The three most important lessons from history:
- Change is inevitable
- Rome always falls
- Thee inaction of good people allows atrocities to occur
As we gain insight and become progressively more aware of addiction and a plethora of other destructive conditions and forces in our society, it seems all the more apparent that we are a culture that lives at the extremes of all or nothing.
We are people who are largely loath to accept change. Consequently, it most often occurs in pendulum swings. We don’t embrace it or work to make things better simply because it’s a good idea. We get better individually and collectively because we get sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Folks I most relate to have been working to change stigma for years now: addiction, mental illness, and a host of other conditions, attributes, characteristics, identities, and lifestyles. I’m thinking we’ve been fighting the symptoms and not the disease.
What’s the disease?
That’s what I’m thinking about today as I read about state legislative candidate Leslie Gibson referring to a teenage survivor of Parkland as a, “skinhead lesbian.”
I’ll skip the rant. The idea that anyone, anywhere, feels it’s acceptable to marginalize a person in such a manner can only be understood as hateful.
Hatred and isms in all forms overlap with self-destruction and self-loathing in at least two very important ways: They are all based in fear and too often, they are internalized by the marginalized.
The addict who seeks recovery faces countless obstacles, including apathy and widespread ambivalence.
The adolescent who is coming to terms with being gay faces homophobia.
The suicidal, mentally ill, cutter, burner, and/or eating disordered faces stigma and systems that largely fail to understand them.
I dislike categorical approaches, even in language. I refer to folks like me as “misfits” – people who don’t fit into the mainstream and live with some form of illness and/or torment. Our shame and self-loathing are based almost exclusively on lies taught to us by those who fail to understand us.
I often with professionals in my chosen field of health care that when they speak of “those people” they are speaking of my people.
Our stereotypes and stigmas vary. Our common experiences circle around trauma, abuse, neglect, and unmet needs. We are survivors, not victims, and yet, we face unnecessary, socially-constructed barriers to improved health and quality of life.
Hate is the most efficient and complete way to separate self from others. Defining others as less than is a sick form of self-promotion. Perhaps folks feel better about themselves for thinking less of me and mine.
As the adage states, “There are only two types of people in the world…’us’ and ‘them.’
We are a society of seemingly countless separate groups and we are vastly more focused on what divides us than what unites us. Marginalization, alienation, and disempowerment are causal forces for individual pathology. Developing and evidencing pathology only leads to further marginalization, alienation, and disempowerment.
This downward spiral can be simplified conceptually to: hate me for being less than a cultural ideal and I will increasingly become less of a cultural ideal. Some of us rise up and recover. Many of us don’t live to.
To the Leslie Gibson’s of the world, I don’t mind much if you hate my writing for the beliefs and values reflected within it. I’d much sooner you object in principle than to dismiss me as a “snowflake”, a “liberal” or by virtue of my profession, my sexuality, my skin color, or my gender.
One parting thought about labels and hate speech, for folks like Mr. Gibson: An individual’s right to label themselves does not in any way give you the right to label them. I happen to be an amputee. At times I refer to myself as a “cripple.” That does not give you the right to refer to me as such. In fact, nothing does.