We can’t better society if we don’t allow room for growth
I’ve been playing around a lot with the idea of growth. The action of working towards self-improvement is one of those things that always sounds really nice in my head but is not a concept I have gravitated towards in my everyday life.
In order to clarify my point, perhaps you can think of one or two people right now, people that have done something either truly awful to you or just in general. For many, no matter of personal growth could ever convince you that these individuals were anything but the person who did something you saw as awful.
And yet, of course, most do grow. I want to be the person who supports people as they make their journey, but in truth, there’s a bitterness there—that they didn’t get there fast enough and that they hurt me in the process. I ask myself how much their growth is worth if they already did so much damage.
It can feel nearly impossible to give these people grace. When watching someone from school who used to harass me for a belief now spouting that same belief on social media or a past friend whose ableist attitudes drove me to incredibly dark spaces now preaching woke-ness, it makes me want to scream. I don’t care if what they’re doing is good or progressive, because I’m blinded by what I see as hypocrisy.
More than this, there are the people who remain passive to hatred in their lives, classmates who remain silent when they should speak up. The fire within says that they are lost, not just ideologically, but from all hope, and any time spent trying to reach them is not only wasted time but an insult to any person they may have hurt.
Maybe you can relate, maybe you have far more patience or maybe you are one of these people labeled a lost cause.
So there might be those who have grown in the absence of you, whose progress seems false to what you know of them, and then there are those who have yet to begin their journeys, who seem lost to you.
How do we begin to give these people grace? How do we give grace in a way that still values accountability and empathy without blind acceptance feigned as ‘love’?
While there’s no easy answer, I think we can begin with ourselves. If you have any self-awareness, you know you’ve made missteps in the past. Perhaps these missteps were little things, but if you’re still holding onto them now, maybe these were big. And maybe they were deep too, feelings you held or ideas you shared that now feel foreign.
Would you want these to be all people cared to know of you if you’d answered for them, reflected on them and worked on them? Probably not.
A lot of students come to college with ideas handed down to them by their parents, and more importantly, with an emotional vocabulary given to them by their upbringing. Some of these ideas are deeply damaging and deserve severe punishment; the wounds of racism, sexism, ableism, etc. are so deep they’ll never be forgiven or forgotten.
More of what I’m speaking of here is the apathy and passivity many people hold towards other’s feelings, towards people who have dissimilar experiences or different viewpoints. These are the people who like to say they stay out of politics or aren’t responsible for how they make people feel.
A lot of them will be spewing this poison for the rest of their lives, but there will be some who will change their mind. There are those who do damaging things, as we all do, who will mature and work past them. If we only hold people to an account of their past when we’re trying to actively work towards a better future ourselves, we’ll stall.
All of this is not to say we should let really dangerous behaviors go unanswered for, in fact, quite the opposite. We should allow ourselves to forgive only those who have reckoned for the mistakes of their past and truly answered for them.
There is a polarizing tipping point: on the one side we have a group of people who think any and all harmful, hurtful and bigoted ideals should be accepted through ‘love and peace,’ leaving, of course, only more harm in their wake, and on the other side, a righteousness that is so steadfast it can at times seem unapproachable.
Clearly, one side is much more detrimental than the other, but to someone who has been brought up around the harmful side, feels safe there and who fears this history may always be held against them, crossing over may seem impossible.
I feel that fire within me, the one that wants justice above all else, and when the stakes are high, that justice is certainly necessary. The truth is, especially at this school and in this state, many students grew up around families who taught them things that would probably make me burn with rage. But, if we abandon these individuals as a lost cause, our cause is lost too.
We don’t need to agree to disagree on topics of human rights, emotional abuse or even about things that have really hurt us, but we need to make room for people who may not always have been as intolerant of intolerance as they should have, if they’ve shown they’ve put in the effort to address their past.
People change. People grow. We can go mad trying to hold up receipts from the past, or we can just relinquish to the fact that at least people are growing, and if they weren’t here before, they’re here now.
It doesn’t feel good to admit this, to watch people who have hurt you crossing to your side of the line, fighting the battles they once waged against you. Yet, I have to hold on to the conviction that people’s minds and hearts are capable of change; otherwise, what’s the point of it all?
I speak more specifically now to all those people who worry they’re incapable of growing; where the list of regrets seems impossible to overcome. I don’t think that there is a time when we are well and truly lost, except in the case when we consign ourselves to the category of “good enough” and stop any hope of growth.
As long as you’re actively trying to do better, and you keep yourself open to the idea that you will always have room to improve, there is hope.
Keeping working to dismantle inequality, fighting against injustice and investing in your own emotional progress, but do so in a way that allows others on a different journey to do the same. Give others grace, but please, give yourself some too.