I was asked by Brilliant Son before the election last fall what I thought was the most positive change in our country in recent years. My answer was that the narrow band of acceptable, “normal,” is broadening. Six months ago I thought this was true. I now think I jumped the gun.
Many of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s were told to “be ourselves.” Free to Be, You and Me anyone? Except if you’re not a white Christian American. Except if you’re gay, and particularly if you want to be married to your partner. Except if you want to dress or cut your hair outside our social norms, or behave in a way we consider unusual. Except if you are not suited to the gender you were born and there is no personal pronoun for you. Or maybe you're a nasty woman who doesn't know her place. Then we don’t much care to have you be yourself.
As a certified Midwestern, middle-class, white, suburban, educated, soccer mom-type – the wonder-est of Wonder Bread – my comfort level with difference has limits. I can make warp speed judgments. I work against those judgments every day.
Part of the struggle is figuring out who ourselves are, and the other is getting over the fear of putting those selves out there for everyone else’s judgment. Those who do so with grace are, in my book, heroes.
I listen to podcasts when I’m on the road. Lately I have listened to podcasts about a man, a teacher in Wyoming, who prefers to wear girly dresses and be called Cissy, but wants to stay his original gender. His wife is good with that, but he has received death threats for it. About a town in the Netherlands where mentally ill adults board with families, rather than in institutions. Instead of being “cured” to fit our standards, it is just accepted that sometimes John sees blue elephants in the room. About ethnic or racial stereotypes in restaurants, and how welcome (or not) people feel in those places. Heroes.
I describe this blog in my “About” tab at ordinaryvirtues.com like this:
“The focus of the blog will generally be on community. … Sometimes the blog will be about the physical attributes that are believed to contribute to placemaking – which is really just creating the infrastructure that makes a desirable place to live.
"Where I think placemaking falls short is that physical assets alone don’t make a desirable place. People are the heart and soul of a community. The physical assets can be created with civility, or without … Either way, they need people to be functional. The physical assets are made possible by acts and decisions guided (or not) by human civility, the ordinary virtues of people. … So sometimes the blog will be about the human side, our ordinary virtues that contribute to a community.”
It turns out that “making America great” means that difference and diversity are again marginalized, banned, or met with violence. There is precious little commitment in the big white house to the human side of our national community. Instead, hate speech and name-calling are normalized and we persecute or fear those outside the narrow band of People Who Look Like Us and Think Like Us. Our communities and our ordinary virtues and our hearts and souls suffer when all we know is Wonder Bread, when differences of opinion are met with intolerance, and when the color is stripped from the flag.
I want my community back.
My all-time favorite Springsteen song is My City of Ruins. This is a good live version in which he changes some of the lyrics at the end – I pray for strength, I pray for hope, I pray for peace. (I also recommend Eddie Vedder’s cover.) It seems right for these times and I’ve been humming it a lot lately. In my next life I’m coming back as one of his backup singers. Come on, rise up.
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