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Five months into the pandemic and my brothers have yet to figure out how to keep the peace around the house.
“New rule!” Jimmy yells while flinging his arms in front of him, hoping to make his point. “Tom, you wash all of your dishes by hand and stop filling up the dishwasher with them!” My dad and I immediately start laughing. Lunch time during the week has turned into a Tom and Jimmy fight club; keep in mind Tom is twenty one and Jimmy is thirteen, yet they still manage to fight about every single thing you could think of. One of my personal favorites was a heated argument over the “correct” way to move a desk. They spent more time arguing over how to move the thing than simply moving it ten feet into the other room. The best part was that they both got so annoyed with one another Jimmy ended up just pushing the desk on his own in a fit of rage.
I know that seems like a very random story, but in all honesty my mind has been a jumble of “New Rules” for the past month. Rules I have set for myself, rules enforced by local authorities–or rather a lack thereof, rules sent to us by our schools and places of work, and of course the rules established by my brothers around the house. I hate to say that we need rules—the word “rule” has always seemed tyrannical to me—but in a world where everyone is so focused on themselves and their own personal advancement, perhaps we need a reminder of how human beings deserve to be treated.
Let me begin by saying I do not claim to be above any of the selfishness I describe, far from it actually. I spend an exorbitant amount of time thinking about myself and how things affect me, rather than others, sometimes failing to see the much larger world that surrounds us. We all fall prey to this. It’s natural, but it can also be incredibly destructive. Our point of view often only allows us to see the perspective of those who think similarly to us. We forget about the concept of collectivism, focusing only on our personal benefit.
Our personal set of “rules” are set by people who’ve taught us based on the “rules” they were taught to uphold. Sure, many people lose the restrictions they grew up with and form their own, but these personal values, or “rules” are, to some capacity, then passed on. It’s a cycle, one rooted in relationships and values. Regardless of how much we push them away, the values instilled in us at a young age will follow us in some way. I am incredibly blessed with the privilege I’ve had throughout my life and to have been raised by such a large group of people who have instilled these values and “rules” in me. I recognize that we don’t all have that privilege. Advocacy is not always easy in our homes, but we cannot let external factors and our personal privilege equate to negligence. Being raised with certain values and privileges, or perhaps a lack of them, does not excuse you from amplifying and truly listening to other voices and beliefs, regardless of political party. Human rights and equality are not partisan issues.
I use the term “rule” to emphasize how our personal beliefs can lead to bias, restricting us in our day-to-day lives. I do not expect anyone to live by the “rules” I’ve created for myself. That would be absurd. I can’t imagine forcing other people to make my bed, practice my music, feed my dog, or do my dishes. I urge you to stop attempting to force your “rules” on others who come from different backgrounds, or hold different values. Work for the greater good, not just your individual benefit.
In a recent conversation revolving around my frustration with the world around us, my best friend, Gigi had to remind me that as unfortunate as it is, you cannot make people care about things the way you do. I’ve always struggled when those around me don’t match the same level of frustration as I do. Convincing people to care grows exhausting.
Unfortunately, human compassion and decency is not something we can force on other people. It’s a learned trait, something we learn from people who strive for change and something we must continue to teach to others. We do this by educating ourselves, reading people’s stories, remaining informed on current events and issues, voting, and most importantly standing up and actively fighting against injustice, everywhere. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. describes the “appalling silence of the good people” in his letter from Birmingham Jail (if you haven’t read this already, I encourage you to). I do not believe that “good people” are silent in issues of civil rights, and quite simply humanity. “Good people” do not sit idly as innocent black men and women are killed. “Good people” do not use racial slurs or participate in acts of discrimination. “Good people” are fierce advocates in all situations of injustice or oppression.
I’ve seen a lot of posts circling around social media asking people to “have uncomfortable conversations”. Human rights and equality should not be “uncomfortable”. If you find this “uncomfortable”, I encourage you to brush up on your United States history and see how “uncomfortable” this country’s treatment of minorities makes you, it is absolutely sickening. We must take a good look at our personal set of “rules”, the way we expect ourselves to behave and the morals we value, actively examine how our actions, or rather inaction affects those around us. We’re all taught different “rules” but in a variety of ways we learn compassion, understanding, kindness, and humility. These “rules” should never change for us, despite how appealing it might be to grow up and break them or create new ones, human decency and respect should never be outgrown. We will not always get it right and we will not always follow the “rules” we desperately advocate for, but being able to admit when we’re wrong and learn from our mistakes or lapses in judgement can only move us forwards. This conversation is not one that just exists this summer, but forever.
As much as I’d like to be able to create rules for all of us, I can’t. Being forced to live under another person’s preconceived notions is just ridiculous, right? I would like to, however, make a few suggestions.
New rule; we advocate for change in our communities, regardless of how much our personal “rules” or bias seems to make it “uncomfortable”. I personally find it more “uncomfortable” to not actively advocate against centuries of racial injustice and prejudice anyways.
New rule; we educate ourselves and actively listen to each other. We learn the most from each other’s experiences and together we can truly create change.
New rule; we wear masks in public to protect one another. Believe it or not, they don’t impair your breathing as you walk around the grocery store, but COVID-19 might.
New rule; in a world where we can be anything, we choose to be kind and love one another for who we are.
Oh, and I can’t forget Jimmy’s.
New rule; Tom washes his own dishes. No dishwasher privileges.