Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Living In Harmony With Your Contradictions

The other week, a friend asked me what I've gotten out of my two plus years of blogging. She’s not a blogger herself, so I started with the usual pleasantries about the great community that encourages and inspires me, etc. "But there has to be more to it than that, right?" she asked. "You’re too invested in blogging for it to just be that." I couldn't answer her then, but I think I can now.

Blogging has shown me what a bubble I've lived in all my life. This might not endear me to all of you, but it’s the truth and I think it’s crucial to be honest here, especially in a post like this. When I was in high school, we were never asked if we’d go to college; it was simply assumed that we all would. I can’t think of anyone I've met who has never left his or her state. In fact, almost everyone I know has a passport. I have a total of three Facebook connections who are virulently right-wing and, although the majority of my friends are spiritual in one way or another, I don’t know many who are dogmatic about religion. Of course I was aware that this isn't how most of America lives, but I wasn't fully conscious of how rarefied my world is until I started blogging and I met all of you – you wonderful women with completely different backgrounds and beliefs. Blogging has made me truly understand how small my world is.

Now, internet chatter about pre-marital sex may seem a superficial illustration of how my eyes have been opened because of blogging, but I never knew this was such a big issue before plugging into the blogosphere and meeting such a wide variety of women whose lives are completely foreign to me. It's important to note that pre-marital sex is emblematic of many much larger issues that have motivated me to write, though I think that each of you will draw your own connections as they’re relevant to your lives. Finally, while I am writing now in response to Steven Crowder’s opinion piece on Fox News about waiting for marriage, I am not writing to him. As Alexandra Petri wrote in the Washington Post after Todd Kincannon referenced Trayvon Martin in a series of ugly tweets during the Superbowl, "The trouble with thick-skinned people capable of rolling with the punches is that they make the brawl last longer than it ought to... It is so easy to be offended. It is so easy to offend. It is a stupid and pointless exercise if that’s all it is."  So I’m not blogging here to get back at Steven Crowder. We don’t need to drag out the insults and the derision. And I’m certainly not judging him for the choice that he and his wife made. I’m blogging because I think we need a new way to look at the idea that we all have the right to make whatever choices we want for ourselves – and to be respected regardless of the choices we do make.

I've been reading a book recently called Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen, a Nobel-winning economist and philosopher. It examines how the way we define both ourselves and others leads us again and again into war. Let me share a few of the lines that jumped out at me after reading Steven Crowder’s post:

The world is frequently taken to be a collection of religions or of civilizations or cultures, ignoring the other identities that people have and value, involving class, gender, profession, language, science, morals, and politics. This unique divisiveness is much more confrontational than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that shape the world in which we actually live.

Some of our identities are simply contradictory: for instance, it is hard to be Jewish and a lover of pork products. However, Sen writes, "What we need, above all, is a clear-headed understanding of the importance of the freedom that we can have in determining our priorities… one has to decide what exact importance to attach that identity over the relevance of other categories to which one also belongs." Therefore, as a Jew who enjoys bacon, I can determine that, on Sunday morning, a full English breakfast is my priority and, the following Friday night, that adherence to the laws of the Torah takes precedence.

We each have an understanding of our own identities, one that may or may not overlap with the identities that we are assigned by others. Steven Crowder sees me as a floozy; obviously, this isn't a definition I use to label myself. However, we have clearly made different choices in our lives. The next choice we have to make is whether or not this identity – a person who waited for marriage or one who didn't – is the ultimate by which we define ourselves. And if it is, we have to ask ourselves if this identity absolutely precludes all the others that we own.

If that’s the case – well, then I probably can’t say much to sway you. But I’d urge you to appreciate that we all have the right to craft our own identities and to prioritize them in the way that is best for us. Some of us have sex before marriage. Some of us don’t. Some of us are content with our relationships and sexual history. Some of us aren't. And despite what Steven Crowder says, you can’t correlate the options. Not everyone who engaged in premarital sex is unhappy, and not everyone who waited until his or her wedding night is happy. Happy or unhappy, though, we have all made our own choices. That is a right that we should refuse to relinquish to anyone.

And that brings me to my second point: concern. Many of the bloggers who shared this article said they understood where Steven Crowder was coming from. They said that they themselves had been ridiculed for waiting until marriage and/or for marrying young. As a member of what Crowder calls "the rabble of promiscuous charlatans, peddling their pathetic world view as 'progressive,'" I can tell you that I have never been directly attacked for the sexual and emotional choices I have made. But even this indirect assault felt personal. It hurt me, angered me, and frustrated me. So to those of you who have actively experienced this, let me say that I am so deeply sorry that you weren't respected in the decisions you made about your life, regardless of what they were. And I am going to suggest it means you need to reexamine your choices – but not the ones you think.

About a year ago, a New York Times opinion piece by Roger Cohen titled "Thanks for Not Sharing" made the rounds online. "So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about…" he wrote. "Please, O wired humanity, spare me, and not only the details." I don’t entirely disagree with Cohen – I, too, grimace when I see status updates about popping pimples – but here’s an excerpt from my favorite response, published in The Atlantic:

My diagnosis is simple, Roger: your friends and associates are terrible and boring. Being that you are a smart and interesting guy who would distill only the finest information from any social network, the problem is the garbage going into your feed, which can only come out as garbage in your column. And that garbage is being created by the people who you choose to follow and know.

It’s a bit harsh, I know, but so is being castigated for the choices you make – the choices that affect you (and your significant other/s, possibly) but not those who judge you. You deserve respect. Just as we who have had or will have pre-marital sex have the right to make our own decision about how to deal with our hearts and bodies, you have the right to make your own decision. If your friends make their choice in this regard their primary identity, above and beyond all the other identities that you have in common including that of friend, they don’t respect your friendship, they don’t respect your right to make choices, and, quite frankly, they don’t respect you. Maybe they shouldn't be your friends.

I know all of this is easier said than done. But I also know that I wouldn't have considered any of it if I hadn't started blogging and if I hadn't been introduced to this amazingly huge world, fully of diversity in every way. Since you’re here, you probably realize you’re in this world, too, and so I hope that this post encourages and inspires you to find the freedom to choose your own identities and to prioritize them in a manner that makes you happy, healthy, and safe.

41 comments:

  1. I love this post and I couldn't agree with you more. If people could just live within their own (and the worlds) contradictions there would be less violence, less hatred, and less war. Like I said the other day here, I completely respect Crowder's choice to wait until marriage and I commend how passionate he is towards his stance. But, please. Don't come and attack the remainder of the world that does not think the same as you do in such a disrespectful and childish manner.


    xxx
    Jenna

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  2. Wonderfully written, Betsy.

    I think if age, life, moving overseas, travel & blogging has taught me anything it's that we all make choices, good, bad & indifferent, but they're our choices. There are many choices I see others make that I wouldn't even consider for myself but that is the beauty of it - I can make my own choices and I am responsible for them.

    I often feel disheartened when I see other's attacking people and their choices. Reading comments on articles that spin wildly out of control with judgement and hatred and articles such as Mr Crowder's that point fingers and turn noses up at people that have chosen to live their life in a different way makes me wonder where all of this negativity comes from?



    I think you are right - we need to discover our identities, prioritize and be happy with what we've chosen. We should learn from other's as it will allow us to grow and we can respectfully choose to disagree and follow our own path.

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  3. I too grew up in a very similar, if not identical, bubble (although I may have a few more right-wing friends, which seems to happen as you get in your mid-30s!). My blog may be more family/kid centered but it also has opened my eyes to differences between not only my friends but also my readers; but so has traveling and seeing the world, going to university in DC, living overseas, and I would think the same would go for you. I don't want my kids to grow up in a bubble, but I also want them to have the same values that I had growing up, which include not judging anyone for their choices, whether they be sexual or otherwise. I guess at the end of the day who cares if someone has premarital sex? My choices should not affect someone who decides to stay celibate until marriage, and likewise their choice to stay celibate does not impact me.

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  4. We all say we wish people didn't judge, but hey, we judge - it's our nature. If someone brings up a choice or an expectation counter to my personal values, it's really hard not to jump in with an opinion (this topic doesn't do it for me, but topics like "human rights" and "cultural relativism" trigger pretty epic rants). You never know what's going to strike a nerve with people. But opinions, argument, and debate has to be done appropriately. Attacking each other gets us nowhere in talking about difficult topics. The whole point of having good manners is so that we can play nicely together because as a species, we can be pretty annoying.

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  5. YES. This is true. We do, and we are. Is there a time and a place for that - or, if we hide it, are we denying our nature? I do not know. (Also, not to start you on a rant, but what is cultural relativism?)

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  6. I tell my students that there's a time and a place to stand your ground, and there are plenty more times and places to compromise. Standing your ground on an opinion involves sacrifice, because if you side one way or another on a polarizing idea, you're going to polarize opinion about yourself, so it better be something important. (and cultural relativism is generally the idea that morality is different based on the culture you come from - this usually sets me off because I believe that there are certain fundamental rights and freedoms that no culture has the right to take away, and let's say I'm outraged by the treatment of women - and people in general - in some of the places I've served).

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  7. oh man, what a great lesson - one that I think we spend our whole lives learning! and YES now I understand what cultural relativism is, thank you. It's what made me gnash my teeth as I read this article about the dark side of Dubai: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html

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  8. My FB always lights up with posts about how there is only one way to do things. I'm always bothered by this. The whole reason they can have the ideals they do is because we live in an age where we can. But not so long ago they wouldn't have had the option to worship how, where, and what they may. So...let others have the same right. Let everyone make decisions for themselves. We won't always make the right decisions for ourselves, but isn't that the journey? The whole point? To learn and grow as people? I think people are too concerned with other people's lives and need to just worry about their own.

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  9. Gracias for your post, dear Betsy!
    Respesto y libertad...Great words!
    Take care,
    María

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  10. Sorry, it should be "respeto"...

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  11. I know how much effort you put into this post - and I think it came out beautifully! You made your points in such an eloquent + informative way, and I absolutely love this post for those reasons and so many more. I could go on forever, but I'll stop there. :) This is so, so good. xoxo!

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  12. Yes yes and more yes. I've been actually struggling with my own contradictions lately, though I didn't know how to name them or really make sense of them. I love this blogosphere of which I am a part. And your blog. I'm officially hooked.

    Hi from a new reader!

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  13. YES. To all of it. I wish more people would respect the opinions of others. Everyone has the right to do and be whatever he/she wants without being criticized. Nothing gets under my skin more than people proclaiming their opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. I just want to smack those people, lol. I love how you took your reaction to an article and made it into so much more. Great work Betsy!

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  14. YAY welcome and thank you. I think it's hard to accept that we can be many things at once? and yes we do have to make choices and that's where the sacrifices that kcsaling (below) mentions come in - it's easier to ignore the contradictions, I think, than to own them.

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  15. I feel like this should be required reading for humankind. The thing that probably frustrates me the most in this world is people's inability to step outside themselves and respect that other people have differing opinions, and that's ok. What's wrong with agreeing to disagree? In most cases, someone else's personal beliefs don't affect you in any way, so who are you to say they're wrong? I think we all would do well to change our "you're wrong" response to "it's not a choice I will make for myself," because that's really what it comes down to. We all walk different paths and have different experiences that shape what we know and believe. I do believe there's a time and place for (civilized) debate, but there is absolutely no reason to turn differing opinions into personal attacks. Thank you for putting this out there!

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  16. thank you! it took me a while to write this - and I sent it to a few people to look over before publishing it - because I definitely felt the urge to smack. self-restraint is good for the soul sometimes :)

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  17. That is such a good point. I've been kind of hiding from the things that will make me appear "conflicted and crazy" to outsiders instead of deeply and profoundly human. I'm so glad you wrote this post.

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  18. oh man - I can't even imagine trying to explain all of this to kids - although maybe they know it innately and don't have a problem with it, and we only learn to be uncomfortable/judgmental as we get older? there's a song EXACTLY about this from the South Pacific that was really controversial in its time but is still all-too relevant... http://youtu.be/fPzVMTHbHV0

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  19. thank you :) I think a lot of not being able to agree to disagree comes down to ideas of responsibility - like, as my friend, is it your responsibility to save me from making bad choices? a topic for another post, maybe, but one that I've been thinking about a lot since I started discussing pre-marital sex (and faith, to be honest) with different people of different backgrounds!

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  20. Loved this, Betsy. I know something like this takes guts to publish, but I hope that anyone who might find themselves immediately offended at the surface message digs a bit deeper - that there's space in this world for all of us, with differing opinions, to respect and still care for each other.

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  21. Jenna | The Paleo ProjectFebruary 19, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    I've only recently discovered your blog and was again pointed here from Eliza... what a well-written piece. With a degree in English, I literally felt like I was reading a Thesis written for one of my classes back in the day. But more so - the topic, it's such a vital one to cover, and to cover it here? Thank you. Thank you! I have so much to think about, to talk about.... I need to digest this though...

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  22. I've never seen or read the vagina monologues, but my favorite Ted talk is this one by Eve Ensler: http://www.ted.com/talks/eve_ensler_on_security.html
    Why? Because it is insecurity in oneself that causes one to judge others unfairly.

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  23. I've been trying to draft a response to this for the last 10 minutes or so, but nothing sounds right. So I guess I'll just say that I absolutely love this, and bravo.

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  24. I can see how that would be the case for a lot of people, and I'm more understanding in that case — it's harder to fault someone for being unable to agree to disagree when you know they truly care about you and are trying to help you. But I actually don't run into this problem with my friends, I guess because I've gotten pretty good at finding open-minded people who are understanding and supportive even if they don't agree (or, I've cut out the friends that weren't because in those cases, there were other big issues as well).

    I see this more because I grew up in the Bible Belt, where a lot of people feel the need to turn political and religious issues into personal attacks, and that's what I really hate. If you don't believe what they believe, you are wrong and obviously a bad person, that's it, the end. What makes it worse is that the way they handle these issues goes against other things they say they believe. But I should probably stop now, because if I get into hypocrisy talk, we'll be here all day!

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  25. thank you :) I wanted to tell Jenna, too, that it took me two weeks to think about and draft this post - the conversation doesn't have to end today! the larger issue is one that I think we'll all be faced with throughout our lives.

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  26. you know, I've had a hankering to go back to school for a few months, but after preparing for this post (http://instagram.com/p/VU2XRRws8u/ if you don't believe me!) and editing it, I think the urge had been worked out :) thank you, and I really look forward to hearing your thoughts once you've had some time to process.

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  27. You know, I was just thinking about this the other day. I've ended up following a wide variety of blogs and have been blown away by the things I've learned. I recently found out that one of my somewhat regular reads waited until SHE WAS ENGAGED for her first kiss. I think my jaw actually dropped. My first reaction was to stop following this blog - how could I ever relate to her and what she wrote?? But then I realized it - I was totally fascinated and found it refreshing to read an account of someone that is SO different from my own (I'm a fellow floozy;)). You've articulated this sentiment very nicely :)

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  28. right!? There's a very popular blog written by a Baptist stay-at-home mom in Arkansas, and I devour it with morbid fascination - I never comment because I have no idea what I'd say, Her life is so radically different from mine, but at the same time she loves her family and she worries about raising her children right and she treasures her time with her friends... so at the end of the day, how different are we, really? thank you :)

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  29. thank you! believe it or not, the second paragraph was the part I was most nervous about publishing... but you're all still here anyway!

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  30. Brava! *round of applause* Thanks again for letting me take a peek into the pre-published conversation. :)

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  31. thank YOU for your eyes and thoughts and support!

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  32. Very interesting post and as always, very well written. I definitely read blogs of people who are different to me and it definitely shapes how you see the world. I sometimes feel like I am in a little liberal atheist bubble, especially as you tend to hang around with similar people. Reading blogs from people from different walks of life with different beliefs helps me form my beliefs and challenges my attitudes on a multitude of different things and I like it. I am constantly contradicting myself in what I think daily!

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  33. Even if reading Steven Crowder's article angered me greatly!!

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  34. This is so well written, Betsy- it was so interesting to read the post and the comments! Blogging has absolutely broadened my horizons as well. I wish more people would celebrate the fact that we are all able to make different choices for ourselves, because ultimately there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for happiness and fulfillment. And like someone else said in the comments below, I genuinely believe that people who turn things like this into an us-versus-them fight are suffering from some form of insecurity. Thanks for making me put my thinking cap on today :)

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  35. I'm writing a post kind of related to this. keep yours eyes peeled. (tomorrow, maybe?)

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  36. oh YES good yay! I'll check tonight after work :)

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  37. thank you, Kate. I want to do more thinking about the possible connections between insecurity/judgement/faith - not that they aways go together, of course, but I guess the intersection comes when someone feels threatened in their beliefs? hm. must think more about this after I've had another cup of coffee!

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  38. this is my favorite: But I’d urge you to appreciate that we all have the right to craft our own identities and to prioritize them in the way that is best for us. :)

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  39. I appreciate the way you continue to put yourself out here like this Betsy; your honesty and your talent for the written word. We should all respect each others choices (as long as those choices are not hurting anyone else), end of. x.

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  40. I'm reading some of your old posts (since I'm a new reader), and I'm so glad I found this one. As an intentional virgin (especially as one who hadn't really done much of *anything* more than kissing pre-boyfriend), I have experienced some of the backlash and harsh criticism you mention in your post. It didn't come until after I'd left the South (where most people are much more conservative than I am). I was pretty hurt by it, especially since I've tried SO hard to be open-minded and non-judgmental about other people's choices. This is a really thoughtful post, and I appreciate you writing it.

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  41. thank you, Belle! I totally get how there can be one right way for one person - but that doesn't mean that there's the same one right way for every person. I'm so sorry you got hurt.

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