Growing up, I came from a very non-traditional family. We are very blended, and really no one followed a “straight and narrow” path through life. I loved my family despite its patchwork pattern, and will still defend each person with fury and passion, even if I don’t love every single one of their actions.
Yet, somewhere around age 14 or 15, I began to form some very idealistic thoughts about how the world “should” be and how people “should” behave. I am not really sure where these ideals came from. My family wasn’t overly religious, my friends were from various backgrounds, and I was outwardly accepting of all walks of life.
But internally, I was very judgmental.
I assumed if you made bad choices, skipped out on college, or became victim to a substance, you were a bad person, and you probably deserved whatever hardships you were going through as a result.
At age 14 I started working at a restaurant. And through that place, I have met so many people from a wide array of backgrounds. Rather than being able to superficially judge these people and walk away, I was forced to learn to get along with them, work beside them, and tolerate them even if I did not agree with them.
I worked with drug dealers, addicts, adulterers, thieves, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, alcoholics, high school dropouts. But these same people were also loving parents, committed spouses, community activists, and people who held multiple advanced degrees. While some of the people lived up to the first “label” I had given them, I slowly but surely began to realize that many of them far surpassed these labels with other commendable traits and characteristics.
Of course, I was hurt when people who I then had allowed to become friends or something more than a coworker disappointed me, but we cannot expect every relationship to end in a successful outcome.
Now, I look back at the time in my life where I was so focused on the most obvious trait of a person, I didn’t allow myself to see past that. When I was so focused on what I perceived as one negative aspect, I was unable to see that the one negative did not always outweigh all of the positives.
I think about how many great conversations, laughs, and memories I would have missed out on if I had not been willing to stop and recognize (and it does take a very conscious effort to do this) that even if the glaring red “A” on someone’s clothing is not something I can relate to, there are many other pieces that make up that person, and there is surely something we can at least have an amicable conversation about.
And now, with a greater divide being wrought among so many of my friends and acquaintances, I am urging everyone to remember this lesson.
Even if people are saying something you don’t agree with, even if they don’t believe in the same moral and ethical views as you, they likely are not a bad person at their core. The last few months both sides of a deep political divide have played on the idea that one characteristic, or a handful of beliefs, defines an entire party/person/religion/minority group. But we have to be smart enough to realize that isn’t true. That we were victims to both sides of the agenda.
Now, we’re all part of a staff at a restaurant that feels very small, sometimes too close for comfort. We cannot superficially judge and just walk away (unless you really plan on moving to Canada). We’re all stuck inside this space. Lifestyles, beliefs, religious views, and passions are not going to change just because we think they should. We do not have to all be the same, but we do have to be respectful, and allow a dialogue that creates a healthy working environment. Unfortunately, after the last year, both sides became victims to certain agendas, and we have a lot of work to do to bridge the divide created.
Be accountable for you. Take a deep breath before you speak. Stand up for the wrong you see, but do not point fingers, do not call names. The time for that is over. Be kind.Do not spread hate. Work to make change in the world around you, and let’s start rebuilding the devastation wrought over the last year from the ground up. Regardless of your feelings, I think everyone realizes there is a lot of room for some positive change.