I Don’t Give Up

It’s been a rough week. But I found some inspiration from an unlikely source.

Last weekend, the blog I didn’t post was about giving up. It seemed like the divides between us were too wide to traverse, the boxes we put ourselves in too sharp, our labels too embedded in our consciousness. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, I was exposed to more violently racist opinion than I’d ever feared existed, not this far north, not in these 2010s. But I heard it spewed within earshot of my children and what surprised me was my reaction. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t righteous indignation. It manifested itself in slumped shoulders and resignation. It took the wind out of my sails for a little while.

I was also subject to the bloodlust of conservative arguments, Rush Limbaugh talking points, and the gotcha verdicts of some friends and neighbors who concluded, after finding me reasonable and my thoughts nuanced, “Well, then you’re not a liberal.” I am, though, to my own definition. Probably not to Rush’s. I don’t adhere to everything left. I don’t support every Democrat. I don’t villainize every Republican.

Believe me, it would be easier if I did.

The truth is, labels are bullshit. We separate each other based on differences of human construct and pretend that they are the truth. Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jew, black, white, brown, gay, straight, male, female. There are so many shades of difference within each of these labels that they really fail to conform to what we want them to mean. But it makes it easier to dismiss someone if they’re in another group. Why do you think Columbus called the Indians “savages”? Because it made it easier to slaughter them than if he recognized their humanity. The same with slaves. And so on, with each label, collectively and separately, in different capacities in every stage of human technological “progress.”

And it’s easy to preach inclusiveness. To say that to recognize love and goodness and humanity in everyone could solve the world’s ills. I have a hard time doing it myself, even with some family members, let alone with the George Zimmermans and Mitch McConnells of the world. It’s the transition from recognizing a truth and what needs to be done and actually doing it that’s so difficult. As a whole, we know what needs to be done here. Now. We know that corporations have taken over, that money should not be protected as speech, that the safety of our children should be a higher priority than the profit margins of gun manufacturers, that those who expose war crimes should be protected over those who perpetuate them, and that the convenience of SUVs and plastic water bottles should be curbed to save the abstract idea of a future beyond us.

But making the transition from “I should” to “I am,” is harder than I sometimes imagine. Because anger sometimes gives way to resignation. It makes the shoulders slump. It writes blogs called “I give up,” even though we’re young and smart and savvy. We hold the power to change in our collective hands. We are, quite literally, the future. And if we’re lucky, we haven’t been hardened yet into un-moveable rock. Our minds are malleable. We absorb the blows of indifference and hateful ideas and overwhelming circumstance and then we keep going.

I like to let older generations off the hook, to excuse them for outdated opinions or stalled evolution of thought. Because I really, really like old people. It’s kind of my thing. I have an older friend who I’ve known for my entire adult life. A man whose decisions and opinions I vehemently disagree with, more often than not. But I respect him. And he does me.

Last night, he told me something. He watched his son as he lay in the hospital, sick of a terrible virus that’s ravaging his organs. He watched his son’s husband come and go, the man he referred to as his “daughter-in-law” for as long as I’ve known him. And after thirty years, he recognized the truth of love between them. This tough-as-nails man, in his hard-formed rock of a mind compounded by decades of experience and opinion, changed. Just like that.

I said, “But I thought you’d always accepted that your son was gay.”

“No,” he told me. “I did because I had to if I wanted a relationship with my son. But I never accepted it.”

He opened his eyes to see what connects us beyond labels of what is right or left, or right and wrong. And I realized that I’d put him in a box of my own making. That I’d written him off as too closed to change. That I was the one who wasn’t open to the possibility of someone of that generation surprising me. Not him, not this.

I hung up and changed the title of this post.

 

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

12 thoughts on “I Don’t Give Up”

  1. Jaime, This is a stellar piece. I want to encourage you to keep being who you are. We all learn about people and opinions much better when we approach with an openness. We can learn why someone is prejudiced, what experience or lack of experience made them that way. We don’t have to agree with it or appreciate it but if we seek some understanding of their dynamic we might be able to undo it or the harm of it. Finding common ground, seeking some kind of connection, growing through that connection is worth it. We line people up, us and them. We tend to demonize them, yet we are all human. We want some of the same things they want. We work to find some consensus to achieve some of those things together. The ruthlessness of hatred, ideological, however it is grown in an individual or a faction, gets strength when we return it with hatred. Looking for the single pivot that it can all be turned on is sometimes like looking for the needle in the haystack. If we need the needle, we continue to look, we cannot give it up, then they win. Living a life of doing what we think is right is better than standing in hatred to return the hatred flung at us. In the end we will build the better way, the better system, the better life and your children will see that. They are the ones who will continue the change you start. Your friend loved his son enough to keep a relationship with him. Through that demonstration of love, he opens the door to others who might have thought like him their whole lives. Each of us has opportunity to make something better, even if it feels like a minor thing, like changing the words in a title. That change speaks volumes to the right ears.

  2. @Sheila – Thanks so much for a thoughtful comment. You are right that connection is worth the effort. It’s too easy to dismiss or return fire. Harder to find common ground or shared humanness. And then sometimes it finds you.

  3. If there’s a thought, or even a word, that I disagree with here, I couldn’t find it. I could easily write a 1,000 word comment on it. The one thing I will say is that the Internet and 24/7 cable news have caused disagreeing opinions to be in our face constantly, and people no longer feel it necessary to tone it down and treat the other side with respect, but I also believe that the ones most likely to speak up are the loudest and most ideological. Remember that most people are still respectful and that some of the people who disagree with you (and me) are honorable human beings. (But it still stings when you are the recipient of vitriol.)

  4. To add to my point: I just finished reading “Death of a President,” about the days surrounding the JFK assassination. The amount of hatred expressed toward Kennedy, particularly in Texas, rivalled the vitriol aimed today at Obama (and to be fair, Bush) – the day of his motorcade in Dallas, one of the local newspapers had a full-page ad denouncing the President. The difference is there was no Fox/MSNBC to stoke the political flames all day long, no blog posts with reader comments to air our hatreds, no ideological bumper stickers on our cars. The animosity was there; it was just mostly kept private.

  5. @Richard – You make a great point about 1 – There being nothing new under the sun and 2 – how our perception of divides are inflamed by talking heads and the 24 hour news blasts coupled with social media giving a platform to everyone with a keyboard.

  6. @Jaime – Another example is the story today about the female MPs in England who have been receiving rape and death threats on Twitter after voting to put Jane Austen on the new 10-pound note. Social media gives these miserable people an outlet to spew their anger and hate that they’ve never had before (except for standing on a street corner yelling at passers-by).

  7. if i’ve learned anything in the many decades i’ve lived and breathed politics and current events, it’s that a mind can change at any age if one is willing to listen and expect to learn from someone else. being locked into labels and sealed into boxes, whether they are made by friends/groups/news anchors or political parties, means one isn’t thinking, just being a rubber stamp.

    excellent article, jaime.

  8. I’ve been fighting all my life. I have a lot of fight in me but I live in an agonizing brains sucking region that is crushing my soul daily.

    Kudos on the piece and well done. I started at age 12 campaigning for Jimmy Carter and I never stopped. I won’t stop. I may just not survive though.

  9. Hi Karen – You can “like” it on top or you can can copy/paste it as your status. Another option is to hit share the excerpt on the homepage – FB is an option.

    Thank you for sharing!
    <3 JF

  10. I enjoyed and was uplifted by the core message, if not some self created “boxes”. You are right to realize that labels are destructive and misleading. It shows maturity and respect to recognize that people can have very different opinions and yet be intelligent and wholesome people who’s life experiences and value system create different mindsets on events.
    Glad you like old people because this old guy wants to take down a couple of boxes. The legal system, the one that separates us from chaotic lawlessness, found George Zimmerman innocent. Respecting the system and the people on the jury who reached that verdict is essential. Why the use a term like “bloodlust” to attack the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, who very much unlike Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, does not stoke violence and who can see beyond black and white in every situation? Why do these ugly race baiters escape your rath? Is it forbidden among the left to take issue with these icons of hate? These are couple of boxes unworthy of your message which this old guy finds offensive. I needed a lift in such an ugly time in our history when everything seems to be falling apart and people are being beheaded on Youtube and the person responsible for all the chaos is deciding between his putter or a nine iron. Now that’s something to get angry about, would’t you agree?

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