Liberal. Men's Rights Activist. Atheist. Gender-queer. Conservative. Muslim. Feminist.
I'm willing to bet all the change in my pocket that at least one of those labels made you a little itchy. At least one of them caused you, maybe even involuntarily, to raise an eyebrow or get your fightin' words ready. We all do it; we all have our biases and are often eager to see those biases confirmed. We assign these labels to others, or they apply them to themselves, and we immediately begin forming a response. An argument. A desire to tell them that they are wrong, and we are right. We hear these labels and we form an image in our minds, and that image is rarely pretty.
And that's a problem. That's a really, really big problem, in fact. As soon as that image takes form, we begin to see them as the "other". We begin to separate us from them. They become caricatures to us, rather than other real, feeling human beings with genuine concerns of their own. It becomes very easy to see others as the enemy, and to dismiss their worries, and their humanity.
--And this is the part where I have to write a disclaimer, because that's where the world is right now. No, I'm not about to tell you that you have to just smile and nod at that aunt who always drops the N-bomb at Christmas dinner or that you should respect a Nazi's opinion. Bigotry does not ever, at all, have to be tolerated. Period.--
When we allow ourselves to see these labels as tiny little boxes that most definitely contain things we hate and fear, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and society in general. We are saying we are okay with prejudice. We are saying we are comfortable in our ignorance. We are admitting we are hypocrites, but not willing to do anything about it. We are saying we would rather hate than talk. We are saying that our own personal beliefs trump the very basic needs of every other human being on Earth. That we are okay with people suffering, so long as we can stay righteous in our ideology. And, worst of all, we are often entirely wrong about these people in the first place. We form our opinions on a foundation of their loudest and most awful. When we think of feminists, we don't think of the people worldwide who are fighting to give women equal rights, we think of white Western women on Tumblr complaining about manspreading. When we think of Muslims, we don't think of people forming prayer circles around Christians, we think of terrorists and western invasions. We think of liberals as hypocrites and conservatives as bigots and MRAs as misogynists and atheists as immoral and gay people as degenerates. We choose to see everyone different from us as somehow worse than us, and our society reflects that.
While we're busy coming up with clever memes about "libtards" and new insults against Trump, nearly two million Americans are sleeping on the streets. While we bitch about Trudeau attending a Pride Parade and come up with new and awful things to call Muslims, the fentanyl crisis is killing Canadians. Both countries have serious problems, from crime rates to housing shortages to healthcare accessibility, and we are either ignoring them entirely or blaming them on our favourite scapegoat. And it is largely due to our insistence on absolutely refusing to work together - to put aside our biases and realize that we all live here, that we all need the same basic needs met, that pointing fingers accomplishes nothing. It is that itchy feeling we get when we hear labels that trigger our intolerance that guarantees no real issues will ever be addressed, as we've decided that it's "their" fault. That "they" created this mess. That "they" are distracting us from the real issues. We don't see "them" as real human beings with feelings, with genuine concerns, with something to contribute. No, no, we see them as the problem, the reason things keep getting, in our minds, worse.
And so, I must ask you all a question. How has your calling people "libtards" improved the healthcare system? How many homeless and crisis centres have been built on the foundation of you calling people misogynists? How many women worldwide have you advocated for by chanting "feminism is cancer"? How much safer is your neighbourhood now that you've posted a meme about Muslims planning to invade the western world? Did your bills get easier to pay after you called Justin Trudeau an idiot? Did the housing shortage get solved that time you posted a meme calling conservatives bigots? Has this us vs. them, hate everyone who doesn't think like me, insult people on Facebook approach solved a single problem that you are concerned about? No? Then stop it. Please.
Feminists, MRAs, conservatives, liberals, LGBT people, Muslims, Christians, atheists, are all, for the most part, just ordinary people living ordinary lives. They aren't the enemy, they aren't evil, they aren't immoral, they just have slightly different concerns than you do. They have beliefs you do not share, and yes, that can be scary or maddening or concerning, but I'm willing to bet that if we all set our biases aside, if we all ditched the hyperbolic, childish, extreme rhetoric and had an actual conversation with these folks, we'd find an awful lot of common ground. And we'd sure as hell have a better chance of changing things for the better.
I certainly can't tell you what to do. I can't demand that you stop posting stupid memes and misinformed news stories on Facebook, or that you suddenly become tolerant to views you abhor. I can, however, ask you to, at the very least, stop for a moment and ask yourself if your biases reflect reality in any way whatsoever. If you genuinely believe that "they", whoever that is to you, are truly the awful people you think they are. I can ask you to take a moment out of your day to ask yourself if hating them is improving things at all, for anyone. I can ask you, ask myself, ask everyone, to put their money where their mouth is, and start actively working for what we claim to believe so dearly in.