Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Never Been Normal

“I never really fit in anywhere ... My faith's in people, I guess. Individuals. And I'm happy to say that, for the most part, they haven't let me down.” – Steve Rogers in Captain America: Civil War
I’ve never been normal. Because of that, it’s always been obvious that people aren’t like me. I don’t expect them to be. I don’t want them to be. Even if I did, the truth is that they’re different, from me, and from each other. Since this is always true, it’s baffling that so many people are so bothered that other people are different from them.

But they are. Most people are socialized to fit into a group, and when someone is different from the group, it can upset the sense of order and rightness, their idea of how things are. It makes a lot of people really uncomfortable. Some of them refuse to believe that people different from them really exist. Or they put people who are different from them into a different class of humanity. Discomfort can shade into hate and fear.

The fragility of this sense of order never stops amazing me. Once, two co-workers at a temp job were talking about their curtains, and asked me what kind of curtains I had in my apartment. When I said I didn’t have any, one of them devolved into a sputtering rage. She was furious that I didn’t have curtains, and didn’t seem to want any, as if this was somehow a personal insult to her, and to everything good in the universe.

The truth is: people are different. They have different races, ages, religions. Their personalities and temperaments and interests vary wildly, they’re shaped by unique life experiences. In all kinds of ways, large and small, they are not like us. That’s something we have to accept. We have to get over the idea that the world should mirror us, in whatever way we happen to be focusing on at the moment (same race, same religion, same clothes, same view of human sexuality). Not “have to” because so-called social justice warriors will punish the politically incorrect for a wrong belief, but because if the human race is going to survive in the long run, then it needs to stop tearing itself apart, self-destructing over irrational instincts.

Unless we want to go back to living in isolated medieval villages, without travel, or access to the Internet, TV, movies, radio, newspapers and magazines and books, we will encounter the fact that people are different from us. Even if we could isolate ourselves, we can’t go back in time and make our ancestors deal more fairly with the indigenous population, prevent the importation of African slaves, or change two centuries of past choices about immigration. People who are obviously different are already here, and they are American citizens.

Even if every person with, say, a different racial background moved to a colony on the moon, where they wouldn’t have to deal with racism, then you’d be left with other people who are different in other ways. Some of them will have different forms of sexuality and gender expression. If you separated them out, to another moon colony, then you’d have people who believe in a vast array of different religions. And so on. I spent my formative years in a homogenous community, so I know: you could end up with two blond Lutheran Norwegians with literally everything in common, demographically, and they could be so different that they hate and fear each other.

None of us get to live in a world that’s just a giant mirror, reflecting ourselves back at us. And why would we want to? If it’s important that other people are like YOU, then that means it’s important for you to be like THEM. If your self-worth is tied up in a random factor you share with others, to the point that it’s threatened by the presence of anyone without that factor, then it’s obvious that you don’t see your own value, your own individuality. And that’s a tragedy.

You are a real person. You have intrinsic value as a human being. The color of your skin, the language you speak, the social class you were born into, are all things that will shape your experiences, and are a part of who you are. But that isn’t YOU. All your value isn’t based on a single factor that you have in common with millions of other people. That may give you a temporary sense of belonging, but what you’re gaining will never be worth what you’ve lost.