Revolt of the frogs: honesty is worth the risk
Although it may feel like our culture and institutions have pivoted overnight, in reality their change has been gradual. Those of us who are ideologically homeless today were the unwitting frogs in the increasingly hot water of yesterday—who only just realized that we were being boiled alive. For a long time, I thought I was alone in that pot, but I was wrong. Like many others, I have hopped out of it—and so should you.
More and more we are being asked to pledge fealty to a new and regressive set of ideas and beliefs. We are now expected to view ourselves and others based almost entirely on group identity. To stray outside of the through line of acceptable jargon is heresy, even sacrilege. One misstep and exile is on the table. To suddenly hold a minority opinion within a minority group is an incredibly isolating experience. Those who share your identity start to pull away because your ideas make them feel uneasy. Ideals that were once shared—like not judging individuals based on skin color—are now considered unacceptable. The goal posts have shifted and everyone has rushed to keep up with an ever-changing status quo. Those of us labeled “contrarian” or “heterodox” have been left standing at the fifty-yard line without a clear understanding of what team we’re on, or whether we should even have to choose a team in the first place.
Couldn’t we all use a timeout? We need to exit the field, take off the pads and helmets, and have a good faith discussion about our differences without fear of being attacked for saying the wrong thing. In order to come up with practical solutions to real problems, we need to begin with the assumption that those who disagree with us have good intentions; they simply see the world differently.
Our culture has lost sight of the value of nuance and complexity. We want everything (other than gender, ironically) to exist in a binary—we’re all either racists or anti-racists, feminists or misogynists, Zionists or anti-Zionists, evil or compassionate. These simple binaries almost always miss the mark, and by relying on them we allow opportunities for deeper insight to devolve into tribal warfare.
People scramble for their pitchforks after viewing a thirty-second video clip of someone on social media doing or saying something seemingly unconscionable. From those thirty seconds, we purport to know all there is to know about someone, or at least enough to deem them good or evil, worthy or unworthy. Was this person going through a difficult time in their life? Did they have a painful childhood? Do they have a psychological disorder they can’t fully control? These and other plausible possibilities are rarely considered before writing people off. We don’t seem to care about or consider their better moments—the times when they put good into the world instead of bad. Instead we condemn them without knowing the complexities of their full life story.
This projected binary between good and evil contradicts everything I know to be true about being human. The beliefs that align closely enough with our tribe’s prevailing orthodoxy are considered “good,” and those that depart are “evil.” No nuance necessary. The voices of the reasonable majority on both sides tend to get drowned out by the loudest and angriest—who are also, quite often, the least prepared to offer real solutions.
It is time for this reasonable majority to stop operating in the shadows. As our society appears to be losing itself in a sea of madness, some of us have jumped ship and begun swimming to whichever side will take us in. I have watched in disbelief as many of my peers denounced their friends as “oppressors” because of their immutable characteristics, and ostracized anyone with a differing opinion. At its root, this intolerance stems from fear: the fear that if they refuse to participate in these new witch trials, they will be next at the stake; the fear of being labeled a bigot on social media and being shunned by their friends; the fear of losing their jobs. I have endured all of these things myself, and I’m here to tell you that the fear of these things is a lot worse than the actual things themselves.
It has hurt to lose people I believed were my friends. Some of them I was sure would never leave my side. I thought we were close enough to know that even when we disagreed, our hearts were still in the same place. But the virtues of civil disagreement have been so thoroughly eroded that even close friendships cannot always resist the deeply-ingrained human instinct to go along with one’s tribe.
My message to the frogs is this: To strive for human rights for all, for freedom of speech in its purest form, for a colorblind approach to humanity, is worth it whatever the cost. Even if you doubt yourself along the way—especially if you doubt yourself along the way. Doubt keeps us honest and allows us to honestly engage with those we disagree with. To sharpen or modify our positions when presented with new information.
We aren’t always going to be the hero of every story, but we can try our best to stick to our principles and stand up for the truth. Those who love you will stand by your side. Every time we dare to tell the truth—that we are so much more than our skin color, sex, gender, and sexuality—life starts feeling a little lighter.
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