March 25, 2016

"Those People Are The Problem."

Those people are the problem. Obviously. And it's time we admitted it.

I'm curious. When you read the title and the first sentence, what came to your mind? Who did you think about when you read the words, "those people"?

Because we all know "those people."

Muslims. Blacks. Cops. Immigrants. Homosexuals. Millennials. Helicopter Moms. Right Wing Christians. Atheists. Parents. The unemployed. The One Percent. The list goes on and on.

So tell me, which of "those people" are the problem? Which group is to blame for whatever negative situation has impacted your life? Who is responsible?
_________

Or, maybe, there is no such thing as "those people." What if there is no great conspiracy and coordinated effort to attack you and your life?

There are just people.

Family. Friends. Neighbors. Teammates. Co-workers. And yes, even strangers. All just people.

_________

I share this as a reminder to myself (and anyone else willing to listen). When I read a story about union workers striking someone across the country, I need to remember that these aren't freeloaders refusing to work. They are people fighting for a fair wage and a safe working environment.

When I read a story about college students protesting tuition hikes, I need to remember that these aren't entitled, spoiled kids demanding attention. They are passionate, committed people working for the benefit of all students.

And there are other situations that are more difficult for me to process. When I read a story about a small town council passing an ordinance that treats gays and lesbians as second-class citizens, I need to remember that these aren't purposely hateful bigots. They are people who honestly believe that their actions are somehow protecting their town.

The last example is incredibly hard for me to accept, because my gut reaction is to respond with mocking and anger. But when I think about it calmly and objectively, I know that reacting in kind isn't going to do anything to address the problem. Instead, I need to listen to their concerns and help them understand how what they are doing is not really helping them but rather is just hurting others.

Be clear, though. I am not advocating a peace-at-all-costs, pacifist position. Present yourself as a danger to me and mine and I will fight you in whatever way necessary.

What I am trying to say here is that, when possible, I need to remember that my political, financial, and social opponents are still people trying to get through this life. They are doing what they think is best for them and those they love, and that is a different perspective than presuming they are actively trying to hurt others.

Why does this matter? Because it impacts the best way to resolve conflict with the opposition. If someone is actively trying to hurt me, there isn't a lot of middle ground. I need to fight back to defend against them. But if someone means well but is just ignorant or misinformed, there is a greater possibility that I can reach them with facts and communication.

Yes, I know. That sounds like touchy-feely crap. And for some instances, perhaps it is. But if education and open dialog can resolve conflict, isn't it worth it to at least try?

Maybe this makes sense. Maybe it's all rambling. Maybe waking up at 4am and being unable to sleep is not the best cue to share my feelings.

Or... maybe... these words will resonate with someone else and they will try to be a little less confrontational, a little less us vs them, and a little less battle-ready. Maybe they will talk openly and listen actively and discover that "those people" weren't the problem all along.