We must create communities where individuals are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or discrimination.
The United States is built on the ideals of freedom and individuality. These are cornerstones of our belief systems. Yet too often these rights are stripped from us.
Similarly, the United States is built on democracy and the idea of individuals coming together as a community and creating supportive community systems which allow individuals to thrive. Yet too often our individual rights are pitted against the ideals of healthy, functional communities in order to create division. There is a false narrative around the idea that when you have a functioning democracy the rights of the individual is subsumed by the needs of the many.
And yet, functional communities are ones in which the diverse needs of individuals are always a priority. Laws, social norms, rules and guidelines are all designed to manage individuals so that community functions smoothly. Seat belt laws, drunk driving laws, laws against murder, laws against abuse, etc. these are all laws we have created as a community in a social contract that documents what is considered to be wrong.
When I speak to individuals in the community I am surprised by how often our values align. Most people believe in love, life, liberty, freedom and more. Yet so often we see these values playing out in different ways as individuals interpret them differently. This isn’t bad, in fact, it is what makes democracy great, the ability to take differing ideas and build complicated structures. However, too often it feels as though we want to settle on shallow definitions that serve the surface purpose but ignore deeper problems. If we are to have strong, vibrant communities, we must explore these values more deeply so we can determine what is important to us.
To me, the words borrowed in part from OutFront Minnesota are a great starting point. Our communities should be places where individuals are free to be who they are, love who they love, and live without fear of violence, harassment or inequality. These are basic rights.
If we can agree to allow individuals to be who they are and not expect them to fit a societal norm, we take a step forward. This means we learn to accept others for who they are, even when we disagree with them. We accept them even if their religion is different than ours (in the past Catholics persecuted Protestants for different beliefs). We accept them even if they do not follow what we consider to be social norms (many people with disabilities such as autism have difficult times following social norms). We accept them even if they hold beliefs that do not match ours (politics has become about hating the other side). Allowing individuals the ability to be who they are, means accepting they are not who we think they should be.
If we can agree to allow individuals to love who they love, we are a better community. This means we don’t dictate who should be together in life partnerships. Along as the relationships are free of violence, harassment and abuse, it is not our right to tell someone who to love.
If we can agree that all people should be allowed to live without the fear of violence, harassment or inequality, then we will take a step toward creating a world where these things no longer exist. Right now we have far too much violence, far too many cases of people being harassed simply for who they are. If we have as a base the idea that violence and harassment are wrong, a base where respect and compassion are our first impulses, we have stronger communities.
Even with these three basic ideas, we will have conflict. In allowing individuals to be who they are, do we accept their dislike of someone who is different than them? The short answer is yes, as long as their dislike remains respectful and does not move to violence or harassment of those who are different from them. Do we allow individuals to own guns? Yes, as long as their gun ownership does not turn to violence or harassment. Do we allow hate speech? Yes, as long as that hate speech is not designed to create violence and harassment.
We have a choice as humans. We can rely on overly simplistic ideas of right and wrong to guide us in our decision making. What this tends to lead to is majority control. Those with the most power and the most ability to impose their will on others succeed in setting the rules. Or we can allow ourselves to fully use our ability to think through complex social issues. We can design fully-thought-out laws of rule and order that do not hurt one group because another group doesn’t like who they are. We can even build rulings around ideas that may seem contradictory on the surface. I believe we are capable of creating communities that fully integrate diversity, democracy and individual rights. We just have to invest the time, energy and hard work it takes to get there!