Taking a Side

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

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If you know me (or read this blog much) you know I’m into motivational quotes. Quotes in general. I know the trope of quote posting Instagram girl, but whatever I don’t care (and could find you a quote to back me up). One of the quotes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is from Elie Wiesel, when he says that: 

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”

Could. Not. Agree. More. Taking sides is important. Essential, even. I have had a blog draft titled “Taking Sides” sitting in my queue for probably a year now, but I’ve been hesitant to take a side and finish it. It’s scary. But, I’ve come to realize, it’s scarier not to. I don’t want to be on the side of the oppressor just because, I, like, didn’t have time or whatever. Didn’t want to ruffle feathers. Wanted to be well liked. Friends with everyone. A beige piece of carpet that everyone walks on without another thought. Because that’s really what I was doing. Letting people make assumptions on what I believe — whatever suits their fancy — so that they would still like me/follow me on Instagram/want to hang out with me. 

I write a lot about inclusion — grey areas, how all viewpoints are valid and that two or more things can be true at the same time. But guess what -- you can believe everyone has a right to their own viewpoints while still holding firmly to your own. You can respect someones right to their opinion without agreeing with them or even actually respecting their opinion. It’s okay to not be okay with things. I don’t respect the views (or the person) of anyone with a racist viewpoint, but I respect the fact that in America (and within humanity in general) there are views that exist other than my own. These are two different things. 

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Opinions are like you know whats — and everybody has one. And that’s good right? That’s what makes life interesting. And in many situations you can have a respectful conversation about differences while still remaining respectful of each other. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to be black and white. You’re with me or you’re against me — and while it’s your right to be against me, it’s my right not to be with you. 

For example: I have alluded to some “batshit insane twilight zone level cray” in my life over the past year. The tl;dr version of it is: this time last year I had a boyfriend here and a best friend across the country — both the longest chosen relationships of my adult life — and this time this year they are engaged to each other. So, as to be expected, since then I have had some problems with trust. But, as crappy as that all was, my real problem is with our mutual friends. Let me explain. 

When this totally unforeseen situation came at me with no warning, my friends immediately gathered around. Agreed with me that this was completely against all girl code/human code and cut ties with the person after they showed their true character and completely ghosted out of my life with no warning. They took a side. Stopped talking to this girl who, despite being a part of my daily life for 8 years, was not a true friend. They unfollowed her on social media. Didn’t text her for her side of the story knowing that she never responded to my attempts to reach out. They took a side. 

And then there were a lot of people who didn’t. For most people it makes sense. They don’t really know the whole story — I get it. But, there are a few people who knew it all. And wouldn’t take a side. They had extremely shallow relationships with this person, and yet they continued the friendship. Told me that she didn’t do anything to them personally. Ummmm.. what? 

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You’ve heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words”, but what I think about more is how loud inaction speaks. The things that are unsaid. Undone. When someone I believe to be a close friend refuses to take a side in something that, to me, is so obviously wrong, I have a hard time with it. I have a hard time believing that my friendship with that person is based on anything real. If you care about me, how can you care about someone who hurts me with no regard? And why would I want to continue a relationship with someone that is so cavalier with my feelings?

Obviously, in many situations there are two valid sides, but in some -- see above -- there aren’t. One is right. One is wrong. As humans we have the power to make the choice between the two — just like we have the choice to support one or the other. The in between in these cases is just cowardice. 

I’m tired of the wishy washy, lets all get along, play both sides stuff. It’s inauthentic. When I was researching for this post, I found plenty of articles on how to remain neutral, but a sadly small amount on how not to. But that’s what I want! I don’t want to be neutral and I don’t want to surround myself with people who do. 

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I dated a guy through college (oh what a surprise another story that comes back to some random guy yikes) who differed with me politically in some important ways. I remember talking to my mom about it and she told me that I had to “have an open mind” and “not be so black and white”. But, I’m a smart person, very politically informed — especially then in the thick of a political science major — and I wasn’t okay with it. What he believed went against my core values. And not only that, but his inability in my mind to be intelligent enough to understand (and accept) my point of view was a deal breaker. So I broke up with him. And I’m so glad I did. I cannot imagine spending life with someone who I am so diametrically opposed to on anything — even just one thing. If it’s important enough you have to take a side. Stand up for what you know to be true. 

I’m a teacher, so I’m always in a weird power position. Obviously, I can’t take sides on any political or religious front in the classroom. But, in everything else — that’s basically what my job boils down to. I tell kids (I mean, um, model for kids :)) how to be decent humans. It’s literally my job to tell them what is appropriate behavior. What is right. What is wrong. But, again, politically I must remain neutral in the classroom. 

So when another teacher recently posted something online with the preface that “Now that I’m a teacher I don’t want to be too political” I couldn’t help but be disheartened. I mean, I get it. As a new teacher I felt that way too. But what I realize now is that, outside of the classroom, teachers are on the frontlines. We are forming the next generation so God help us I hope we are informed ourselves. I hope we are passionate in our beliefs. I hope we take sides. 

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I’ve always had strong opinions. And I haven’t always had the greatest reactions to them. Despite that, I can easily point to parts of my life when I felt free to express opinions and those when I didn’t. And the correlation between those times of free expression and my happiness are super strong and direct. I feel a constant need to speak out. Constantly. And I — more often than not — repress it to keep up the status quo. 

The sweet girl who teaches math. The pretty girl who likes to hike. The smart girl who reads books. Not the opinionated, liberal, kind of aggressive and happy to debate girl that I am. It’s scary. Taking a side alienates you from, like, an entire side haha. That’s a lot of people. Remaining neutral seems to be a good idea. Smooth things over. Peacemaker. Low maintenance. Easier to get a date. But, in reality, to anyone who is interesting, educated, or matters — neutral people are just boring people. You are the beige carpet. 

I don’t have to get into politics for anyone to see the similarities between what I’m thinking and what is happening in America. In a time where the President of the United States calls white supremacists “very fine people” and black athletes who are exercising their right to peaceful protest “sons of bitches” — it is time to take a side. When that same man insists that “many sides” are to blame for racially motivated violence — it is time to take a side. It is time to take a knee, write a Facebook post, or resist in any way you resonate with. But it is not a time to remain silent. Silence is neutrality and neutrality = complicity. 

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You can’t have it both ways. It’s hypocrisy wrapped in some kind of peacekeeping lie. Brene Brown talks about this in her new book. She says that: 

“Here’s what I believe:

1. If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch, whore, or the c-word, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.

2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.”

3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing pussy, we should get chills down our spine and resistance flowing through our veins. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman.

4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”

5. If you’re offended by a meme of Trump Photoshopped to look like Hitler, then you shouldn’t have Obama Photoshopped to look like the Joker on your Facebook feed.

There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.” 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be upset at one injustice and not another. You can’t take a side on one thing and remain neutral on another. You have to go all in. You have to take a side. That’s how change happens. In politics, and relationships, and in ourselves. 

When we are neutral — even in small things — this is how it reads: “this affects people I care about, but it doesn’t effect me, so I will remain neutral” —> “I only care about me” 

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Neutrality seems like an easy way out. You’re not hurting either side. But you’re actually hurting both — and yourself (your self respect anyways). It’s the bystander effect — people are less likely to offer a victim help when others are present. We feel like there are other people to take up this cause (I mean, your old college roommate posts enough on fb for us all) but that just exacerbates the problem. Everything starts with care. If I cared enough about _______ I would ________. And if you don’t you won’t. It’s that simple. 

Well, I don’t want to be someone who stands on the sidelines. I don’t want to surround myself with sideline people. I don’t want to be so afraid of possible personal consequences that I desert those who are hurting and need people on their side. Injustices continue when good people do nothing. I’m a good person. Who refuses to do nothing. 

I care. And I will take a side.