I'm probably a lot calmer and optimistic than a lot of my liberal friends right now. And several of them are very confused by that. And I get it. But my recent experiences have given me a really unique view into how people think and how, ultimately, while they might care about you, they will not sacrifice their self interests to serve what many of us consider the greater good. They just won't. And that's a hard lesson to learn, but I believe it's a fact.
And here's why:
A few years ago, I owned a pretty popular bar. People often commented on how inclusive we were and how they felt safe in the space that we had created. Some of our customers suggested we get involved in the neighborhood, so we created a community association and planted a garden and cleaned up trash and eventually started raising money and turned it into a 501c3.
Life was good.
Shortly after we opened, a couple of other businesses opened in our neighborhood. They said that they supported the work that we were doing. They did not show up to our community association meetings or garden plantings or clean-ups (save for 1 of the businesses, a few times out of the 5 years that we held them), but they verbally supported our work. Once, one of them donated something that they had no use for, that ended up being useful to us. So life was still good.
And then politics.
One of the newer businesses wanted to put new signs up and down our street and they wanted to choose everything about the signs. Some other people, myself included, wanted the signs to reflect the diversity of the neighborhood and include long standing businesses AS WELL AS newer businesses in the decision making process.
It got ugly. And local politicians got involved. And ultimately, the newer business just wore us down until we finally threw up our hands and said, "whatever." And they put up their signs.
Throughout this process, one of the newer businesses said some really terrible things about me. That I was a thief. That I turned a bunch of local businesses into governing organizations to try and get them shut down. That I was a giant piece of shit. That I gave myself more credit than I deserved because really, I didn't do that much.
It was emotionally devastating. So, of course, I was emotional about it. So then I was just this emotional, hysterical woman who needed to calm down and relax and let things go. People distanced themselves from me because, as it turns out, you're not much fun to be around when people are trying to destroy your life.
Then, another newer neighboring business who we were friends with, jumped on the bandwagon and told most of our mutual customers that I was a piece of shit who had turned them into governing organizations to try and get them shut down. Like the other things that had been said, this was 100% not true. And this one hurt worse than anything else that had happened. I had actually volunteered at this business and tried to help them on the road to success. I literally got on my hands and knees and scrubbed their floors. It was a blatant lie that I had turned them in and they offered no proof, but the rumor persisted and the business owners wouldn't even talk to me about it.
Now - some of my "friends" stuck by me through this. To my knowledge, only a couple of them were willing to defend me publicly, due to not wanting to get involved in the "drama." But as time passed, many of them forgot or just didn't seem to care that two neighboring businesses had engaged in activity designed to put us out of business.
And ultimately, our business suffered. And so did my health. And we closed our business.
This is the edited version of events. In truth, it lasted nearly two years, was devastating on an unimaginable level, led to me nearly killing myself and took a whole lot of hard work to recover from.
So you would expect that your friends would not support businesses that engaged in such terrible behavior. That they would take a stand on your behalf.
But, the thing is...no. If it doesn't affect them negatively and those businesses are the place to be on First Fridays and First Sundays, then that is where they will be. And you will constantly see pictures of them in these places on your facebook timeline. And they will invite you to events at the very businesses who were directly responsible for some of the worst years of your life. And you will drive up and down the same street every day and see those new signs and remember how the people who put them up said that this community didn't matter. And the next day, you will see members of the community who don't matter embracing the very business who said that they don't matter.
No one cares. And there are no repercussions.
This is true. This is how people think. This is how they act. They may care about you, but they will always take care of themselves first. If taking care of themselves first might hurt you, they're still going to take care of themselves first. If someone does really terrible things to someone that they care about, but overall the person "isn't that bad," then they are probably still going to support that person.
And in this election, that's what 1/2 of America did. They took care of themselves and those closest to them first. They discounted the terrible things because of the good things they saw. And I don't like it, but I now understand that that's how people think. So really...this isn't as shocking to me. I learned my lesson in the hardest way possible.
And there are those who would say, "well, this isn't the same thing. Don't make excuses for people. You weren't in danger. No one was beating you up or spitting in your face or threatening to kill you."
And that's true. That's not what my experience looked like. What my experience looked like was an artist organization bullying me online and calling radio stations to tell them I had no right to be on the air. Paying visits to neighboring businesses and telling them to stay away from me. People calling me a thief and a liar. Losing business so fast that we could barely afford to eat and pay our bills. Multiple doctors appointments to deal with the depression and anxiety and confusion. Missed work days. Weight loss. And finally, sleeping with a scalpel next to my bed every night just in case I finally got the courage to just kill myself.
The thing is, I'm actually better for what happened to me. It taught me to look at life differently. It taught me to stop putting my faith in politicians. It taught me to keep most people at a distance but to hold my tribe close. It taught me that no matter how deep your pain, if people can't empathize with you, they will more than likely believe you are over-reacting. It taught me that people will lie about you and that people will believe it, even without a shred of evidence to back up the lie. We live in an age where people get their facts from memes. Of course the lie is easier to believe. Who wants to do the work to search beyond the image you're presented with?
I HATE that it happened, but I finally saw how people really are and figured out the person that I want and need to be. It strengthened my belief in personal integrity - that if you stand for something, you stand for it all of the way. So I love people better these days. And I'm a little more in tune with how they think. I'm not naive. I'm very careful with my heart and my hope and... I just see CLEARER.
Look - I wish that people I knew would have stood up for me and boycotted the businesses that hurt me, I really do. Or tried to talk to them about what was happening or defended me. But I also didn't encourage them to. When they offered, I told them to make their own decisions. I tried to play it strong and neutral. I guess I was playing politics, too. And most of them chose to continue supporting those businesses and not get involved in any way. That's where the crowd goes, that's the routine, that's where their friends are, it's in their best interest to keep going and not make waves. No matter how much they love me and no matter how much it hurts, they're going to take care of themselves first.
That's the nature of people. I'm still friends with a lot of these people. I don't hate them. I don't think they're awful people. I don't think that they actually wanted me to kill myself. They just served their own interests over mine.
I don't like it...but I get it. And I get that that's what happened with most people this election. So I'm trying to practice empathy and understand people who I completely disagree with, rather than demonize them. Without a doubt, some of them are really terrible people. But some of them....they just did exactly what people did to me - they took care of their interests first. And if I can still call those people friends, then I can certainly practice empathy with conservatives. I can hear them out and share stories of the marginalized so that perhaps we can get to a point where we care for the interests of each other as well as ourselves. I don't know how we get there, but I'm willing to do the work to try.
(photo via Peoria Journal Star)