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Truth and Consequences

When I was twelve years old, these were some of my truths:

  1. Being a college graduate was not a life goal, it was a life requirement.
  2. If you were “on welfare,” you were lazy.
  3. People who never left their hometown were under achievers.
  4. Getting anything but an A on a test or a report card was a failure.
  5. A woman who isn’t employed outside the home isn’t living up to her potential

These weren’t really truths at all.

They were assumptions that I had formed based on a variety of circumstances. Both of my parents were college graduates, both had travelled widely before getting married, and both lived thousands of miles from their hometowns. My mom had always worked at least part time, and much of her identity was wrapped up in her job. My parents’ friends were also transplants from all over the country, and very few lived in the same community where they grew up.

They were also inferences based on my limited life experience. If I applied myself and studied, I was always rewarded with an A. My classmates who lived in public housing and came to school unprepared did poorly in school, and my parents always talked about where my brother and I would go to college not if we would.

They were opinions based on conversations I overheard when a group of adults got together. My young brain still thought that adults who were “successful” knew everything.

And so, I entered my adolescence armed with what I thought were life’s truth and with an attitude that anyone could get A’s, graduate from college, and earn a good salary if they just applied themselves.

That’s how I entered adolescence.

I left adolescence a much different person. I had sometimes done my best and failed anyway. I had been exposed people who had different ideas and different backgrounds but whom I respected. And, maybe most importantly, my simplistic ideas about right and wrong had been challenged by people who were smarter and more experienced than I was. My truths hadn’t been rooted in reality but in a warped sense of judgement that people who weren’t like me or my family were in the wrong.

On Wednesday, I was reminded about the importance of not only admitting you have been wrong, misinformed or just plain ignorant but of also being willing to change.

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance whose adult child had recently come out as transgender. We were talking about the challenge of accepting and loving our children while still trying to grasp the reality of who they are. We talked about how, when we were younger, our only exposure to people who were transgender was through pop culture when it was generally used as a device to generate humor. My most vivid memory is of the Bud Light guys who dressed up like women so they could get drink deals during ladies night at the local bar.

What we didn’t talk about was the vitriol, blame, and hate that was currently circulating on social media. Only two days earlier, an individual who was raised as a female and had recently started identifying as a male killed six people at a Christian school in Nashville Tennessee. This fact allowed judgmental, narrow-minded people with a reason to blame the transgender community. “It’s not about guns,” they screamed. “It’s about mental illness and a lack of morals.”

Last time I checked, a lot of very mentally healthy people are transgender. In fact, making the change has greatly improved their mental health. Also, the fact that I was born female and identify as female has absolutely nothing to do with my morals. Morals are about how we treat and provide positive opportunities for other people. That’s it. It’s that simple. And yet, for many people it’s not. They hold on tightly to what they know to be true: transgender people are sick, drag queens are a danger to children, and exposing young students to a statue of a naked man will create lasting damage to their psyche.

I know those aren’t truths at all. They are simply consequences of being misinformed and fearful of something that’s difficult for many to understand. It’s about being resistant to change and growth. It’s about thinking that the way you live and the choices you make are the best way to live rather than just one way to live.

I admit I get angry when I see and hear narrow-minded people making hateful comments about others’ sexual orientation, or gender identity. I struggle at not lashing back and saying “these are real people you are talking about. They are someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend. You are the one with something morally wrong.” And then I remember who I used to be and that people can grow, change, and learn to accept our differences.

If I can change, so can others.

It’s a truth I have to hold on to tightly.

My Gut Reaction to Senseless Tragedy

obamaquoteOn an intellectual level, I have absolutely no idea why I’m writing this particular blog entry.

On an emotional level, I have to write it.

Over the next few weeks, volumes will be written about the shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. My own thoughts will be just a mere drop in a sea of ideas and opinions.

And since I usually write to inform, persuade or sometimes to simply vent, having my voice heard should matter.

But there are times when I write just to get my thoughts in order. This is one of those times.

I, like so many Americans, am overcome with grief and frustration about an event that involved no one I know yet affected everyone I know.

I am also filled with guilt because, initially, I didn’t even take notice of  the shootings. I was logging into my email account to send a message about my children’s latest accomplishments when I saw a headline that there had been a shooting at a Connecticut school.  Absorbed in my own life, my only thought was, “Here we go again.” And then I forgot about headline until later in the day.

How sad is that?

Shootings have become such common events that I, a person who hates violence, wasn’t initially shocked or curious.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a society in which many of us don’t even pay attention to violence until multiple people are shot to death. We should be upset with every violent word, gesture and action. Instead, we are immune to all but the most heinous of events.

And when such events do occur, we turn to each other and ask, “how could this happen?”

In reality, we already know the reasons. We just fear addressing them because anything we say might turn into a political debate rather than a rational discussion.

The time has come for rational discussion.

We know that too many people suffer from undiagnosed, untreated or mismanaged mental illness. Sometimes the families dealing with such an illness don’t know how to cope or where to get help. Sometimes they can’t get the help anyway. Services are expensive, and waiting lists far exceed the need. Often, mental health services aren’t even integrated with other health and social services. And then there are the people complaining about their tax dollars being used to pay for services for people who can’t hold down a job. Guess what? People with mental health issues often have a very difficult time maintaining employment, and, as a society, we lack a comprehensive system to deal with the complicated issues.  Time and time again, the warning signs are obvious, but we either don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn or realize there simply is no place to turn.

We know that too many people who should never have access to guns obtain them anyway. Yes, sometimes people will find ways to access guns even when barriers are in place to prevent it. Sometimes, there is no way of determining who will use guns inappropriately. And sometimes guns can be used to prevent, rather than commit, a crime. But that doesn’t excuse us from identifying more effective ways to better prevent gun violence.

The bottom line is that gun violence involves two things: people and guns.

Guns are material possessions that can be manufactured, sold and replaced.

People can’t be manufactured, shouldn’t be sold and can never be replaced.

Americans need to make a choice about our priorities and how to balance them. Only then can genuine discussion about preventing future tragedies realistically begin.

If we don’t have those discussions, we won’t develop effective solutions and will continue to believe that our only common ground is providing prayer and support for victims, their families and first responders.

If we continue down the path we are on, we might as well start praying  right now for all the future victims who could have been protected.