no-respect

Right now everyone’s talking about beliefs. Beliefs that prompted the infamous Religious Freedom Act in Indiana last year, and last week’s Georgia’s Religious Freedom Bill and most recently North Carolina’s wide reaching and shocking HB 2, along with other similar initiatives that are peppering the country. Laws and bills aimed at limiting or taking away rights.

It’s supposedly all about beliefs. A conversation that has echoes of the not too distant past. Beliefs that are being recycled but not repurposed. A hand me down with historical context.

Beliefs are being held up and declared all while clutched in sweaty, angry fists. Beliefs are being trotted out like a prize pig at a State Fair.

So much talk of beliefs. And we all know that talk is the cheapest currency.

All of this talk is treading on some sacred ground. Beliefs (especially the religious kind) are for most of us a taboo subject. We don’t discuss them, we don’t engage in debate about them. Just try to bring it up on FaceBook and watch the insults fly and the defriending begin. No, we prefer to leave others to their beliefs and quietly go about living our lives guided by our own.

Most of us, that is.

Others? Well, they like to scream their beliefs in the faces of those who dare stand up to bigotry. Spittle forming in their taut mouth as they spout their reasons for the taking away of rights from others.

So what’s a respectful equality loving person to do when we see beliefs being molded into a vehicle for injustice and discrimination? What do we do when we see someone using their beliefs to leave people out, to treat them differently? When it’s affecting people’s rights to rent an apartment or a home? People’s rights to access to anything and everything that most of us take for granted. People’s rights to patronize a business? Sound familiar?

Do we sit quietly out of politeness and deference to said beliefs?

I have been struggling with this. I don’t want to step on anyone’s faith or beliefs. It’s not my way. But this conversation needs to happen and it doesn’t have to turn into debates over beliefs.

I don’t care about your beliefs.

I’m not here to trample your beliefs. I’m not here to comment on anyone’s beliefs.

I don’t feel like your beliefs are any of my business.

I don’t feel the need to say that I respect your beliefs.

It’s not my place to evaluate or determine whether your beliefs are worthy of respect.

Because I don’t care about your beliefs.

I care about your actions.

I care about how you treat the people you come in contact with every day.

I care about how you treat people you may not agree with.

Your beliefs? Who am I to judge them? They are for you to wrestle with and to determine.

If you are my neighbor, my friend, my boss, my congressman? I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist. Your beliefs are not my business nor my concern.

Beliefs are something that may guide you to live life with integrity and compassion. Or beliefs can be something you can carry around in your back pocket and pull out at any moment to justify actions. The difference boils down to character.

I’m interested in the fairness and compassion and empathy you do or do not express to your brothers and sisters of all faiths, all sexes, all races, all sexual orientations.

If you have to justify your behavior with your beliefs? That I can’t respect. Your beliefs are inconsequential. Your actions are the mark of your character. Making excuses or justification is just a lazy way to explain bad behavior. To pat yourself on the back as you step on the backs of others. If that’s your standard operating procedure, then I don’t respect you.

If you think you are better than others because of your beliefs? Then I can’t respect you. If you judge the lifestyle of other good people just trying to make it in this harsh world? Then I can’t respect you. If you cloak your compassion in judgmental pity? Then I can’t respect you. If you only lend a helping hand to others under the condition that they have to listen to your beliefs and subscribe to them? Then I can’t respect you.

If you are using beliefs to justify inequality? Then maybe you should check your beliefs. Because this is an old song and most of us are tired of hearing the tune. There was a time when beliefs were used as justification for unequal and in-humane and degrading treatment of black people in our country. Looking back I think we can all agree that it was a perversion of the beliefs that were held up as testimony. I think we can all agree that the beliefs that were co-opted and intertwined with vitriol were being abused and used as a cover for fear and hate.

Using beliefs to take away rights? Using beliefs to make a group of people less than? That’s ideology cloaked in fear and hate’s clothing. And it has the faint smell of disingenuousness. Don’t hide behind the safe and untouchable veil of your beliefs. Own your actions. Don’t pass the buck or the blame on to something you claim you hold sacred.

Here’s a little of what I believe.

I believe that equality is equality is equality.

No prerequisites. No conditions. No parameters.

I believe that compassion and caring and empathy for people who are not like you is one of the most important elements of our character.

I believe that actions speak louder than beliefs.

Equality.

It’s really not that complicated.

I believe the loving people in this world far outnumber the fearful and hateful people.

I think most of us want to live peacefully and harmoniously with our brothers and sisters who are just trying to make it in this harsh world.

I do not buy into the politicization of beliefs. The co-opting and the twisting of ideals. The cult of fear and judgement.

If you look upon everyone who is different from you with contempt and fear and condemnation? Then you are going to be spending a lot more time in a dark place my friend. Because our world is becoming smaller. We are connected and exposed in ways never before possible. Thanks to our digital age, we hear from and see and meet people from all over.

Along with this connectedness comes lots of new. New ideas, new lifestyles, new perspectives, new experiences. There’s no turning back from the world we now inhabit, one that is becoming increasingly… one. So maybe now is a good time to open our minds and open our hearts. To accept all the differences that come with living amongst other people.

Maybe now is a good time to embrace the differences and learn to adapt to our changing world. Maybe now is a good time to operate with an open mind. To realize that your way may not always be the best way. That change is not always bad.

Maybe now is the time to stop using your beliefs as a shield against all that you fear. Maybe now is the time to realize that your beliefs belong to you. No one can take them from you. The lifestyle of others does not impact or change your beliefs. If someone else’s way of living affects your beliefs? Maybe now is the time to check the shaky ground upon which your beliefs are tenuously perched.

Maybe you will find that your beliefs shouldn’t cause you to mistreat or discriminate.

Maybe you will come to the conclusion that no good ever comes from taking away rights.

Maybe you’ll see that it’s not even about your beliefs.

It’s about your actions.

Maybe you’ll realize that it’s time to leave beliefs out of the equation.

Maybe we’ll all be better off for it.

 

** Author’s Note: This is a post I wrote last year in response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law. I am re-posting it today given the recent legislative actions in Georgia and North Carolina. If you would like to make your voice heard, use the hashtag #WeAreNotThis on Twitter and Facebook (hashtags and social media have proven very effective in raising awareness and enacting change.) If you are still concerned about Transgender people using the same restroom as you, please read these articles and learn more about what the NC law entails and what it is to be transgender. 

http://www.upworthy.com/heres-what-itll-look-like-if-trans-people-arent-allowed-to-use-the-right-bathroom?c=ufb7

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-n-passes-anti-lgbt-bill-country-article-1.2576194?cid=bitly

no-respect

Right now everyone’s talking about beliefs. Beliefs that prompted the infamous Religious Freedom Act in Indiana last year, and last week’s Georgia’s Religious Freedom Bill and most recently North Carolina’s wide reaching and shocking HB 2, along with other similar initiatives that are peppering the country. Laws and bills aimed at limiting or taking away rights.

It’s supposedly all about beliefs. A conversation that has echoes of the not too distant path. Beliefs that are being recycled but not repurposed. A hand me down with historical context.

Beliefs are being held up and declared all while clutched in sweaty, angry fists. Beliefs are being trotted out like a prize pig at a State Fair.

So much talk of beliefs. And we all know that talk is the cheapest currency.

All of this talk is treading on some sacred ground. Beliefs (especially the religious kind) are for most of us a taboo subject. We don’t discuss them, we don’t engage in debate about them. Just try to bring it up on FaceBook and watch the insults fly and the defriending begin. No, we prefer to leave others to their beliefs and quietly go about living our lives guided by our own.

Most of us, that is.

Others? Well, they like to scream their beliefs in the faces of those who dare stand up to bigotry. Spittle forming in their taut mouth as they spout their reasons for the taking away of rights from others.

So what’s a respectful equality loving person to do when we see beliefs being molded into a vehicle for injustice and discrimination? What do we do when we see someone using their beliefs to leave people out, to treat them differently? When it’s affecting people’s rights to rent an apartment or a home? People’s rights to access to anything and everything that most of us take for granted. People’s rights to patronize a business? Sound familiar?

Do we sit quietly out of politeness and deference to said beliefs?

I have been struggling with this. I don’t want to step on anyone’s faith or beliefs. It’s not my way, it’s not my aim. But this conversation needs to happen and it doesn’t have to turn into debates over beliefs.

I don’t care about your beliefs.

I’m not here to trample your beliefs. I’m not here to comment on anyone’s beliefs.

I don’t feel like your beliefs are any of my business.

I don’t feel the need to say that I respect your beliefs.

It’s not my place to evaluate or determine whether your beliefs are worthy of respect.

Because I don’t care about your beliefs.

I care about your actions.

I care about how you treat the people you come in contact with every day.

I care about how you treat people you may not agree with.

Your beliefs? Who am I to judge them? They are for you to wrestle with and to determine.

If you are my neighbor, my friend, my boss, my congressman? I don’t care if you’re Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist. Your beliefs are not my business nor my concern.

Beliefs are something that may guide you to live life with integrity and compassion. Or beliefs can be something you can carry around in your back pocket and pull out at any moment to justify actions. The difference boils down to character.

I’m interested in the fairness and compassion and empathy you do or do not express to your brothers and sisters of all faiths, all sexes, all races, all sexual orientations.

If you have to justify your behavior with your beliefs? That I can’t respect. Your beliefs are inconsequential. Your actions are the mark of your character. Making excuses or justification is just a lazy way to explain bad behavior. To pat yourself on the back as you step on the backs of others. If that’s your standard operating procedure, then I don’t respect you.

If you think you are better than others because of your beliefs? Then I can’t respect you. If you judge the lifestyle of other good people just trying to make it in this harsh world? Then I can’t respect you. If you cloak your compassion in judgmental pity? Then I can’t respect you. If you only lend a helping hand to others under the condition that they have to listen to your beliefs and subscribe to them? Then I can’t respect you.

If you are using beliefs to justify inequality? Then maybe you should check your beliefs. Because this is an old song and most of us are tired of hearing the tune. There was a time when beliefs were used as justification for unequal and in-humane and degrading treatment of black people in our country. Looking back I think we can all agree that it was a perversion of the beliefs that were held up as testimony. I think we can all agree that the beliefs that were co-opted and intertwined with vitriol were being abused and used as a cover for fear and hate.

Using beliefs to take away rights? Using beliefs to make a group of people less than? That’s ideology cloaked in fear and hate’s clothing. And it has the faint smell of disingenuousness. Don’t hide behind the safe and untouchable veil of your beliefs. Own your actions. Don’t pass the buck or the blame on to something you claim you hold sacred.

Here’s a little of what I believe.

I believe that equality is equality is equality.

No prerequisites. No conditions. No parameters.

I believe that compassion and caring and empathy for people who are not like you is one of the most important elements of our character.

I believe that actions speak louder than beliefs.

Equality.

It’s really not that complicated.

I believe the loving people in this world far outnumber the fearful and hateful people.

I think most of us want to live peacefully and harmoniously with our brothers and sisters who are just trying to make it in this harsh world.

I do not buy into the politicization of beliefs. The co-opting and the twisting of ideals. The cult of fear and judgement.

If you look upon everyone who is different from you with contempt and fear and condemnation? Then you are going to be spending a lot more time in a dark place my friend. Because our world is becoming smaller. We are connected and exposed in ways never before possible. Thanks to our digital age, we hear from and see and meet people from all over.

Along with this connectedness comes lots of new. New ideas, new lifestyles, new perspectives, new experiences. There’s no turning back from the world we now inhabit, one that is becoming increasingly… one. So maybe now is a good time to open our minds and open our hearts. To accept all the differences that come with living amongst other people.

Maybe now is a good time to embrace the differences and learn to adapt to our changing world. Maybe now is a good time to operate with an open mind. To realize that your way may not always be the best way. That change is not always bad.

Maybe now is the time to stop using your beliefs as a shield against all that you fear. Maybe now is the time to realize that your beliefs belong to you. No one can take them from you. The lifestyle of others does not impact or change your beliefs. If someone else’s way of living affects your beliefs? Maybe now is the time to check the shaky ground upon which your beliefs are tenuously perched.

Maybe you will find that your beliefs shouldn’t cause you to mistreat or discriminate.

Maybe you will come to the conclusion that no good ever comes from taking away rights.

Maybe you’ll see that it’s not even about your beliefs.

It’s about your actions.

Maybe you’ll realize that it’s time to leave beliefs out of the equation.

Maybe we’ll all be better off for it.

 

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“Pardon me while I burst into flames,

I’ve had enough of the world and people’s mindless games.

Pardon me while I burst and rise above the flame.

Pardon me, pardon me. I’ll never be the same.”

-Incubus, Pardon Me

We live in a world where discrimination still happens but it often happens in the shadows. It is done in the way cowards typically do things- when the world isn’t watching or paying attention. And it still happens far too often. But there’s one type of discrimination that is totally acceptable to flaunt, to declare with authority and smugness.

Poor Shaming.

It’s still acceptable to shame the poor. It’s totally ok to stand up in the U.S. Congress and sneer about the “takers.” It still o.k. to go on Sunday morning talk shows and wear an unholy mask of disgust and contempt while talking about welfare and entitlement programs. This is all fine. You can do this and still be a regular guest on a news show. You can do this and still get elected to be a political leader. In fact, some people will vote for you for this very reason.

Souls vs Stomachs

One very powerful Congressman recently said the school free lunch program gave students a “full stomach but an empty soul.” Because anyone who’s ever gone hungry knows that you need to feed your soul. I mean, that’s top on the list of concerns for a hungry child who’s trying to make it through a school day with a growling stomach eating away at his concentration. That is a priority in a life of not knowing when your next meal will come. More than one political leader has suggested that poor kids do janitorial work in exchange for free school lunch. They say that this will help those kids to understand that you must pay for things. That things just don’t come easy. Because, you know, poor kids are so entitled. They don’t understand the value of hard work. Especially when they watch their parents work two jobs and struggle to pay the bills. So, let’s have the poor kids sweep and mop and scrub toilets. While their wealthier peers look on and eat their lunch that I’m sure they worked very hard for. Some people actually think this is a good idea. Teach those little free-loaders that life ain’t easy. 16.1 Million U.S. children live in poverty.

A Combo Meal of Discrimination

Recently, one very powerful Congressman got flak for saying this:

 “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”

His assumption- that there were entire swaths of people who have no desire to work, who wanted to receive handouts- was not the problem. The problem was his use of the words “inner cities,” a.k.a., minorities. Yes, this comment was one of those underlying racist comments, indicative of a mindset so entrenched that the speaker doesn’t even realize it’s racist. And it should be derided. But the outcry shouldn’t have stopped there. In one statement, this politician managed to dismiss two disenfranchised entities. It was a two-for-one. But it’s ok to shame the poor, so his comment was called out for being racist, when it should have been called out for exactly what it was. Racist and poor shaming. It should have been called out for the bullying tactic that it was.

Insight and Ramen Noodles

Recently, Karen Weese wrote an insightful article on poverty. She gets to the heart of what it feels like to be on the fringe. She illustrates the perceptions that exist and pokes holes through all of the standard theories. But where she really got me was when she discussed “The Ramen Noodle Effect.” She explains that many of us can point to times in our life when we can all relate to being “poor.” Those years post college of living on thrift store furniture and eating 25 cent packets of noodles. But this is a false equivalency. Having a few years of living in a run down apartment is not the same as growing up poor. Surrounded by a family and community in poverty.

“It is much easier not to panic about tight finances when Mom and Dad have a guest room you can always move back to (even if you never actually do)…. It helps when there’s someone in your family who can advise you about applying to college or buying a home. It’s reassuring to know that, no matter how bare your cupboard, there will be a full spread of food when you go home for the holidays, and family and friends who can help you, standing in the wings.”

Not Even Close

It’s not the same. Working in a minimum wage job for a few years as a teenager does not give you insight into the lives of people who spend a lifetime in those jobs. Your stepping stone is someone else’s tenuous life line. Your “character building” position as a dishwasher or fry cook is someone else’s shaky grip on survival. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a few years isn’t equal to growing up sharing a bed with three siblings or finding yourself sleeping in your car. Digging for change in the crevices of your sofa for Starbucks isn’t the same as juggling finances to figure out which bills get paid this month. Selling your old shoes or clothes at the consignment store for beer money isn’t the same as selling plasma every month to pay medical bills.

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The Words.

The things people say when discussing the poor. They harken to Dickensian times. “Lazy. Victims. Takers.” These words are used to dehumanize an entire group of people. These words offer justification and comfort to those who wish to keep the poor exactly where they are. Poor people are fundamentally flawed, in character and morals. They don’t want to have better or to do better. They want a hand out or a hand up or a free ride. They enjoy this lifestyle. If they were motivated and ambitious and resourceful they wouldn’t be in this position. These are the statements that are repeated. They are hollow excuses for disdain. They are the rationalization for judgement. They are the lame attempts to lift oneself higher while stepping callously on the backs of those already crippled with exhaustion. They are the words of bullies.

Lack of Empathy?

Some people seem to lack the imagination to understand any circumstance they haven’t personally experienced. They are so self involved and egocentric that they can’t be bothered to consider what any other reality may actually be like. Maybe they were spoiled or grew up so isolated from people who were different. Can we really blame them for their obtuse view on life? Yes. Yes we can. We live in an age of information and access. One only has to spend a few minutes listening or reading to hear what other’s reality is. One only has to pay a tiny bit of attention to the person cleaning up after their office closes or caring for their elderly parent. It doesn’t take much effort at all to shed the notions bred by ignorance to see the good in people versus the bad.

Arrogance?

Some people like to think that they have arrived at a place because they are better than. And those who haven’t reached that place must be less than. I was poor. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. Sure you did. But perhaps you fail to recognize that not everyone experienced life in exactly the way you did, in the same exact circumstances. Perhaps you worked super hard. And perhaps you had a little luck. Perhaps there was someone who gave you a hand up. Perhaps there are some people so caught up in the downward spiral of poverty, scratching and clawing to feed their children and keep a roof over their head that “bettering” themselves isn’t on the bare table they face every night. Perhaps your experience isn’t exactly the same as someone else’s experience. Perhaps you could use your experience to try to be the one to extend a hand. Perhaps instead of tearing people down because they didn’t arrive at the same place you did in the same way you did, you could offer help or encouragement.

Bullying?

Maybe they were the bully on the school bus. Maybe they were the kid who only felt good when they were putting other people down. Maybe a tone of self righteousness couched in policy making and social commentating gives them a sense of power that they crave and need. Maybe they need to understand that the bullying that left them feeling angry and empty when they were younger is not going to fulfill them as an adult. Maybe they need to direct their anger elsewhere. Maybe they need to find another outlet rather than the convenient punching bag of someone who is too busy trying to survive to fight back.

Whatever.

Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. Heaping shame and humiliation on those living in poverty isn’t productive. No one has ever solved a problem when coming from a place of judgement and contempt. But the bullies don’t get this. The bullies need to be called out. We tell our kids to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We tell them to “Stand Up and Speak Out.” Maybe it’s time for us to say something. Most of us are good people. We’re appalled when we hear racial epitaphs. We cringe when we hear a sexist remark. We wince when we hear a gay slur. It’s time we started reacting to the words and actions used against the poor. It’s time we stop accepting the false arguments that have been touted as justification for poor shaming.

Vernacular can be changed.

Mindsets can be altered.

Empathy is a skill that can be learned.

Kindness can grow and spread.

Assumptions can be examined.

Bullies can change.

Poor shaming can be called out as discrimination.

We can vote.

We can stand up.

We can speak out.

 

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