Set You Straight

There you go!  I was just waiting for this to come up, you proving that you are completely wrong about people like me.   

This happens all the time, people like you deliberately misunderstanding, trying to twist things to put us down.   

I really do want to listen to you, but if you keep insisting on saying what my beliefs tell me clearly is untrue, then I will just have to decide that you intend to attack me and everything I value, that you are out to destroy me and my treasured way of life, so you deserve whatever you get.

Pluralism is very hard when people are always listening for what affirms their beliefs, their beliefs about what is right and their beliefs about who is wrong.

If you are always looking to set people straight about where they are wrong, you take a reactive position, working to enforce your ideas about the way things should be rather than embracing diversity.

Queer, at least for me, is about celebrating the power & beauty of the individual beyond convention and politics.    This demands a focus not on the negative but on the positive, valuing the unique gifts others bring, where they are exceptional and potent, not where they miss the mark and fail to meet our expectations.

Learning to have a positive self definition is hard.   It is much easier to just know what you are not, how others are wrong, than to take responsibility for your own knowledge, understanding and clarifying what you actually stand for.

Listening to other people often tells me where I am wrong, where my understanding is lacking, where I have to refine my thinking to grasp a wider view.   People will make choices that I would never make for myself, but that doesn’t mean their choices are wrong unless they damage others without consent.

Being queer demands knowing, owning and being confident in what you value so that you can go through life without feeling the need to silence or disempower anyone who seems to differ from your choices, challenging you or making you uncomfortable.   You need to walk in your own skin, not just following the crowd or trying to enforce the way you believe things should be, the way you want them to be, the way that would let you avoid doing the work of facing your own twists and fears.

Staying in our own paddock, isolating ourselves with people who seem to be like us, may seem to be an appropriate way to live, but it denies us the power of diversity, the chance for growth, learning and compassion, and finding new ways to solve problems to make a better world for all.

Questioning your own barriers is harder than just extending and reinforcing the walls around your thinking, the boundaries around your engagement, the defences around your mind, but it is the only way to see beyond your little patch.   When we enter the stories of others, understanding their experience of our wider shared world, we find the continuous common humanity that bonds and reinforces us.

Setting others straight can feel self-righteous and proper, but we know that we don’t want others to have the power to set us straight, to demand that we follow their beliefs and choices.   It may be simple to believe that if we are right then they are wrong, that we are justified in calling people out, but the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth, as Neils Bohr reminded us.

Not understanding what someone else is trying to tell me is always a flag to me that I have work to do.   While they may not have considered the meaning behind what they are sharing, instead communicating it in idiom or negativity, every message is their attempt to share their view of the world, what they value and what they fear.

Even reactionary messages, dismissal and debasement, carry concerns and beliefs within them.   They always speak more of the attacker than the attacked, revealing unconsidered and unhealed places inside of them.   I may still be hurt by their acting out but understanding it in context is the only way I can find a bridge between myself and the bitterest human.

Trying to find where others are right instead of just finding reasons to dismiss them as wrong, wrong, wrong is always difficult.  Being a consumer of challenge, ready to question yourself, delivers beautiful benefits in the long term, but requires being willing to not only leave your comfort zone, but to walk away from comfort, trading certainty for enlightenment.

Listening to those who are not yet willing to listen to you, entering their world even as they prove themselves unwilling or unable to enter your world is very, very hard.   It takes discipline and skill that can only be developed by practice.   Yet, it is the only way to build bridges, create alliances and forge powerful connections that value fundamental humanity over external differences.

There are many who just seem to be listening for what they consider insults, primed and ready to call out those they see as making them the victims of slander, misunderstanding and erasure.     The way that their negative and defensive mindset creates the same kind of communication that they find so offensive is not in their mind.    The golden rule is lost, leading to polarization and the destruction of democratic community values.

For me, queer thinking is the answer, no matter how hard it is to practice.  Seeing everyone as an unique individual, not just a member of a group that I fear wants to destroy me, allows me to find common ground, to learn from our differences, rather than just to fight them as wrongheaded choices.

Really listening means being open, engaged and vulnerable in the moment, able to express why you stand where you do rather than simply challenging those who seem to challenge you.   It demands embracing diversity rather than trying to eliminate it in favour of surface similarities.

When someone tries to set me straight, I know that not only do they not value my queerness but they are still resisting the precious, unique and transcendent individuality that exists in them, the spirit that crosses lines of race and class and gender and status to connect them with all humanity.

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