using trans people as the bad guys and it had NEVER OCCURRED to me how terrible that would be if you were a trans person. I mean, they only time you see yourself represented in an entire genre of film is as a psychopath or a murderer? And recently Pop Culture Happy Hour reminded me how disfigurement has been used in similar ways in horror movies. And I felt bad for all of the times I jumped and was scared just because of a character’s disfigurement.

The hardest ones are when we find out something we love is problematic to an entire community. I recently discovered one of my favorite books was looked down upon by Korean-Americans because of the way one of the characters was described and received by other characters. And when I read it? IT TOTALLY ESCAPED MY UNDERSTANDING. And when someone (politely) let me know about this issue I took some time to educate myself and read the words of Korean-Americans and now I know that if I’m recommending the book I need to always make sure to qualify my recommendation and that is a VERY HARD THING TO ACCEPT.

But it’s also very important in order to keep those muscles in shape. I don’t want to become so rigid that I can’t step back and try to look at something from someone else’s perspective. I dig deep into those perspectives and try to find as many voices as I can to really shed light on issues to which I’m ignorant. That’s the great thing about the internet, it brings together diverse voices and perspectives that I might not otherwise encounter.

I’m certain there are many other examples and hopefully I’ll keep learning so there will be many more, but for now I just wanted to document my own learning curve so that maybe no one else feels ashamed of theirs. There is no shame in learning or growing, none of us can be aware of ALL of the points of view in any given situation. And not all points of view are valid. I’m not going to worry about the powerful majority’s voice, theirs gets plenty of attention. And I’m not going to fret about the feelings of bigots or racists. But there are many other perspective out there and I don’t want to ever close myself off to them.

One Comment

  • Angela

    What I admire about you is that you don’t let the fact that your opinions are sometimes later determined (through your empathy and awareness) to be problematic in some way, keep you from sharing your thoughts. I’ve made many of the same discoveries about words/books/beliefs—often thanks to your blog posts and tweets—but those discoveries have caused me to remain mostly silent about my opinions online and in life, lest I misstep and accidentally offend someone (exceptions always made for trying to be anti-racist because I am deeply committed to overcoming my own discomfort in that area). All this to say, I know you’ve written about your social anxiety, but you are SO BRAVE in so many ways, and I would be willing to bet that posts like yesterday’s have made many, many people take a look at their own “innocuous” beliefs. Thanks for doing what you do.

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