The Perfect World We Do Not Have

If I could stand up and say This Is My Right and receive in response agreement on that statement from all who consider it, then I would never need to explain or fight or beg. In this perfect world of imagination, every person would be born with the knowledge of the complete set of rights due to each of us, and each of us would be treated equally, without necessity of debate.

In the world of actuality, we live in a nation of vast numbers of diverse people who do not all agree on basic human or civil rights. Is every one of us entitled to a living wage, to health care, to education? Is every one of us entitled to marry whomever we choose? Is every one of us entitled to relieve ourselves in the public bathroom that best suits us?

We don’t agree on how basic services should be paid for, who should run them, or what those services should include. We don’t agree on who should be forced to live or be allowed to die, or on who should be able to decide these questions.

When we talk about human rights or civil rights, often an assumption is made that these are so basic, so intrinsic to every person’s well-being, that every person should, of course, at least agree on how these are defined. Except, this is not our reality. We do not all agree even at this basic level, and the fact that we disagree so deeply is the reason each of us must fight for those rights we feel should be basic tenets of our very existence as human beings.

Each of has been born into a particular circumstance and raised in a certain way and experienced certain occurrences in our lives, and all of these things contribute to our individual set of values. Each of us sees our own views as being most correct and most just, and this is the crux of the problem. Those who hold views diametrically opposed to mine think their views are most correct and most just. Each of us wants the world to function in the way we think is best, but reality is that we can’t all have everything we think we should have. One way or another, one or both sides must compromise some aspect of our opposing views in order to coexist peacefully in this world we share, even if that compromise is simply each of us deciding we’ll look the other way and choose not to allow the odd behavior of those “others” to bother us or to keep us from enjoying our own lives.

Of course, there are many times when we cannot simply accept an opposing view, because that view has the effect of damaging our lives or the lives of someone we love in a significant way, and then we have no choice but to fight for what we believe is correct and just. Always, though, we need to remember that there will never be a time when every other person will agree with us about what is correct and just, that this is true even when the alternative seems to our thinking to be incomprehensibly wrong or cruel. There is no great truth that every human being on earth adheres to. Not a single one.

It will never be enough to stand up and say This Is My Right because there will always be someone who disagrees and who is willing to put up an equal fight for their opposing view.

In this country of millions of people who never all agree on anything, who will never all want to live exactly the same kind of life, we still need to be able to get things done. We developed a system to accomplish this whereby each of us gets a vote and those votes carry power to achieve goals en masse. We vote to elect representatives, and our representatives vote to make or change or enforce the laws that determine what rights we are granted in this country. We’ve developed complicated procedures in order to deal with the fact that we will never all agree, nor do we wish our country to become a place where everyone must agree in order for important things to get done.

In order to get things done, we must interact with those who disagree with our views. We vote to elect people to represent us in our government, but even these representatives we’ve supported do not always agree with us on every issue. There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, perfect representative, perfect official. There are only degrees of agreement with those we’ve elected to represent us. Sometimes our representatives agree with us on very few issues, because those who voted in support of them agree with us on very few issues. This is the system we created. This is the system we must operate within in order to get things done.

This is why progress is often exceedingly slow and is frequently incremental. We often do not get everything we want, nor do we get anything we want very quickly. The millions of people living in this country who do not all agree with each other vote to elect representatives. In order to get things done, we can try to persuade representatives, or we can try to persuade people who vote for representatives. Persuasion can take many forms: evidence, advertisements, appeals, payment, shame, threats. A change in viewpoint can happen naturally or can be coerced. When we fight for a thing we feel should be our inherent human or civil right, we must use some or all of these methods to accomplish our goal because everyone will not agree with us. Those with an opposing view will use the same means to thwart our efforts and to achieve their own goals.

There is no absolute right or wrong, there is only what a particular group of people decides is right or wrong. Every person will not ever agree on what is absolutely right or wrong. If I choose to interact only with those who agree with me, things will only get done within that small group of those who agree with me. Big things that I would like to get done, things that affect the greater society I live within, will not get done if I do not communicate with those who do not agree with me.

If everyone had to agree in order for things to get done, something big would have to happen to make us all accept the exact same kind of life. Usually this kind of change happens over the course of a very long time and is the culmination of many, many slow, incremental changes that have spanned decades. To speed up this process, we would all have to be coerced in some way to agree to things we didn’t actually believe in. This is how a repressed society operates. A domineering leader decides how everyone will live and demands citizens comply, or else. There is no debate, no consideration of individual desires or values that contradict those held by the leader. No one can even suggest an alternative without serious consequences. This is the exact opposite of the freedom we Americans claim we hold dear. This is why the system we developed to get things done includes complex protections against one side or another always being able to get what they want without negotiating with their opposition. Our system protects against one side or another perpetually being able to force their concept of right vs. wrong on everyone. The millions of diverse people in this country will never all agree on what is right or what is wrong. There is no perfection that isn’t illusion.

If I believe that This Is My Right, I must do my best to persuade as many of my fellow citizens as I can to agree with me, so that they also vote for representatives who agree with me, so that laws are enacted to define this thing I believe is my right. I can never expect that my views are universal or that my rights are permanent. I must always be prepared to fight.

 

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #13 of 52.

Mother Love

Last week I got sick with a nasty cold, and I wanted badly to check out of my life for a few days. There were things I should have done that I didn’t do, as happens when one is sick. The hardest thing about being sick, though, for me, as a mother, is letting down my kids. I got to thinking about this after I blew up at them one evening when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself and wanting to be the one cared for instead of the one who always has to do the caring. The incident itself was unremarkable, but for days afterward, I ruminated on our relationship to each other, on the roles of mother and child.

Mothering is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be before I became a mother. The first few weeks after my son was born, I remember being in a state of shock over the fact that I could not go anywhere ever again without either taking him with me or arranging for his care while I was gone. This should have been expected, but it was something I’d never contemplated previously. I had been a singular, independent being, then suddenly I was one half of a conjoined duo. Another being was completely dependent on me for survival. Yes, sure, I had help from my husband, who is a very hands-on dad, but that didn’t change the fact that primarily it was me who had the responsibility of making sure our son’s needs were met.

It is still me, the mother, that my now teen and preteen kids depend on. Nothing is right in the world if I do not listen to their stories, if I do not help them with their school projects, if I do not counsel them on their friendships. I am expected to provide them food and remind them to eat it. I am the one they need to take them shopping when they outgrow their clothes and shoes. I am the one who calls the right doctor and gets them the right medicine and holds them close no matter how contagious they are. My husband is still the hands-on dad he’s always been, but I am always the one my kids need above all others.

I am the mother, and mothers are supposed to care for their kids before anyone else, including themselves. I know that my kids love me, but I understand also that their love is based on my satisfying the need they have for a caring mother. Last week they knew I was sick, and I know they cared that I was sick, but that didn’t stop them from needing me to care for them. When I lashed out in protest, they experienced, for a brief moment, the despair of not having a mother who cared about their needs. Shortly thereafter, I apologized to them and, within a few hours, they had recovered from their brief despair and our relationship was back to normal. That was only possible because I have proven to them repeatedly, through our daily interactions, that I do care about their needs. Continue reading “Mother Love”

In the Gooey Center

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the title of this blog, Between. How apt this word is to describe what’s missing in most discussions about anything of relevance. How appropriate this word is to explain what I’m most interested in exploring through my writing.

I’ve been noticing how often my own views fall somewhere in the middle territory between the popularly accepted “pro” and “con” positions on an issue. This can be an uncomfortable place to sit, with strong forces pulling this way and that. We’re all supposed to be either for or against a thing. Anyone who claims to see both sides or tries to incorporate some of the good from each side in their position is said to be weak, wishy-washy, copping out, afraid to take a stand. But I think the space between is where most of us actually live.

The minute someone lays out a platform, someone else will find a point on which they disagree. The problem is the idea of absolutes, of purity in positions. Between the absolutes at each end of the spectrum lie an infinite number of fractional positions. Only the most extreme among us strictly adhere to the absolutes. I don’t need to work a full-time job to be a feminist. I don’t need to be anti-abortion to be pro-life. I don’t need to register as a Democrat to defend progressive ideals. I don’t need to be a Republican to care about balanced budgets.

Our common ground can be found in the gooey center. Though each of us is stuffed with contradictions, out in the world we are categorized, placed into one box or another, added to this or that list. My views seem extreme to some, mundane to others. But I bet I could find something in common with every person I bump up against. Maybe it would be only one thing, but that one thing could help us both recognize the humanity in each other. If you see me as a liberal and I see you as a conservative, but we each care about, say, preserving Medicare, why can we not come together to figure out a way to make it work? Continue reading “In the Gooey Center”

Election Aftermath

The past ten days have been rough. I have never before cried because of an election result, but I have cried multiple times since Hillary Clinton conceded. My body aches from the stress it is now holding. It has been a very long time since I physically held this much stress, and I know how bad for my body this is, and I know I must take steps to relieve my body of this stress. Writing here is one of those steps.

I am more afraid for my country now than I was after 9/11. That was an attack from the outside, a threat I knew everyone here would unite against. This is different. This is a threat perpetrated from the inside by my own countrymen and countrywomen, a calling to dismantle the very systems that have made the U.S. the free and prosperous country it has been for so long.

People are ascending to power who believe that they should control what the press is allowed to say about them, that they should control who is or isn’t allowed to call themselves American, that they should control how U.S. citizens define their own identities, that they should control what U.S. citizens can or cannot do with their own bodies.

Let’s not pretend this isn’t happening. Continue reading “Election Aftermath”

The Right Thing

I’ve been in a period of regrouping as of late. I’ve felt off track, or off the right track.

This isn’t the first time. I have a long history of becoming deeply involved in the wrong thing. I’m actually doing much better these days than back when I was a younger adult who stuck it out too long in the wrong relationships and the wrong career and ended up so sick I couldn’t leave my house.

I’ve learned how to let go of the wrong things sooner and how to avoid getting involved in absolutely wrong things in the first place.

I’m doing better. These days when I realize I’ve wandered onto the wrong path, it’s at least a path somewhere in the neighborhood of the right path. I know this, even if I haven’t yet figured out where the exact right path is. I’m close. I can feel it.

Still, there’s room for improvement. I would like not to be so susceptible to being led astray. It’s not even the lure of bright shiny things that woos me. It’s that I want so badly to be part of something meaningful, I’ll follow the wrong path too far, for too long. Continue reading “The Right Thing”