A little over a year ago, I realized it was possible for me to fall a little in love with a lot of people, if I let myself. This realization came ten months after I decided that I would spend the 40 days of Catholic Lent (I had a lot of Catholic friends) actively liking people I met, because this is a quality I admired in several people I knew. The habit of liking people I met mostly stuck, even if I still instantly gravitate toward some people more quickly than others.
Learning to let myself fall a little in love with a lot of people was difficult because I have a tremendously hard time trusting people or believing in people. It meant letting more of my heart rest of my sleeve, more willingness to let myself be hurt by people. It meant I had to accept that people act the ways they do for myriad reasons. It still frustrates me when I talk to someone who disagrees deeply with something I’m passionate about. I still struggle to find things to talk about with them, to find reasons to remind myself of their humanity, to fall a little in love with their gestures or posture, their words, the way I see them interact with the world around them. A friend once called my seeking these small things to love about people a predatory act where I was looking for people’s weaknesses, how the willingness to show weakness was a privilege.
Maybe he has a point. But I thought, and continue to think, it’s not about finding weakness, but about finding moments of others’ inner strength that shine through, or moments that seem to define a person’s humanity. I’m sure this speaks to my values and morals, but this act of learning to fall a little in love with a lot of people is really about me consciously starting to break down the walls I built around myself, starting to allow people in — or if not in, allowing myself the space to care more about other people as people.
Another friend warned that it would only lead to hurt and I realized that I was okay with that — that I wasn’t allowing myself to hurt often enough, that I wasn’t allowing myself opportunities to get to know people because I was so afraid of being hurt. I not only robbed others of their humanity, to some degree, but robbed myself of my humanity.
I bring this up as I watch us — all of us? Americans? — continue to villianize other people, or to just make the statement “I don’t care…” I hear this far too often, not only from the youth I work with, but from adults. We’re living in an age of apathy about things around us and also the people around us. We use media to numb us, encourage the general dehumanizing of others through the use of violent language. We pretend we’re better than that.
I bring this up, in part, out of anger for a comment a co-worker said earlier today, when she said “All Hispanics are so caring…” Broad generalizations really piss me off, especially in a state where the vast majority of the population is white, especially in a workplace where we don’t do anything to try and better serve the Hispanic community. And perhaps I bring this up because this coworker always presents “concern” about other groups in a slightly critical way, a way that I find problematic without being able to pinpoint exactly what I find problematic.
If we all allow ourselves to fall a little in love with a lot of people — perhaps especially people who aren’t like us — and then use that love to build new understanding, as a basis for understanding, a foundation for conversations, then maybe we can begin to move out of this country-wide stagnation where we’ve stopped listening to each other, where we keep yelling at each other or ignoring each other’s existence, where we’re afraid to let our children play outside, where movements like Occupy Homes are necessary just to help build awareness of our neighbors’ humanity.