Friday, October 15, 2010

Making it better...

The news has been a flurry of intense stories these past weeks. I could hardly take my eyes off of the Chilean miners and their rescuers for they offered a profound message of endurance, hope, and determination. So easily these stories stay with us for a day or two only to be forgotten or pushed out of the forefront of our minds with the busy tasks of another day.

One story I hope does not drift out of our collective conscience is the epidemic of teen suicide, especially among our LGBTQ youth.  When a 13 year old decides that he cannot stay on this planet another moment because it hurts too much- there is something profoundly wrong. Yes, suicide is indicative of individual struggle, sometimes illness, and pain,  but these suicides in particular are indicative of a much wider, larger, cultural problem.

The hegemonic discourse of our society holds great power in dictating what is normal and what is not. Everyday messages are interwoven into the fabric of our collective worldview and when we do not challenge these messages they continue to gain momentum and be passed on from one generation to the next. 

Such messages are especially apparent to our youth- young children exploring their gender identities and sexuality are ever so aware of what is acceptable, normal, and right by society's standards. The pressures to conform to that are unimaginable. And when a child doesn't, when a child is made by our society to feel so abnormal, so freakish, so sinful they sometimes see the only way out as removing themselves from the planet.  The loss of these children, and far too many like them, is a great loss not just to their families and their communities but to ALL of us. Each human life represents a unique, precious individual that has something to offer our world. When they take their own lives, we all lose. We lose their potential, we lose what might have been, we lose their unique, special gifts, contributions, and insights to our human story and our world.

Pay attention to the messages that we are passing along. Pay attention to the power of words. The simple statement someone makes saying "That's gay" where being gay is equated with stupidity is one such message heard all the too often. I've heard people defend their use of this comment, saying "I have gay friends, it's just a word, it doesn't mean I'm homophobic".  The reality is words like these are the mechanisms through which social norms and messages get passed on!!!  This is HOW culture works. There is no list where we as members of our social group look up what is normal and what is not. We learn that information through words, through statements exactly like this one and the hundreds of thousands of others that little by little create an environment where a person can be made to feel so sinful, worthless, weird, or different that they would end their life.

The good news is that we have the power to change those messages one word at a time. We must wake up and pay attention to the cultural message we are passing on and those that we are standing idly by while others are allowed to pass on. We are all listening, especially children, to these cultural messages about ourselves and each other and we are the only ones who can change them. The task is daunting yet one message at a time it can be changed. 

This is an example of how:

This is evidence of one man who is actively making it better. One man who had the courage to stand up in Texas and talk about his personal struggles with who he is and society's opinion of him. His life and so many of ours, mine included, are evidence that is DOES get better but you have to stick around long enough for that to happen.

Our job is to MAKE it better with the words we use, the messages we choose to pass on, and the actions we take.  PLEASE MAKE IT BETTER.

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