I’m not one to follow the news and world events. Unlike my father, I’m not the kind of person who wakes up early to check the stock market or who sits down to dinner with the 6 o’clock news. In general, I don’t trust the media. Somehow, we seem to have arrived in a day and age where anyone with enough money can make completely outrageous claims without a lick of evidence and broadcast it all over television, internet and radio. Why? Because it’s sexy: it promotes drama, or spreads fear, or encourages hate, or lifts one group up at the expense of another. Finding a balanced media source is becoming harder and harder, and often times those who strive to produce researched and reviewed material are given the last row on the bookshelf because their material isn’t sexy: it doesn’t make sweeping statements about minorities or interest groups because, lets face it, life just isn’t that simple; and because love and equality simply aren’t sexy.
So I’ve been looking to new sources of information — you. I’ve been reading blogs and peer reviewed articles and the UK’s well researched view on the occupy movement and I’m moved by all the dissension happening in the nation, because I have been feeling it for a long time. But the more I read about various subjects, the more I feel they have their root in once place — the inability to love others, which stems from an inability to truly and unconditionally love ourselves.
We all want to feel good. No, that’s not quite right. We all want to feel joy. And not just in fleeting moments: we want to experience sustained joy. In fact, you could say that sustained joy is the purpose of life. Think about it, everything else we do, from religion to teeth brushing to surfing on a Sunday afternoon is because we hope it will give us more sustained joy. But I think that we often are confusing the feeling of joy with the feeling of an ego boost, and in doing so are hurting others, spreading fear and propagating hate.
It’s easy to see this lately as large religions have conflict after conflict, with lives lost. Both sides are trying to spread their world view, their religion, their ideals and values. Why? Because, at the end of the day, both sides believe it will bring them more sustained joy (on this planet or in the afterlife). Using violence, hate and fear to get what you want never brings joy — it may bring a short boost in the self-esteem, one that is quickly lost when the battle is over. The need to perpetuate violence and hate towards others stems from a lack of love for the self — if you truly loved yourself, you wouldn’t need to put anyone down, in the name of God or anything else.
Putting others down for the short ego boost that occurs happens every day in our communities, and it’s easy to turn your head away. I recently read a blog post by Dan Pearce entitled, “I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay,” which I think describes this phenomenon very accurately. Basically, what he summates is that even though most of try to live our life according to a value system that includes some version of non-violence and love towards others, we fail when we reach a person or situation that makes us fearful. His title explains the issue perfectly — we strive for the joy that unconditional love towards our neighbors will bring us . . . until our neighbors are gay (or fat or Mexican or lazy).
I was born and raised in a moderate size town in northern Utah. I have not lived there since I was 18, when I packed my bags and ran screaming into the night towards a place that exhibited more tolerance, acceptance and love. I’ve lived out of Utah now for 12 years, and since I’ve lived in places with more tolerance towards those who are different, it’s easy for me to forget how deep the pit of despair can be for someone of the wrong faith, color, size, shape, and especially sexual orientation. The Mormon Church is conducting one of the biggest anti-gay campaigns in the world, and propogates its message with, among other things, slanderous books with no basis in real fact. A look at this book, its message, and those it’s hurting can be found on the blog, “unambiguous.”
The discrimination of gay and lesbian people in particular saddens me, and my heart withered with the agonizing accuracy and and honesty or Pearce’s post. In the post (which I suggest you read), he paints a picture of despair with a conversation he had with a gay friend of his.
He began crying.
“Every single person I’ve told has ditched me. They just disappear. They stop calling. They remove me on Facebook. They’re just gone,” he said. “They can’t handle knowing and being friends with a gay person.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything.
“You don’t know what it’s like, man. You don’t know what it’s like to live here and be gay. You don’t know what it’s like to have freaking nobody. You don’t know what it’s like to have your own parents hate you and try and cover up your existence. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want this. And I’m so tired of people hating me for it. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.”
I know that there are others who suffer like Dan’s friend. I know people personally who suffer from the discrimination and hate from others who fear them. And so do you. The person you know may not be gay — they might be fat, homeless, Jewish, disabled, unemployed, elderly — and they feel separated, singled out and alone.
When I was growing up in Utah, my family was of the wrong faith. We were of no faith, and that was frightening and somehow threatening to those around us. As young children, my sister and I were constantly invited to church on Sundays, youth church activities during the week and church outings. And we went, occasionally. Which wasn’t good enough, of course, and we were bothered and hounded by church members and neighbors for the rest of our upbringing, which really made me feel inadequate. I understand that this church’s behavior was supposed to seem welcoming and encompassing, but it made me feel as though I were inadequate — it showed me that I would never be accepted the way I was.
When I was nine, one of my playmates told me about her church’s belief in the second coming of Christ (which at that time, was supposed to happen in the year 2000, the year I graduated high school). She told me that we would be partying for our graduation and then Christ would come and all the righteous would be lifted into heaven, the rest would be left to burn on the earth. I asked her what would happen to me. She told me she asked her mom, and that I would burn.
When I was a freshman in high school, a student in my class asked me when my seminary (released time from school to attend religious classes off campus) class period was. I replied that I didn’t take seminary, and he proceeded to tell me what a bad girl I was, and how bad girls go to hell.
When I was in high school, a boy prominent in school athletics asked me to a school dance. He told his entire team that since I wasn’t Mormon, I must not have morals. He took advantage of me sexually and then stopped talking to me.
These experiences, and the hundreds of others I had, seem to me now to be the result of lack of self love on the part of the offender. Because they feared loving themselves for who they were, they had to make me feel bad for being who I was. Luckily for me, I was only the wrong religion — not the wrong sexual orientation. I wasn’t taped up in a locker room, or hazed by the football team, and I didn’t lose all of my friends. I learned that being a good, honest, loving and compassionate friend isn’t something that is taught in church — if that were true, then all people with faith would love everybody else without reserve.
Learning to have true compassion and love for others is a journey into your own heart, and the practice is not bound to those who claim a specific faith. We are all after sustained joy; it’s what makes the human experience worth living. Without love for everyone, that joy will be always out of reach, smoke in the air, a smell you can’t remember, a name on the tip of your tongue. In order to have true compassion and love for others, you have to sit with yourself and ask yourself what you are so afraid of. And if you can name those fears, what are they based on? Are you afraid to love a gay person because your church/dad/friend/mentor/favorite author told you not to? How would your world change by embracing someone with a different sexual orientation than you? How would you change? Just because I love elephants doesn’t mean I become one, or that I can suddenly snort water though my nose with any proficiency. It just means that I’ve opened up another space in my heart from which to experience and love the world. We are all human. We are all pursuing the same basic goals, and the more we can embrace each others’ differences, the more that joy can become a reality for all of us as we ease the pain and suffering of those who once were different.
This task starts at home, learning to love yourself. Learning to love your mistakes, and your self criticisms, and your failures, and your fears. Until we all can learn to love and tolerate ourselves and all our faults, we won’t be able to love others who are different from us, and sustained joy will escape us all.