I’ve previously reflected on the need for spaces where people can speak freely. Where they can share thoughts that are generally considered taboo or inappropriate to say.
These spaces can come in many forms and cover a range of topics.
A therapist’s office, for example, can be a personal safe space. Where you can admit that you have a problem. Where you can speak the unspeakable and process intense experiences. It’s a deeply personal space, where you (mostly) won’t be judged for your thoughts, behaviors, or actions.
But what about collective spaces?
There are many efforts to develop such spaces – where communities can come together to discuss – and hopefully address – their collective challenges. But such spaces are fraught with challenges of their own.
First – what ideas or opinions are off-limits? Should someone who genuinely believes that homosexuality is abhorrent to their religious beliefs be able to express such an opinion? Or should such discrimination not be tolerated?
What about those (seemingly) well intended people compelled to make comments starting, “I mean, some of my best friends are black, BUT – ” You know that sentence will never end well.
Personally, I’m inclined towards being inclusive – even of offensive points a few. Assuming we all restrain ourselves from degenerating into a shouting match – if someone believes something discriminatory, I’d rather hear them say it.
I’d want to understand where that belief came from – and help them understand where that belief came from. And most of all, proselytizing though it may be, I’d want them to understand where I’m coming from.
I am rarely accused of being optimistic, but perhaps I am in this regard – I understand hate so little that I have to imagine a sustained, open dialogue would set people straight, so to speak. After all, there really are former white supremacists.
When the Massachusetts legislature decided not to pursue a constitutional amendment which would stop gay marriage, those legislators who dropped their opposition to same sex marriage overwhelmingly shared that it was the stories of people, just people, that changed their minds.
And here’s the next challenge. Perhaps these spaces are important. Perhaps these conversations are important. But it shouldn’t always be on the LGBT community to speak out against homophobia. It shouldn’t always be on people of color to speak out against racism. It shouldn’t always be on women to speak out against sexism. It shouldn’t always be on religious minorities to speak out about religious discrimination. It shouldn’t be.
It’s not their job to go around educating every yahoo with a loud mouth and a chip on their shoulder. It’s really not.
These conversations need to happen, this education needs to happen, but it’s on all of us. It’s on all of us to create safe spaces, civil dialogue, and collectively learning. To push back on discrimination and microagressions and all the stupid little things that people don’t even know are wrong.
None of us can speak to another’s experience, but we can speak from our own experience, and we can speak to the betterment of the collective whole. We can speak up for what we know is right, and speak up in favor of acceptance, openness and understanding.
We can stand together, and talk together, and work together.
And yes, slowly but surely, we can improve together.