Monday, June 13, 2016

Start listening

When horrific, tragic events like the shooting in Orlando occur, I'm always hesitant to post, here or anywhere else. I understand why people do. Many want to express their sorrow or anger, or just their support for the affected community. Some feel the effects personally. Some want to help in any way they can, no matter how small.

The problem I have seen, and the reason I avoid posting, is the comments that follow. The bickering over gun control or religious freedom or whether or not our President is a mole (Seriously!?) or whether or not people in the LGBT community are sinners or whether or not God was at work... It goes on and on and on. The arguments feed the hate and the anger, until both have a life of their own. Instead of using the tragedy as a way to come together, we allow it to tear us apart.

People who share opinions are instantly labeled: Conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, LGBT-friendly, religious, Christian, Muslim, pro-gun, anti-gun. Labels lead to assumptions; we automatically assume that because we know a person's political affiliation or religious practice, we must also know where he stands on gun-control or LGBT rights.

Assumptions are natural, and labels are easy. I'm as guilty as anyone. I read comments and I automatically assume I know where someone stands on any issue. I have leapt to the conclusion that disagreement is personal, and means we can not be friends.

But I have learned that why a person feels the way he does is just as important as what he feels - and how he chooses to express or act upon those feelings is more important than either.

I have also learned that although people may disagree on a defined political or social issue, that very well may agree that a problem exists - and they may even be able to find common ground on a solution.

My boyfriend and I disagree on a lot of political and social issues. It would be easy for us to label each other as insensitive or foolish or unyielding or hurtful. Instead, we take the time to share and listen. We talk about the issues - not about each other. We don't point fingers - we wonder out loud about what is happening and what should happen, and then share with each other why that may or may not work for everyone.

I have learned more about compassion and love and freedom and understanding and support from this one person than I have from all of the posts and articles I've read combined. He's wise and kind - and that's coming from someone who often disagrees with his point of view. I may not agree with him, but I absolutely respect him.

If I have learned one thing from spending time with someone who disagrees with me on so much, it is this: Nothing will ever change until we are all willing to stop fighting and start listening.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Fat is not the problem

Plus-size, fat, voluptuous... whatever you call us, curvy girls are getting a lot of publicity lately. From magazine covers, to articles, to a seemingly-harmless post on a friend's Facebook, everyone is talking about fat chicks. Not only the women, but what is OK - and not OK - to say about them.

I've spent a lot of time carefully curating the people with whom I surround myself (both online and in real life) so I don't see a lot of negativity (unless I go searching, and I only do that when I'm in a really good mood so I can handle what I find). What I do see (and hear) are a lot of well-intentioned comments that fall just short of their mark.

There are the obvious insults. Any time a heavy woman posts a photo of herself, the trolls come out in droves. You know, these guys who hide behind the keyboard in their parents' basement, but feel they are in a position to judge another person.

But to me, those aren't even the worst comments. Sure, being called names is hurtful - but most of us have been called names all our lives. Personally, if I hadn't learned how to handle that kind of insult, I wouldn't have survived past grade school.

It's the well-intentioned, but slightly-off-mark, comments that are tough.

Comments like, "She's fat - but she's still really pretty," or "She's so brave for wearing that (whatever item) with such confidence." Then there's my personal favorite, "That outfit is so flattering."

Obviously these all sound like compliments. They're meant in a genuine way, and people honestly mean to convey a good, positive message. They never intended to fat-shame - but do they? 

If your comment suggests that it's a surprise for a fat woman to be beautiful or confident - that's fat-shaming. If it suggests that an outfit would look good on a thin woman, but a fat woman has to settle for not looking awful - that's fat-shaming. If you feel the need to excuse or explain or defend a person's fatness, you're suggesting there's something wrong with her - and that's fat-shaming.

Use whatever fancy, pretty word you like; the truth is, I'm fat. I'm also brunette, short, 42, white, hazel-eyed, and have a medium complexion. All of those things make up how I look - and all of them could be appealing, or not, to anyone who I encounter. So why is my weight the only thing that makes me "brave?" Or makes people question my confidence? Why is it the one thing that everyone feels the need to excuse?

That's the real problem. We are all conditioned to think that "fat" is an insult, rather than just another adjective used to describe someone. We, as a culture, have come to believe that fat is some sort of obstacle that people (particularly women) have to overcome. We look at a person who is overweight and assume they are unhappy, unhealthy, and struggling - in life, in relationships, in everything.

We believe this so whole-heartedly, without even realizing it, that we actually get offended when one person calls another person fat. Someone calls me fat, my friends jump to my defense. But if that same person called me short, it would be OK. Why? 

My friends believe that "fat" is a problem, and "short" isn't. My friends believe that with just that one word, someone has labeled me as the worst thing anyone can be. That's why they feel the need to defend and excuse my "fatness" (that's auto-corrected twice now, so apparently, it's an actual word). How dare someone say such a horrible thing about their friend?

But defending and excusing and explaining only reinforces the idea that "fat" is a problem.

That's the problem. Not the word fat - but what we've all been taught, and continue to teach, is its true meaning.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Elevator buttons

I watched the movie Inception the other night. It still isn't my favorite, but since it only took me three viewings (over several years) to sort of get it, I'd probably watch it again.

At the end, my boyfriend asked, "So how many buttons are in your elevator?" I stared at him for a beat and he continued, "The buttons were regrets in life."

OK - I said I sort of got the movie.

I used to have a lot of regrets. I've regretted my contributions to my failed marriage. I've regretted dating men who ultimately hurt me (and some who just never seem to go away). I've regretted career choices, financial choices, and not sticking to a healthier lifestyle.

In the movie, the characters can use the elevator to visit moments they regret. This is presumably to try and relive, and possibly change, those moments (Though that makes little sense, because the elevator only appears in dreams. OK, it's possible I don't really understand this movie at all.)

But actually changing our regrettable moments isn't really possible, anyway - so maybe that's the point?

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that regrets were pointless. I can't go back to those moments and change anything. Honestly, if I could, I'm not even sure I would. There's no way to tell what else I would impact by making even the tiniest change. Why take that risk?

The truth is, life is nothing but a series of decisions strung together. Some good, some wonderful, and some regrettable. But even the worst choices can lead to a positive result.

Maybe I'm naive, or maybe I'm just fooling myself. But it seems to me that every choice - good or bad - is a chance to learn. What works, and what doesn't; who you are, and who you want to become. You learn what makes you happy, and where you want to be. Why would you regret all those lessons?

I have noticed that some of the worst things to happen in my life were preparing me for something so much better. At the time, of course, I couldn't know - and the pain or sadness felt like I'd made a huge mistake.

But knowing what I know now... Why would I regret anything that helped get me where I want to be?

Growing in my faith has taught me that there is a plan much larger than my own - and my regrettable moments are as much a part of that plan as everything else.

When you look at them that way, those moments aren't so bad, after all.