Dr. Dana Chamblee-Carpenter introduced me to the concept of confluence through the writing of Eudora Welty. This was Southern Lit or some similar class, time fogs my memory on the specifics. In Welty’s work, confluence was the coming together of themes and ideas through imagery and plot. As my life has gone on, I’ve grown to see confluence happening around me. A series of disparate and fragmented events all seem to randomly coalesce into something of greater meaning. In this moment of confluence, the protagonist of the story will have a sudden transcendent understanding of their condition or the world they inhabit.
This week my friend, Mark Diaz-Truman posted a blog about troubling behavior he saw in the fractured tabletop roleplay community. He mentioned specific people by name in this post and it was met with a lot of blowback and anger. My personal opinion, and yes it is biased, is that I believe Mark’s intent was not to cause harm but came from a genuine place of caring about a community he’s a part of. It’s been pretty disheartening to see that same community go wildly on the defensive to justify behavior that they themselves call other out for.
In Nashville, the school board elections are in full swing. And it is probably the dirtiest elections the city has ever had for school board. A record-setting amount of money has found it into the campaigns. Mailers are going out en masse declaring incumbent members of the board of being negligent or not having the students’ best interest in mind. I am friends with many of these incumbents and know for a fact these are false allegations, that the struggle in schools right now goes beyond a school system and has more to do with a society that is becoming more economically segregated as the years pass.
One of the challengers in this race, Jackson Miller has chosen to run his campaign on the platform that the incumbent, Will Pinkston, is rude in his online interactions. Yes, Will can be a tough pill to swallow but Will is also right most of the time, is incredibly passionate about the kids and is never rude. He is an incredibly direct guy and he sharpened his mind working for some pretty great Tennessee politicians like former Governor Phil Bredesen. Jackson Miller was recently confronted with multiple tweets going back to 2008 where he makes misogynistic and racist comments about people and groups in our city. These tweets gathered a lot of attention and were picked up by the local news who ran stories about the situation.
In addition, the head of a local non-profit that also operates a number of charter schools in Nashville had e-mails leaked where they were blatantly violating campaign laws attached to their non-profit status. Their reaction was almost a non-reaction. Online their defenders continue to cite their end goal of “helping the students be successful” as a reason why the violation of the law should be overlooked.
I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a meme that detailed how Hillary Clinton allegedly referred to a group of mentally disabled children on an Easter Egg Hunt during her husband’s term as “retards”. The purpose of this meme was to show how Clinton is unelectable. I assume the poster of this meme wants me to vote for Donald Trump instead. Trump, a man who has mocked a disabled news reporter, talked in horrifically misogynistic terms about women and been eager to draw up lines of division between people. Maybe Clinton really did say that during the easter egg hunt. I don’t see how that excuses Trump’s behavior and means I should endorse him. But in their own minds, people find ways to justify this bizarre line of thinking.
I am not the best student of history that I should be. I know a little, I want to know more. But from what I do know, I think it’s right to say we are in a period of extreme division as a country and probably even worse as a planet. We live in a world of binaries with sub-binaries and sub-sub-binaries. You aren’t a Republican or Democrat. You can be a moderate Republican, an alt-right Republican, an independent Democrat, a neo-liberal, a neo-conservative, a yellow dog Democrat, a progressive Democrat, a RINO, a DINO, etc. The drilling down of divisions has brought me to a real crisis point. I have family members that are committed to voting for Trump. I cannot vote for him and I am not enthusiastic about voting for Clinton. I will because I see Trump as a clear and present danger to the United States.
I look on Twitter and see “punk dudes” cracking wise about the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. They aren’t wrong. They are definitely right. I see “centipedes” on Reddit meme-ing their lives away promoting Trump to the point a parody subreddit is started to mock them. I see Clinton people angrily telling Bernie people to just stop and give up. I see Bernie people not realizing that they can fight in a different way even if Bernie didn’t get the nomination, in a way that doesn’t harm. Everyone is so on edge and ready to lash out at a moment’s notice. Everyone questions everyone else’s motives with such deep hateful cynicism. People aren’t people anymore, they are walking ideologies that I need to lash out at with my ideology. And if they aren’t in lockstep with my specific interpretation and system of beliefs then I, and other in my faction, need to dogpile them.
Every single person you meet has suffered. It’s not a contest and it’s near impossible to truly compare suffering. If that’s something you do, then you’re sick. There are two levels you have to operate at: The larger global level is to acknowledge the societal and cultural structures in place. You have to acknowledge that black men and women are getting brutalized and killed by police officers in America at a rate that is beyond horrific. You have to acknowledge that me, a white guy, does have more privilege than a lot of other demographics in America. There is a lot of sociological turmoil right now in this moment, but a lot of progress too. I never imagined LGBTQ people would have the right to marry in America in my lifetime. That’s huge, lots of progress still to go, though.
But while we were living in the larger global sphere of thinking we forgot we have to live somewhere else at the same time. We have to be individual humans to each other. Every person you meet has suffered. You don’t need to know how and you will likely never know how. Even the people you think you hate, they have suffered too. People you love die. People you love betray you. People you don’t even know hate you. People you know hate you. People judge you and talk about you and annoy you and harass you. People hurt you. No one should ever excuse them or let them get away with that. But those people you direct your anger at because of perceived ideological divides are probably suffering in their own ways right now, today.
They are dealing with crippling financial instability. They got kicked out of their house. Their dad died today who they never really got to know. Their partner is in and out of the hospital without hope in sight. They miscarried. The feel like a failure. They can’t concentrate because of anxiety. They wake up in the night from nightmares that force them to remember something they want to forget. They don’t know what to do with their life. They live every moment thinking they are fat or ugly or unloved or unimportant. They spent decades in a loveless marriage only to be abandoned. They got the shit beat out of them when they were a kid. They had their trust in someone they loved violated. They had a stranger violate them.
And then you get online and call them “a piece of shit motherfucking loser”. Or they get online and call you the same. And then it erupts and everyone makes their digs and they are a piece of shit for voting for Clinton and you are a fucking asshole for voting for Trump and you are shitlord and they are an asshole and on and on and on and on and on…
Everyone is hurting. People you don’t know are hurting. People you *think* are your enemies are hurting. There is evil in this world and it preys on this shit. It grows stronger on our hate for each other. This isn’t about compromising your principles. This is about adding a principle to that list and living by it, no matter how hard it is, and it is going to be hard. I know it will be.
I have every reason to hate my father. He treated my mom and the kids like garbage. He kept it mostly emotional abuse and when I was around fourteen he physically beat me. After a year of working in AmeriCorps, I came home, spent another year substitute teaching. Before I went down to see Ariana in Puerto Rico there was a big blow-up fight. I left and while I was there he called me to tell me all my belongings had been moved to a storage shelter, he would e-mail me the address. I was not allowed to come back to his house. Earlier that day, Ariana’s father had died. We cried together.
Years later he would call, leaving sobbing voicemails saying he wanted me to come to the house for Christmas. One year he told my siblings to not go see me at Christmas so that way I would be forced to come see him. That same Christmas, he got angry at my mom for spending money on a Kindle for HIM. All my childhood I was taught to fear spending money to the point that when I was about to rent my first house with my wife I had a panic attack, afraid that suddenly spending that money meant something bad was going to happen to me. I lived in fear of confrontation because everyone was him. If I made someone too angry they would abandon me like he did.
I had every reason to hate him. And I did. I hated him with the core of my being. I wished he was dead. And then one day I realized that hate was not making me better. Living as a hateful person was killing me inside. I forgive him. Doesn’t mean I want him in my life or I want to have him over for Christmas. He’s still a toxic person to me. But I forgive him. His dad beat him. I honestly believe he has some level of untreated bipolar disorder when I reflect on my childhood. But I can’t hate him. I can’t resent him. Not as some form of release of responsibility for his actions, but for me. I still let my emotions and my anger override my humanity and I struggle all the time with that.
The reason why Mark or someone else might get very specific and public in a post about people’s behavior is because he loves them. You want better for them. You don’t want people to see them and think all they do is mire themselves in hate. You want people to see in them what makes you love what is essentially your family. And confronting family is a hard thing to do. Often family members trying to uncover ulterior motives and assume the person just wants something from them. But I stand by Mark and truly believe he spoke with love. He doesn’t want his family to live with growing hate in their hearts. He loves them too much to let them live like that.
You may read this and roll your eyes and think I’m being a naive idiot. I’m sorry you think that way. I don’t know what pain you have felt in your life, but know that you can’t let the hate swallow you up. Be passionate. Be motivated. Be protective of yourself. Don’t let others harm you. But don’t give away your humanity in place of hate.