I’ve spent the last little while writing offline as much as possible, skipping the blogging and writing only in my private, hand-written journal, just to see what I’d learn about myself and how I feel.
And one of the first things I discovered was: I feel angry.
It seems like there are a lot of things to get mad about in this world of ours, if you pay attention. There’s a lot that isn’t fair. I didn’t realize how much just reading my blogroll affected me until I started recording it in my journal instead of just responding to it online. Every day I read more and more about stereotyping, judgment, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, injustice, inequity, and ignorance. I hear over and over the complaints of people who utterly fail to understand that privilege exists, or that we could possibly create a more just world. And that’s so frustrating.
A few things that have made me mad in the past week or so:
- The American Medical Association declared obesity a disease. It’s not that people who are obese sometimes have certain health conditions correlated with obesity. It’s that a fat body in itself, independent of any other measures of health, is now a sickness that needs to be treated. Because fat people weren’t stigmatized enough when merely considered unattractive. Let’s make their existence pathological.
- Everything beautiful about My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic got mixed into a weird Mean Girls plotline where all the ponies become carbon-copy stick-insect high-school fashionistas, and I’m pissed off at the way it undercuts the series’ great message about how everyone is different and that’s awesome. (And yes, I suppose I’m a Brony. Pegasister. Whatever.)
- A lot of encounters with racism. Like, a lot. Hearing from people who believe that the higher percentage of black people in prison must prove that black people are more likely to be criminals. And therefore George Zimmerman was right to shoot Trayvon Martin, because he was statistically likely to be up to no good. And they’re just so sure . . .
- The striking down of DOMA and Prop 8 was fantastic, but some of the people crying about it online really got under my skin. I think I may be developing a severe allergy to logical fallacies.
- Friendly Atheist reported on a writer for Time who remarked – erroneously, of course – that it’s “funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals” in times of tragedy or disaster, like after the tornado in Oklahoma. Thing is, there are lots of secular humanist groups that get involved in stuff like that. But also, why is it necessary for secular humanists to help in groups organized around their secular humanism (as opposed to, say, groups organized around a particular aptitude or goal)? Atheism is not a religion. I’m big on volunteering, but I don’t do it in the name of God’s-not-real.
- I read the story of a woman who miscarried because her job refused to accommodate her pregnancy, forcing her to either do heavy lifting against doctors’ orders or lose her only source of income and medical insurance. That’s bad enough, but what really enraged me was the number of comments preaching about personal responsibility, saying she needed to acknowledge her fault in choosing to comply. There’s something so smug about a well-off person saying, “I would never put my job ahead of the health of my baby”, as if homelessness and malnourishment are clearly better outcomes than the possible complications this mom faced.
- Just today, while I was collecting stickers and goodwill at Toronto Pride, the attempted parade in St. Petersburg ended with everybody who participated arrested, some after being beaten and injured by anti-gay protesters.
Yup, I’m angry. That, plus a few choice interpersonal conflicts and disagreements, has kept me on a state of high alert that my journal project has made me finally able to see. It’s stressful to be this angry all the time. It’s upsetting to live in a world that’s so unfair, even if that unfairness isn’t all affecting you. If you let yourself be aware of even a fraction of it, it’ll wear you down.
I’ve been aware of it for a long time. I’ve felt compelled to seek out the opinions of people with whom I disagree profoundly. Part of that is sensible – it’s good to make sure you haven’t overlooked some argument that might change your mind – but part of it is a weird compulsion to seek out people without compassion and hear what they have to say. I know their arguments are wrong-headed and judgmental, but I’ve been exposed to so much compassionless thinking in the past, I think I seek out examples of it just to make sure there really are people like that, and I didn’t hallucinate it all.
And I didn’t. There really are plenty of people out there who are so lacking in empathy, they really believe people choose to be gay in environments where that can mean execution. That a black teenager should be assumed criminal until he finds a way to prove he’s a good kid. That if poor people don’t like the conditions at work they can always quit.
No wonder I’m mad. It’s a mad world.
But then I noticed something else today, and it made a difference to my outlook. It might not have happened if I hadn’t been doing this intense journal-writing project, and been aware of how mean the world has seemed lately. But my journal-writing helped me see that, beyond all the dark clouds that have been infuriating me of late, there are also brilliant and beautiful stars. They’re small and simple, sometimes hard to see because of all the light pollution . . . okay, this is becoming a really tortured metaphor. But the point I’m trying to make is, while there’s a lot of badness and unfairness out there, lots of people are good.
That means so much to me. I’m a fairly introverted person, and I tend to get anxious in big groups of strangers, so sometimes I forget. Lots of people are good!
I spent today at the Toronto Pride street fair, where I met tons of really friendly people who were genuinely nice. They were friendly and chatty when I cuddled with their dogs. They laughed and joked with me, complimented my heart-shaped sunglasses, invited me to join their groups (even when it turned out I wasn’t gay). For a while I lost my wallet and had to retrace my steps, but somebody at the booth where I’d accidentally set it down had kept it for me. People engaged me in conversation. When I stopped for dinner at that little noodle place on Yonge Street, the guy dining alone at the next table exchanged a few friendly words with me. When I smiled at people on the subway, they smiled back.
It made me glad and grateful for the life I lead. Glad to be taking public transit, where I can interact in subtle ways with other people. Glad to live in a city where so many people are tolerant and open-hearted. Glad for the opportunity to interact with people whose lives are different from mine, but who are like me in one key way: wanting to live in a nicer, fairer, happier, more accepting world.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prove to myself that the (metaphorical) demons of our human nature are a real, documented phenomenon, because having been acquainted with those demons made me feel so isolated. I worked really hard to prove to myself that those demons, awful as they might be, were part of the normal spectrum of humanity. I didn’t want to worry about the possibility that I was somehow surrounded by uniquely negative human beings.
Those demons had been keeping me so occupied, I had forgotten to recognize our better angels.