CYMI, Russia’s parliament voted 380–3 back in January to pass an amendment that decriminalizes certain levels of domestic violence.
According to an article in The New York Times:
The amendment treats a first conviction for domestic battery as an administrative offense, carrying a penalty of a $500 fine or 15 days in jail. If Mr. Putin signs the measure into law, only injuries like concussions or broken bones, or repeated offenses committed in a family setting, would lead to criminal charges.
You may wonder why I’m bringing this up now, a couple months later. Here’s the deal:
A few days ago, I was discussing this unsettling event with a writer acquaintance over email. Once I caught him up on everything, he chose to joke, “I guess these women forgot these men prefer their borscht chilled in the summer time. Haha, savages.” His comment was in extraordinarily poor taste.
Even though I agree with the feeling behind his comment — the abuse and degradation of women, of ANYONE, for that matter, is deeply worrisome and should illicit nothing short of righteous indignation — I couldn’t help but bristle at how easily it came for him to label an entire diverse group of people.
And, of course, I let my mind drift over to Alexey.
For those of you who are new to my writing, Alexey is a loving, romantic Russian gentleman who I met a few years ago when he sent me an email about my work. Thanks to modern inventions such as airline travel and Skype, we had a passionate, beautiful love story that was conducted long distance.
He encouraged me to cultivate my independence. He was proud of my successes. He was kind. He was always the first to say “I’m sorry” whenever we fought (which wasn’t often because he was of the opinion that two people could have different perspectives). He was a feminist. *swoon*
But he was also a product of the society that surrounded him for the first eighteen years of his life before he moved to the United States to pursue his Bachelor’s degree. I first noticed this when we spoke of what our home would look like if we could share one.
Some might see this and say, “You can take the man out of Russia, but you can’t take the Russia out of the man,” but I’d retort that you could replace “Russia” with “society” and be accurate.
Perhaps we all hold some kind of prejudice or internal bias; after all, we’re all surrounded by it for the duration of our lives. Our sensitivity to it inevitably lessens over time.
That’s why it’s good to make yourself uncomfortable.
On Tuesday, I was telling someone at work that I’m currently watching a documentary on Auschwitz that’s on Neflix. I know how unpleasant that sounds, but I explain it this way:
“I think it’s important to consistently face unpleasant things, and allow yourself to lean into discomfort.”
We become defensive when our prejudice is pointed out, and this is a normal response. It’s uncomfortable to come up against it and have to face it. To have to face the possibility that perhaps we aren’t as kind or open-minded or as LIBERAL as we thought…
Don’t avoid this possibility.
Sit with it. Parse through it for any truths you might find.
It’s so much worse to remain blissfully ignorant by choice than to be someone who will one day be able to say, “I once was prejudiced but I did the good, hard work of shedding that lower state of being in favor of a higher one.”
WAYS TO BECOME LESS OF A BIGOT
(do these things in any order, really)
* GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE
Two years ago, I had a tense conversation with a friend in which I called him out on his gradually revealed prejudices and biases. He denied it at first, pushing up against my comments.
Once I broke through to him, he became so paralyzed with White Guilt that he stayed stuck there instead of taking action. (I broke through to him on that front, too. Eventually.)
FYI, no one is without some sort of ingrained bias. No one has grown up in a completely tolerant society. We have all been raised in environments with prejudices that have rubbed off on us.
Do NOT become paralyzed with guilt.
Give yourself some grace for being human.
* IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DISCOMFORT
Some people would rather guard their biases than become uncomfortable. BALONEY, is what this is.
Seeing or treating any being as anything less than fearfully and wonderfully made is sin in the Christian religion.
And sin is not supposed to be coddled and protected for one’s pride.
It should be exposed to anything that could weaken it.
A war should be declared against it, all hands on deck, all arms at the ready.
Seek out discomfort. Lean into it.
Start those hard, awkward conversations where you might be called out for enabling things you wouldn’t want to enable.
Expose yourself to the opinions of those you disagree with.
Explore new ideas.
Find new ways of living and new ways of thinking.
* PRACTICE YOUR LISTENING COMPREHENSION SKILLS
When I speak to members of racial/religious/sexual minority groups, they tell me that they often feel like those who are more privileged listen to respond, not to understand.
I explained it to my friend Sara this way, “People can tell when it seems like you’re waiting for the perfect time to say, ‘yeah, but not all white people’ or ‘not all straight people’ or ‘not all men.’”
We all have opinions, but we don’t always have understanding. The best way to acquire understanding (and become less of a bigot) is to take the time to have a conversation, really making an effort to LISTEN.
Not listening to respond.
Not listening to correct them and invalidate their experiences (i.e. “You’re overreacting/reading too much into things.”)
Listening to understand them.
To sit at the foot of their stories.
To build empathy.
To mourn with them.
To ask them, “How can I fight with you?”
These are just three things you should practice in order to start seeking out and pruning the prejudice and ingrained biases you have.
There are so many more, though.
How about you?
Do you remember a time when you finally walked into your own prejudice or were forced to face it?
How do you regularly fight that temptation in favor of something higher?
Let me know in the comments. If you were challenged or encouraged by this piece, engage with me and find me on Twitter.