I work very hard and consciously to try to understand and empathize with people, especially people I disagree with. It’s partially because my parents raised me to think critically and challenge my own opinions. It’s also because I hang my hat in more than one world. Particularly relevant to my emotions today: I was raised in a homogeneous, politically conservative Christian environment and now work at a refugee resettlement agency which resettles families from multiple continents, Christians, Muslims, and nonreligious alike.
In order to maintain good relationships and keep conversations peaceful, I do a lot of listening, a lot of trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes to get insight onto why they hold the opinions or fears they do, a lot of devil’s advocacy with myself, a lot of awkward laughing, a lot of reassuring myself they probably didn’t mean that joke, a lot of clenching my jaw through patronizing rants from people who don’t bother fact-checking anything.
And honestly sometimes it is very difficult and exhausting-emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually-to continue to stretch and bend to try to understand people who themselves do not-who refuse-to try to understand. But yet I plow through and listen and process and I labor to understand and respect them.
Then on days like today it feels like I’ve been stripping and stripping away nasty layers only to find there is no better explanation, no additional insight that lets me excuse their cold behavior or cruel words. I just find hate. I just find evil lies. I just find the laziness of the mind and heart that makes those hate and lies grow like weeds.
And as I desperately search for another angle and try on another pair of disgusting shoes, I replay the times they made me laugh, the good memories we have made together, the qualities that made me care about them in the first place, wishing I had that kind of heart that turns cold in times like these. But I don’t. I have the heart that slowly cracks then falls violently and painfully apart, again and again and again and again.
It’s rare that this happens, but today I am tired of trying to understand.
I am tired of being rudely brushed off when I politely try to correct misconceptions about the very job I do 40 hours a week and the people I work with Monday through Friday from people who can’t even correctly define what a refugee is, much less explain the refugee process. I am tired of getting over snarky comments about the woman in the hijab, when I know the woman in the hijab. I have seen her nurse her baby. She has cried in my office. She has made me try her baklava. I am tired of having people who have never met a Muslim condescendingly and incorrectly summarize Islam to me from an article they read on a xenophobic website, when I am the one who has been learning about it directly from Muslims themselves for over a year. I have been asking the questions. I have been listening to the answers. I am tired of reaching for reasons to excuse the inability to state a stance without unnecessarily directing nastiness toward people I love deeply, people whose character would put you to shame.
Don’t you see it?
You are being terribly ugly. It is not your perceived enemies. It is you. You are being ugly and there really is nothing more to it.