Have you ever tried to put a cat in a cardboard box? Better yet, have you ever tried to keep a cat in a cardboard box? I have. When we moved from one town to another 20 years ago we put my beloved calico cat Sweetie in one box and her litter of kittens in another…whose bright idea that was, I have no idea. I was 12, riding 100 miles across Texas with my dad, who’s allergic to cats. Nevertheless, I’m sure you can imagine how well that strategy worked out. It wasn’t long before Sweetie had clawed through the box and was frantically trying to get into the one with her kittens. Looking back, I really don’t blame her…cats are independent creatures, and they definitely know they don’t belong in a cardboard box. Not only that, but once they’re in there, they’re going to try everything they can to get out of there. They have claws, and they aren’t afraid to use them.
Something I’ve come to realize lately is that people tend to react the same way when you attempt to put them into boxes. I know I do. As humans, we prefer it for the world to make sense to us. Labels are convenient in that regard-they help us manage the chaos around us. However, when it comes to reality-and living, breathing people with their own thoughts, experiences, and perspectives-they cease to be useful…reality rarely exists neatly within the confines of black and white, and neither do people.
Christian — But what kind of Christian? Catholic? Protestant? Evangelical? Then there are the related concepts like what is biblical or unbiblical, Old Testament or New Testament, relevant/applicable to today or only to the confines of the times in which it was written. This is the reason we have so many different denominations within Christianity-we can’t even agree on what that label means.
Republican/Democrat — But how Republican are you? Are you a John McCain, traditional conservative, or a Donald Trump, in-your-face far-right conservative? Are you a Bernie Sanders liberal that is focused on Democratic socialism, or a Joe Biden, old-school Democrat? Do you sympathize more with Antifa or QAnon? Do you really believe that “all lives matter”, or is that just a cop-out for not being able to affirm that black lives should? And heaven forbid you don’t fall neatly on either side, although 42% of Americans identify as Independent, while 31% are Democrat and 24% are Republican. (Don’t ask me what the other 3% are)
And the others-black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor, fat/thin, pretty/ugly, stay-at-home/working mom, hardworking/lazy, …the list is endless. I don’t know about you, but rarely do I fall squarely on one side or another.
The main problem with labels is that when people inevitably fail to stay within the boxes we put them in, it makes us uncomfortable. Most of us don’t like to be uncomfortable-it’s human nature. We work constantly to be as comfortable as possible as often as possible, and socially it’s no different. Sometimes that means we confront our inherent biases and the cognitive dissonance that results between them and reality, and sometimes it means we dig down deeper into our respective trenches. More often than not these days, it’s the latter.
I’ve written several times about my personal change in heart and mind, but it bears repeating here. Long story short, I got to the point I’m at today because of an amazing group of women who had the patience and care to show me that the ideas I came to the table with were wrong, or at least misinformed. Sometimes they did so lovingly, and other times I had to deal with harsher reality. Both ways were effective. I was eventually able to see that the things I was raised believing as facts were far from the truth, and that I wasn’t as right or morally superior as I thought I was…I thought that because I called myself a pro-life Christian, that was a given.
In reality, I learned that being “pro-all-life” involves far more than just being anti-abortion…that white privilege doesn’t mean that you didn’t have a hard life, it just means that your life wasn’t hard because of the color of your skin. That immigrants, legal or not, don’t come here to get everything for free, because they haven’t qualified for federal financial welfare services since 1996-and only then once they’ve been here legally for five years. That you don’t have to be a flag-hugging, red-blooded capital ‘A’ American to be patriotic…that sometimes loving your country means calling out the injustices within its borders-especially those committed by its leaders.
Being confronted with the fact that you might be wrong, and then going a step further and admitting that, is a humbling experience. Not only that, but when you see people less as something to be feared and more as an imperfect humanity to be loved, it increases your capacity for empathy. When my heart and mind were opened, I felt like I was more authentically able to understand a Christ-like love for all people. However, with that comes a very human and un-Christ-like flip-side, as I’ve discovered recently. As my empathy for humanity as a whole increased, I lost my empathy for those who don’t seem to have much themselves.
When we go to church on Sunday and hear about a Jesus who told us to take care of the least, the lost, and the last, and you spend the rest of the week expressing your views on how you’d like to keep those people out or stop supporting their essential needs, I just can’t see you the same. I realize how inherently hypocritical that is because we are all imperfect people, but I also believe that kind of Pharisee-esque self-righteousness is what turns people off of and away from Christianity today. People are leaving churches in droves because they can’t reconcile a Christ-like love with the people inhabiting church buildings on Sundays and worshipping people like Trump the rest of the week-or they simply never show up to begin with because they don’t feel like they fit into the boxes being put out front by the church’s members.
That is the effect that labels are having right now, and it’s being made infinitely worse by our current political climate. When you have a leader that some voted for specifically because of his crude “say it like it is” manner, who is known for his hate-filled Twitter tirades and name-calling, it’s hard to expect anything more from his more ardent supporters. And when the first lady’s entire platform is unironically based on an anti-bullying initiative, it’s even harder to take any of them seriously-especially when Trump is heralded by so many Evangelical Christians as something like a hero of modern-day Christianity. When these are the current figureheads of Christianity, along with the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, it’s not hard to see why it all leaves such a bad taste for so many.
Last night, I experienced a microcosm of all of this on one of my Facebook posts. I had written about A&E’s “Biography: The Trump Dynasty” (available on Netflix) and how Trump’s business dealings (which have been rife with fraud, cheating, and stealing for decades) have a real-world parallel with a situation that happened to my parents in their business several years ago. Next year they will have been in business for 30 years, and they’ve survived many setbacks along the way. One was a fire in 2000 that destroyed everything-which was the impetus behind the move I mentioned in the beginning. Another was an industry-wide downturn following 9/11. The last happened in 2007, when a customer did not pay for about $70,000 in products that had already been delivered to them. Even though my parents won a legal judgment against the business owner, they have yet to see a dime from him to this day…and a few years later, he went on to build one of the “top 10 over 10,000 sq ft” homes in Ft. Worth.
Theirs was only one business affected by this man’s actions, and others were owed even more. It nearly destroyed everything they’d already built back (twice), but thankfully they were able to get through it-without cheating. Owning a business is much harder when you do things legally and ethically-I know this firsthand because my husband and I started, operated, and eventually sold a small business a few years ago as well. The only way it’s “easy” money is if you’re taking it from someone else.
My point in all of this was that while many herald Trump as a “smart” businessman for taking advantage of questionable tax loopholes and not paying contractors for a myriad of ridiculous reasons, there are real people on the other side of those actions that have to bear the consequences. These are the kinds of people considered “successful” in our country…people that will lie, cheat, and steal to benefit their bottom line. We cannot keep letting these people drive small businesses into the ground and hailing them as moguls to be admired. This kind of unchecked greed is immoral and disgusting, and should be heralded as nothing less.
Instead of responding to what I’d posted, though, someone commented that they were supporting policy and not the person…fine, I get that. But it didn’t stop there. They proceeded to comment that “2020 divided by 666 is 3.0330, and that’s on Biden’s sign.” I’m sorry (okay, really I’m not on this one), but that kind of stuff is just utter nonsense to me. Not only is it completely irrelevant to the conversation (as a matter of fact, my comment to them was “THAT is what you took from this post? Seriously?…”), but in instances like that it’s hard to respond eloquently…when someone comes to the table with utter ridiculousness, how are you even supposed to respond? I realize my delivery is often far from perfect, but seriously, what’s the accepted etiquette there? I’ve yet to figure that one out.
I wish I could say that’s the first time something like that has happened, but it isn’t. With some people, it doesn’t matter what I post, they come at me with the narrative that I’m a “baby killer” or a “socialist” because I’m a Democrat. No matter how-or how often-I tell them that isn’t the case (and why, with relevant evidence added), that’s the box they’ve put me in and they’re not even willing to give me breathing holes, much less let me out of it. And when that’s the case, my claws tend to come out. Is it the right response? No. Is it the knee-jerk human one? Yes…that’s something I’m continually working on, because it’s a struggle for me.
Now that’s not to say I’m not guilty of doing the same thing-I’ve had to learn to reserve judgment and find out why someone supports the candidate they do before jumping to conclusions. I’ve always said that I don’t blame the people who voted for Trump in 2016 because they felt they had no other choice-and of course there are still going to be many of those people this election. I still don’t understand the ones who are loudly, proudly #TRUMP2020 supporters after everything, but at the end of the day we’re all entitled to our own opinions and I’m not going to change those people’s minds any more than they’ll change mine.
The people I do all of this for are the people who come to the conversation with open hearts and minds and a willingness to look past the labels. I have many friends across the aisle that I can have reasonable, meaningful conversations with. That’s where forward progress and meaningful change are made-through the compromises, the understanding of reasons and views and the circumstances and environments that led to them. Those kinds of conversations are the only way we’ll ever get past this point of hate and vitriol to a place of healing.
Originally published at http://sincerelyaformerrepublican.blogspot.com on October 3, 2020.