Balance. So many things in life come back to balance. While the extremes are always far more exciting, inspiring conviction, passion, and action, they are not sustainable.
Neither is balance, though. It’s incredibly sensitive and spineless, vulnerable to the whims of either side, not really favoring one over the other. It sways, it’s pushed and pulled, and the line between the opposing dichotomies wavers constantly, oftentimes predictably but sometimes not.
The difference between the polar sides and the balance point, while they’re both unobtainable, is that one offers a choice between a very happy few with everyone else getting increasingly unhappy as they fall closer and closer to the other side. The choice depends on which side is happy and which is not. Alternatively, where there is balance, there is compromise. Everyone lives harmoniously together, but everyone’s making some sacrifice here or there. People are generally happy, but not hedonistically so.
And so, for everyone’s sake, balance is usually the goal. Balance is threatened when, inevitably, an oppressor of sorts comes along, obtains and wields great power that obviously and unapologetically favors one side, disenfranchising and disregarding all others, and no one else from that side can or will do anything about it.
For the record, this is an extreme example made for the sake of proving a point. Take that and apply that as you will.
Usually, the oppressor and their followers are driven by avarice and pride, or various other combinations of deadly sins. Either way, a little bit of power can go a long way. Have you ever seen someone’s entire world view change once they got a substantial raise? Their way of living is altered, seemingly for the better but not always so. Sure, they can afford more things, but what are things when their character has been compromised? Their views of the world change, which often results in them forgetting the struggle they only recently knew so well. Whatever frugality they once held in esteem, they now look down upon, even though waste for the sake of indulgence is still not an aspirational trait.
And with their updated world view, they forget those who are still in the position they were just in. They justify their newfound disdain for “the poor” by asserting to themselves and to anyone who will listen that they got out of their situation by their own merit and virtue. They worked hard. They wanted the American dream, so they went after it.
They don’t take into account the myriad of external factors that can contribute to someone’s success or lack of it.
Compassion and empathy are gone.
Again, this is an extreme example that isn’t actually that extreme, because I guarantee we all know at least someone like this.
I’m currently sitting in a very popular coffee shop in Houston. In some ways, it pioneered a gentrification movement in the east downtown (EaDo) part of town. It’s built in an old warehouse – plenty of seating, floor-to-ceiling windows, free WiFi, French macarons, latte art, Instagram-worthy corners and lighting and succulents – you get it.
But literally across the street from this spot is a tent city. Beneath the overpass of the Eastex Freeway are homeless people standing just far enough from the “elite” who get to sit inside. It’s cozy in here, and tonight is the first night of the season when temperatures will drop below freezing in Houston. Those outside are bundled beneath extra blankets, some wrapped in coats and scarves, some not. One of them is sweeping the curb with a janitor’s broom, keeping the place tidy.
Funny how a single pane of glass can separate two entirely different worlds, both literally looking the other in the face, but not comprehending the life of the other.
The “other” is the problem.
We are all the “other” to someone somewhere.
Let’s try one of these.
Have you ever met someone who was obsessively pro-life, but had already willingly had their own child aborted?
Or have you ever met someone who immigrated to this country (illegally, I might add) and then wanted to stop anyone else from doing so?
Or have you ever met anyone who was gay, found Jesus, and then decided that no one else could ever be gay because they personally know better now, never mind the fact that a religious journey is an incredibly personal one and can’t be forced or imposed on anyone else?
These are all examples of people I’ve actually met and interacted with. Some of them I consider friends. It’s very hard to even get them to see your point of view on things (even though they once shared your point of view), let alone convince them to just let you live your own life without their interference.
Ignorance and apathy are everywhere, even if they only exists for the sake of perpetuating one’s own ideas of what the world is or should be.
Case in point…
One time I was talking to this guy. I’ll give you the profile, for reference – white, male, upper 30s, well-educated and working in a professional capacity. I don’t really remember the context of the entire conversation, but at some point, the #MeToo movement came up. Whatever I’d said about it, the guy responded,
“Oh, come on. This stuff doesn’t actually happen or affect your life.”
I was almost left speechless by his remark, and for those of you who know me personally, you know that never happens.
The moral of this brief and telling story is that just because something isn’t a part of your reality doesn’t mean it’s not an active and reliable aspect of someone else’s. Or, just because you don’t see something with your own eyes doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Or, just because you’re arrogant enough to believe that you know all about someone else’s life, what they’re facing, what they’re afraid of, what and who they love, how they grew up, or why they generally are the way they are, you still don’t have the right to make decisions on their behalf, diminish their concerns, or patronize their struggle.
And anotha’ one.
One time I went to a more rural suburb of Houston. This town isn’t that far outside of Houston. For those of you who are wondering, the town is Alvin, Texas. It’s not my favorite place, but to each their own. If I never have to go to Alvin again, that’d be fine.
Anyway, Alvin is close enough to Houston, the most diverse city in Texas, to where they have to come into the city a bit to go to the mall. When they go to that mall, I guarantee you they see people from all walks of life. Most ethnicities, religious groups, sexual orientations, tax brackets, etc. are represented in that mall. If you simply open your eyes and see the people around you, you’ll realize how closely and intimately these various groups live with one another. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time there. That mall paid for my undergraduate degree.
So, I walked into a shop in Alvin one day. Who knows what I was even doing there in the first place. Two older ladies behind the counter were chatting. I didn’t think anything of it as I’m not usually one to assume self-importance in situations like this. One of the ladies finally looked up, smiled, and said, “You’re so pretty.”
Interesting. I was immediately skeptical about what was to follow.
“Thank you,” I replied.
“We can’t figure out where you’re from. Are you black or Hispanic?”
There it was.
Now, I have to be careful in situations like these. My face can be very telling, especially if I’m not impressed with the person or people in front of me. I’m not very patient with people and I was already not happy to be in Alvin, Texas. To be safe, I defaulted to what I consider to be some of my personal best practices for life. You’re welcome to try them out for yourself.
First, you have to remember that they’re older and deserve some semblance of respect. Fine, I can manage that. Second, you have to consider the intentions of the other person. Are they being racist or are they simply just so ignorant about the world that they don’t know that the entire continent of Asia (and its billions of people) is a thing?
I went with the latter because it’s not nice to call people racists, especially when I don’t know them outside of this particular interaction.
“Neither. My ancestry is Indian.” They were surprised by the answer, told me I was “exotic,” which is a flattering and generally well-intended way of telling someone you’re not obviously white or black, and then I left, never to return.
So, the Democrats flipped the House of Representatives.
What does any of what I said have to do with this?
For the first time, I feel kind of represented in my representative government. There are brown girls in the House…Muslim women no less, one who wears the hijab and one who doesn’t. I’m almost more grateful for the one who doesn’t wear it. I don’t think people realize women like that exist and walk among them. The average age of Congress has been brought down by about a decade. People in their 30s – those of us who are considered millennials but never grew up “winning” participation trophies – have a voice. There are openly LGBTQ men and women in there. There are Native Americans in there. There are more women in there.
The House is finally starting to look more and more like the America we all actually live in. And that matters.
PS, a note on Stan Lee…
I don’t normally eulogize celebrities when they pass away, but I realize that I owe a lot to Stan Lee. Those who read my blog somewhat regularly can attest to how often I refer to Marvel, however nonchalantly.
No, I never met the guy. No, I’ve never bought a comic book. But yes, I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. X-Men was my favorite.
As I got older, I watched all of the MCU movies.
And their messages were never lost on me. The parallels that were driven between our world and an incredibly complex fictional one could not be ignored. They were presented unapologetically and nearly controversially. Anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention could see their own reality within the one being presented.
Because humanity, whether enriched with alien super powers or billions of dollars or fortuitous genetic mutations, is still rooted in humanity. There is good that’s worth fighting the bad for. And there’s hope in a better, brighter, safer tomorrow.
Thank you, Stan Lee.