Through another lens
By Jackie Morfesis and Emily Havener
There are times when stepping back, taking a breath and widening our vision not only of ourselves but others is necessary. This certainly feels like one of those times. This shift into seeing with a wider lens is not only crucial but radical and transformative.
We have all been witness to the firestorm that has engulfed our world, our nation and our personal lives. The firestorm fueled by a pandemic, injustice, and social and political causes and concerns. In the midst of this storm, we truly need to ask ourselves: “Who am I in this cauldron of confusion and uncertainty and what may I do to contribute positively as a member of my community and a member of the greater humanity?”
Where can we stand to allow us to see, as objectively as possible, our commonalities as opposed to our differences? Our identity does not need to be limited by the stereotypes of our vote. When we divest ourselves from taking a polarized position, we’re releasing the weight of an ideology, an agenda we need to prove. It allows us to exercise freely our compassion and mercy for everyone.
We all have memories. Moreover, we all have life experiences that inform how we see, react, and respond to the world. And these all serve valid and valuable purposes. However, when they are so constructed and foundationally immovable, they do not allow life to be fluid and they do not allow us to entertain the myriad of possibilities that the universe may be seeking to unfold right before us.
If anything, this season of change has shown us how absolutely polarized we have become — not only in our politics but sorely and sadly in our mercy. We were all affected by the calls for social justice. And we were affected by the rioting that escalated in contrast and contradiction to the peaceful protests. Is it possible to have compassion for those seeking social justice as well as those who were the unwitting victims of looting, vandalism, and arson? Is it possible to have compassion for all who were assaulted, even murdered? Or as is the case, paralyzed or permanently injured? Including civilians, first responders, and law enforcement?
I am and will always be nonviolent. I will always stand for all victims of violence and not only because I was the victim of home arson and physical assault during a store robbery but because for me it is profoundly a soul issue. The events of this past summer, many of which are still flaring in parts of our country, like embers, have not been extinguished. Wildfires not of nature but from the very real emotions of human nature, rage, anger, that are not contained and this is the true tragedy.
These are deep and philosophical ideas, but they need to be very plainly addressed. We have the capacity to be the ones who stand on the bridge. Yes. The ones who stand on the bridge and welcome everyone to stand with us. To be open to hearing everyone’s story. To be willing to comfort anyone in their distress. To seek to truly see each other instead of having a preconceived idea about each other’s lives. We no longer have to have fear about giving or being taken advantage of, knowing that we receive in the very moment we give.
Emily and I had a conversation about re-envisioning our world, or at least how we choose to see the world. We are two women who are willing to take a step back. And in doing so, we hope to relate that there is a place and space for everyone to be heard, understood and valued. In this time of uncertainty and concern, even chaos, not only for our physical but mental and emotional health, perhaps it demands us to enlarge not only our hearts and minds but our spirit.
Americans are increasingly looking at their politics through the lens of identity. Political scientist Patrick Egan identified in a 2019 paper that Americans are even adjusting other aspects of their identity, such as racial identification, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, to align with the stereotype of their stated politics, rather than the other way around. On one hand, this speaks to the fervor with which many Americans are embracing their civic responsibility. On the other, it explains the increasingly two-dimensional polarization of our country around political parties.
At this point, politics has begun to look like the problem rather than the solution. Fortunately, I don’t think politics can be the solution. Politics carries with it the idea that we know what is best for other people whose lives resemble ours not at all. It turns individuals into groups, stereotypes, numbers — and the enemy.
I think we are required to be more human than that. We are focusing on winning rather than on caring, understanding or acting in others’ best interests. We want to propose solutions and ideologies because we feel they should be right, not necessarily because they actually work to improve the lives of individuals and the state of our country at large. If the goal is to truly make the world a better place, we have to acknowledge two things: We will not achieve perfection by human means, no matter how inspired or well-intentioned. If any effort at reform excludes the input of an entire group of people, then it falls far short of perfection.
I can say this with confidence because I count among my close friends and family members people with political views across the spectrum of political orientation. As a result I find myself unable to buy into the negative stereotypes of either of these political belief systems. All these people I’ve known for years to be intelligent and to genuinely care about others. I cannot (and don’t) agree with everything they think, but I’m forced to confront that the values that influence their perspectives must be taken seriously — and that they are people worthy of respect, love, and, when they make mistakes, forgiveness.
This speaks to something higher than a political truth or identity. It is imperative that we be able to step outside our political “team” and not just listen but actually care about how other human beings are experiencing daily life. There must be something more important than political affiliation we use to gauge the worth of other human beings — and the worth of ourselves.
What’s the practical implication of this? If we are so tied to our political identity that we let it shape and influence every other area of our lives, we are less likely to be impacted by interactions with real people who have different needs. We are less likely to act with compassion and responsibility toward fellow human beings if confronted with a reality that does not align with our political views. Why? Because our total identity is threatened.
We must begin the separation of politics and identity when we consider ourselves and others, and go deeper into what we really believe about life and humanity than political affiliation is able to take us. We must have the courage to challenge our insecurities about who we are and what others will think of us if we act or think outside of our political identity. As Jackie illustrated above, what is most important is how we respond to people in crisis outside of the context of what we embrace or disavow.