I have edged around this subject before
But one of the biggest factors in my early efforts at personal growth (though it would be many years before I began quantifying it so, in my own head) was this thing I did in trying to understand first my own behaviors better, and then that of others around me
I would try to think of that behavior in terms of how it could have evolved to be a thing a human, did
Maybe not even the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ answer, but just -something, an idea that made it more understandable, gave it a framing through which that single action- no longer seemed quite so…ineffable.
The examples I used before were things like fears of spiders, and avoidance of things like moldy sponges, but this can be done with everything, I feel like.
I almost feel like the course of insights I’ve had over my life could potentially be described as a process of identifying these sorts of things, with greater and greater granularity.
I don’t know about all that.
What I do know
is that I try to never stop at: ‘that’s weird.’
Everything is connected, nothing exists in a vacuum.
There is a reason for everything.
If we take the time to look, and to ask questions, and to think.
Everything people do, I feel like- can be boiled down, ultimately- to a small number of instinctive trends we’ve evolved.
Cultural stuff that emphasizes physical facial symmetry, or things like strength/fertility
That stuff kept our species alive, at one point in our history
Cultural stuff that emphasizes intelligence, rationality – over physical appeal
Reflects a change in evolutionary direction, to address the growing complexity of the modern world
But the desire to be appealing, in itself- lies at the root of both of those cultural tendencies
Humans as Mad Libs.
What paths we think we should pursue, to be most appealing- these are incredibly variable.
Pick your adjective, basically!
But the basic structure is mirrored across brains, across culture, across time itself.
Try it out. Think of a kind of person or ideology you just can’t imagine how anyone could possibly fall for, how anyone could possibly believe.
And then think.
Run through possible life events/circumstances that could potentially have led you to believing or doing such a thing.
Most of my growth in this area has been done The Hard Way.
I had zero empathy or respect for ‘drug addicts,’ until I became one.
Same with sex workers, and victims of domestic violence.
Even perpetrators of violence- I hit him back, once.
That was a thing I thought myself above.
I am above nothing, except through choice.
I believe that we all are.
But I do not believe it is necessary to learn this thing, The Hard Way.
I cannot teach you this thing. Cannot show you this thing.
I can only tell you that if you want to understand more of why people are the way they are – you must make an effort to observe.
Some people are overtly racist, but only because they haven’t had the right combination of experiences/guidance to help them look beyond such boundaries in perspective (perhaps even ALL people who are overtly racist!)
I met a fellow working in Alaska once, went by the nickname of Tex.
He had the outline of Texas tattooed on his elbow, a Confederate flag on his wall and as a belt buckle.
I talked to him some.
He’d been raised by his deeply traditional Southern grandmother, who had instilled in him a respect for women that came across to me as sexist (I was up there in between my freshman and sophomore year at UCSC!), and while he seemed like he wanted nothing more than to be a gentleman, he was quite open with his racist beliefs.
Initially, my brain stopped really listening. Dismissed him as a person worth having a real dialogue with.
When I realized that was what was happening, and also realized that was Santa Cruz acting on my brain, and not me, I tried asking him some questions.
I asked him why he disliked minorities.
He immediately mentioned the culture of violence. He was from a small town on the border of Mexico, and had a friend in high school had been attacked by a young gang of kids from Mexico – they had ripped out all of the piercings fromhfrom friends’ face.
So I asked him if he’d met any Hispanic people who were not part of a gang.
“Well…. There was Pedro, but he wasn’t really Mexican.”
I don’t remember how the rest of the conversation went, precisely- But what happened next is still by far the thing that I am most proud of, in my life.
We didn’t really reach a full agreement, that day.
But several days later, I was sitting with a group of people outside a building.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I looked up, to see Tex looking nervous, agitated. He whispered that he needed to talk to me, motioned towards the corridor behind us.
Curious, expecting to be told about some disaster that had happened, I followed him inside.
He looked at me, stunned and searching – then gushed out something like: “Man, my parents are gonna be so mad when I get back home!! I don’t hate black people no more!!”
And I will never forget the grin on his face.
Just…emanating pure joy. The wonder of a child, first experiencing snow.
He told me excitedly all about how he’d never thought about it before, but he’d worked at a restaurant with two black cooks.
And they were really nice, and funny- not violent at all!
That moment changed my life as much as it seemed to have changed his.
I don’t know what happened to him, whether or not that insight stuck with him.
But the insight I gained stuck with me.
Tribalism is a thing we’ve evolved.
It totally makes sense in evolutionary terms, and I don’t believe it’s a thing we can just erase.
I believe the answer lies in expanding our ideas of what tribe we all belong to- to that of a living being.