In the last several years we've seen a movement of sorts in our country--one of tolerance, one of de-stigmatizing, one of equality, one of expressiveness.
And of course, because of that, we've seen a push-back against those things. We've seen a push-back against feelings. Now, I know you're already rolling your eyes, but hear me out.
I know we've all seen instances where it seems being offended is more in-style than anything, and we've all laughed and rolled our eyes at the Hugh Mongous joke that being triggered has grown to be.
But as with everything, there are people who overreact. There are always people who will exploit certain causes for their personal gain. There are always people who will take things too far. There are always people who will fabricate injustice for attention. There are always people who will riot and turn violent. In some cases they are laughable. In other cases they are scary.
But these people are not the majority.
The majority of the people who are fighting for gender and racial equality, who are LGBTQ and allies, who wear safety pins on their shirts and advocate for safe spaces at universities--we simply want others to feel okay being themselves. We simply want the ability to be ourselves, as well, without judgment or fear. We want equal opportunities for people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. We want people to know that if they need help or a listening ear, they can come to us and get just that without fear or discrimination or punishment or judgment.
But there is a large number who believe that we're moving in the wrong direction. They believe that we're enabling each other and the next generation. They see our push for equality as confusing and threatening. They believe that our show of vulnerability and our genuine expression of feelings is a weakness that will leave us powerless, helpless, and useless.
I can see why that would be the initial response. But is there any merit to that feeling? To answer that, let's take a look at our history as a society.
Many times when there has been a surge of equal rights and freedoms in our country, there has been a push-back.
For example, after slavery was abolished, it was still years before black men were given the right to vote, and an entire century before segregation was outlawed.
A century. Let that sink in.
Even now, the KKK, white nationalists, and neo-nazi groups still exist. Which means that there are still people who fear that allowing black people to experience the same rights and freedoms as whites is a bad idea. There are still people who don't understand that your personal rights only go as far as they can before infringing on someone else's.
When segregation was outlawed, there was a large group of people that fought against it for fear that allowing people of color to mingle with whites would lead to more rape and violence.
To this day, people of color are systematically discriminated against, to the point of needing to fear for their lives while going about their daily activities. They have yet to experience the privilege and freedom that goes along with understanding that you will be judged based on your actions, and not your appearance, or that you can walk into a room and be trusted and acknowledged, or that you can feel safe walking down the road or driving your vehicle to and from school/work.
Just this year alone, we have seen a very similar mindset from many people concerning Muslims, the trans community, and undocumented immigrants.
History is repeating itself. And while many of us are fighting to ensure that it takes a different path than it has in the past, we are watching many people justify their fear by pretending that they aren't the ones who are afraid at all. People are fighting against the BLM movement, claiming that racism no longer exists. If you think racism no longer exists, please scroll back up and read my last couple paragraphs.
People are mocking the idea of safe spaces, inclusion, and tolerance.
Most of us have seen this floating around our Facebook feeds:
The general idea is that people should be a lot tougher, a lot stronger. The idea is that if, at 18, people can go to war and face the possibility of death, they shouldn't be hurt by words. People should be able to stuff those feelings away, or not feel them at all, because words don't do any real damage.
But here's the thing...those boys who stormed the beaches of Normandy came back (if they came back at all) to a country they didn't know how to belong in. Many of them faced physical injury or PTSD that they had to live with for the rest of their lives.
Why is that something that we would rather see our sons and daughters go through than face the fact that they might be hurt by words? Why is it mutually exclusive? Can you not be someone who accepts their true feelings and doesn't hide them, but also faces their fears when necessary for growth?Is it more damaging to admit that something someone did or said hurt you or to feel the pressure of pretending that you can't be hurt by anything?
Words do hurt..for some more than others. And if people want to be more cognitive of the things they say and do and the effect that may have on others, why would we fight against that?
Let's take a look at a scary statistic:
In the past few decades, domestic terrorism has been on the rise in our country. The majority of domestic terrorist attacks are committed by white, US-born males.
The majority of serial killers share the same demographics.
What this says is that generations of white (often "Christian") men are committing mass murder in our country. And they have been for decades. They aren't the only ones who commit these types of crimes, but they make up the largest portion.
And most of them have a history of abuse. Whether that be parental abuse, sexual abuse, or severe bullying.
So that means that we're doing something wrong. As a society, for generations, we have been doing something wrong with this group of people. It is no longer a coincidence at this point.
From a mental health perspective, we know that "hurt people hurt people." We know that boys are raised from a very young age to stifle their feelings. They are taught that there is only one acceptable emotion for them to show--anger. There is only one thing they should be aiming for--power.
They are told to suck it up. Stop being a cry baby. Stop acting like a girl. Toughen up. Grow a pair.
Stop feeling. Stop being hurt. Stop being sad. Stop letting anyone overpower you. Take control.
And in what why can they take control? With anger. With violence.
And it's not just men. Women are made to feel like if we display too many emotions, we are crazy. We are told that we are weak. Yet we are called cold and unnatural when we don't show enough emotion.
We are all told that if we suffer from depression, anxiety, BPD, or any other mental disorder that we must get a grip, get over it, stop allowing it to control our lives. We hide it and we ignore it because getting help for it means admitting that we are flawed and weak and less than.
This doesn't work. We cannot repeat the same actions that have broken us as a society and expect them to now do the healing. It doesn't work that way.
So when my son is bullied, I will tell him to stand up for himself. I will tell him not to allow someone to physically hurt him. I will make sure that he knows he can take control of the situation at any time. But I will also tell him that the bully is probably looking for a way to control something because he feels out of control in other aspects of his life. I will tell him that many times, the people who are angry and hurtful have been treated in the same way and they need someone to show them that there are other ways to treat people.
If my sons are crying, I will not call them girls. I will not tell them to quit being a sissy. If they are hurt, in pain, or feel betrayed, I will validate their feelings and help them find solutions to their problems.
If college students need a safe space, I won't mock them. I'll encourage them to use it. I'll be glad to see other people surrounding them as allies. I'll be happy to know that there are designated areas where people can go to express themselves without fear. I'll smile to know people are working to make this world a more open, available, and inclusive place.
I won't disregard the feelings of people of color because I know that racism does still exist and I want to be part of the healing.
I won't care what bathrooms people want to use. I won't assume that because you are trans, you are a sexual deviant.
I will fight for your right to have feelings and express them. I may not always agree with them. I may see certain things and say to myself "that's too much". I will still acknowledge that there are certain groups of people that will always take advantage but they do not reflect the majority of people.
I know that knowledge is power. And coming to terms with the way you feel, finding healthy coping mechanisms, and allowing others to do the same is how we truly become knowledgeable about ourselves and others. And in that there is strength.
I will never make someone feel like they are pathetic, weak, or helpless for trying to make this world a kinder, more tolerant, more peaceful place.
I truly believe that we can be strong, be assertive, and contribute to society while growing in ourselves, acknowledging who we truly are, and embracing others. Seeking better mental health and more tolerance for people of all walks of life can only make our world a better place. Imagine being able to express yourself--to say I am hurting, I am upset, I am angry, I am sad, I need help--without the fear of someone thinking you're too much, you're too weak, or you're too needy. We can only improve from here, so let's work together to do just that.