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6/28/13

out of discord


"Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony." Hereclitus


Confession: I've felt weird about my last post (regarding Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) since I hit "post." One of my few rules in blogging is that I will not use my blog to hurt other people.* There have been times when, in battling feels of anger or betrayal, I've wanted to use this platform to fight back. To reveal how ridiculous or silly someone is, while painting myself as the victim or victor, depending on the circumstances.

But I will not use this blog as a platform to hurt people. It isn't fair, and it isn't right.

At the same time, however, I think it is okay to respond to ideas or concepts I don't agree with. While I struggle with showing emotions in public, it's easy and healthy for me to show them here. Not only is it easy and healthy, but in many ways, it improves my writing. Admitting that I was hurt by something said about me lends an honesty to my writing that I can only hope to duplicate in real life. So while I will not use my blog to hurt people, I will try and find a balance in honestly writing what I know, and what I feel, and protecting the people in my life who did not consent to an online presence on my blog.

 In struggling with how to present certain people or circumstances in my writing, I've discovered an uncomfortable truth about myself. Despite a potentially hyper-sensitive ability to see nuance in theories and belief, I struggle to see nuance in individuals. It is easy for me to see the world as one filled with superheroes and villains. I justify this because I see myself in a similarly dichotomous light. I've written before about my struggles with demanding personal perfection, but I didn't realize how I apply the same destructive standard of perfection to other people.

A few months ago I said something very stupid and hurtful in a Mormon Feminist forum filled with people I didn't know. Some of what I said was rooted in truth, and some of it was just anger and frustration, and all of what I said wasn't very nice. Naturally, many people were angry about my comment. But what surprised me was the readiness in which some people dismissed me as "bad," a villain in our own Mormon Feminist Gotham. Days after (equally unfairly) being praised as a hero, I became the evil genius, identified solely by a misguided comment online.

The most painful part of this experience were the disappointed messages from people who didn't know me, including one that said "It's too bad, I really wanted to like you."

Similarly, a friend recently ended a friendship with me because of a series of small disagreements. To me, they were nothing insurmountable, just a different approach to living. But for her, the disagreements were a sign of disloyalty. Likewise, I failed to be as sensitive and understanding to her needs as a person. It was a painful time for her, too. Both of us unfairly concluded that I was either with her or against her, and the nuance we both shared regarding the rest of the world did not extend to our admittedly fledgling friendship. It was an incredibly painful experience in an already painful time, made even more poignant by my inability to remedy the situation.

Eliciting similar reactions to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was not the intention of my last post. I recognize that I'm small potatoes and don't have the kind of power to make people like or dislike a particular person. But intent is important to me, and my intention wasn't to cause people to think "Too bad, I really wanted to like her."

A friend recently asked me why I continue to write things when the internet is filled with really mean people, some of whom are convinced that I'm akin to the Anti-Christ. (Potential topic of discussion with a therapist: why do I see these sort of those accusations as a compliment, believing that you know you've made it when someone sees you as a potential sign of Armageddon? Might want to look into that...)

I write because it gives me empathy. I write on the internet because it forces me to recognize and alter the flawed belief that people either exist as superheroes or villains in my personal narrative. The woman who left the angry comment accusing me of hating men (and babies, and Jesus, and...) is someone's mother and someone's wife. She said a really mean thing to me, but she probably volunteers somewhere in her free time. She's probably a loving and devoted Mom.

She's probably in a lot of pain sometimes, too. Interacting with world via the internet has given me a tiny insight into human nature: most of us are in a lot of pain, a lot of the time, sometimes without even realizing it.

When I choose to see people as either good or bad, friend or foe, I limit my ability to really see them for who they are. If Heraclitus (and a bunch of Mormon people) are right about the necessity of opposition in all things, I cannot limit people to the confines of either good or evil. To do so would to see the world as a place full of archetypes, and to continue to force myself to fit into a paradigm of accepting nothing short personal perfection. If I want to reserve the right to forgive myself for the many, many mistakes I make, I must to learn first to stop classifying people as "good" or "bad" based on their interactions with me.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (or anyone else) isn't "bad" or "wrong" for disagreeing with me (obviously). She exists in the same universe I do, with good and bad irreconcilably  intertwined, and a whole lot of neutral ground as people just try and survive.

So I write to learn enough empathy to see people as humans, not Jokers or Zod, Supermen or Batmen. I write so that selfishly I can learn to see myself as I really am, even if that person may not be as cool as being the Anti-Christ.






* Have sometimes failed. I'm sorry.









12 comments:

Kimberly Wilson said...

I appreciate your insight. Sincerely.

Nahomie said...

I really like your articles in general but this one touches me particularly. My husband and I have very different opinions from most members about some points at church. I struggle a lot because there are things I do not want my baby girl to ever be exposed to but I do not easily find the strength to explain it to church members. It is easier to simply stay at home on Sunday. I think it stems from the fact that I have always been taught there were only two type of people in the world, church members and "the world", but I know now it is not that simple, it never was, and I find hard to trust members around me to actually take the time to understand my point of view. They are good people but some of their beliefs are just not all good. Yet I am scared that if they know I disagree with some doctrinal point they will forget our friendship and burn me at the stake like an evil witch without even trying to understand or simply stop at the step "agree to disagree" let's just be friends!

Jill Kennedy said...

I have thought about this quite frequently. In a tense moment I work hard not to label someone as naive or evil, simply because they don't agree with me. This is test of my character because it is so validating to use those labels when I'm feeling personally attacked (particularly online).

Brittany said...

Interesting. This is a subject I planned to blog about soon. Sorta.

Point being, I think in religion, whichever it may be, we're trained to be dichotamous (don't care if that's spelled right). You either follow Jesus, or you follow Satan. You either "follow the prophet, DON'T go astray... or you don't. Fact of the matter is, we often fail to realize how flawed these people (ok, we'll leave Jesus out of that one) really were. Whenever I read the Bible versus concerning the prophet Jacob, my gag reflexes get a work out. THIS is the creep who God claims for his own? The guy who treats his first wife like crap, most of his kids like crap, and seems to be the inspiration for the movie "Jacob the Liar?" See, these are things you're not supposed to say about holy men. But even holy men are full of holes, and so are their stories. There is so much that isn't recorded in the Bible as to leave question marks concerning true character. So we have to forgive the common people if they aren't so yin and yang, clear and cut. If the people we follow are far from spotless, well... anyway, we've all got a little human in us. Which simultaneously makes us good AND bad guys.

ChristyLove said...

Have you seen Jakob the Liar? It's about a Jewish shop owner in a ghetto during the Nazi occupation who pretends to have a radio from which he learns that the allied troops are coming (they weren't yet)...

Lisa Western said...

steep you are always so eloquent. I rarely comment but know that I always read, and i'm nodding along with you!

Caitlin and Mike said...

Hi Stephanie!
I really enjoy your blog, and could especially relate to this post. For some reason, I think our minds naturally tend to gravitate toward seeing life in terms of good guys and bad guys--it is everywhere in politics, religion, international affairs, racism. There is a certain feeling of safety in feeling like all the bad exists in another person or party and all the good resides elsewhere. I find it takes continual effort to be able to recognize that we are all evolving and constantly progressing and our words and actions are usually the result of a composite of competing motivations, fears, past experiences, etc.
I appreciate your courage in putting so much of yourself out there on the web--I really enjoy reading your thoughts.
Hope you are enjoying your summer!
Caitlin Benson

Caitlin and Mike said...

Hi Stephanie!
I really enjoy your blog, and could especially relate to this post. For some reason, I think our minds naturally tend to gravitate toward seeing life in terms of good guys and bad guys--it is everywhere in politics, religion, international affairs, racism. There is a certain feeling of safety in feeling like all the bad exists in another person or party and all the good resides elsewhere. I find it takes continual effort to be able to recognize that we are all evolving and constantly progressing and our words and actions are usually the result of a composite of competing motivations, fears, past experiences, etc.
I appreciate your courage in putting so much of yourself out there on the web--I really enjoy reading your thoughts.
Hope you are enjoying your summer!
Caitlin Benson

Mrs. Clark said...

I got the impression after reading the article you linked that Ulrich meant stuff going on in the Church when she referred to SLC. I felt she was talking about women who are trying to effect change in their communities, not just the Church.

I really feel there is much more tolerance of different lifestyles and opinions here (I live near D.C.) than in Utah. When I attend church there I am often surprised at the assumptions many people seem to be making about what is "right." I consider that cultural, rather than a tenet of the Gospel.

gurrbonzo said...

I agree, but we could stay friends even if I didn't, just so you know. Bahahahah. Did we not have a version of this conversation recently? Preach it, sister soldier.

MJ said...

I heart you. A lot.

Kimberly Wilson said...

"She's probably in a lot of pain sometimes, too. Interacting with world via the internet has given me a tiny insight into human nature: most of us are in a lot of pain, a lot of the time, sometimes without even realizing it."

Beautiful. I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable, and admit your imperfections. We all have them. Sometimes we just pretend like we don't. (Well, I often don't. I sort of broadcast mine, opening my mouth and removing any doubt right up front. . .)