Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The beautiful awful truth of the Internet

Hunt's "Lady of Shalott" weaving her web..
I got into reading Tarot for fun during college, found out I was very good at it, and it started to become a good way to make extra money since my "real job" as a fine art gallery director didn't cover the bills.

After a major move to the West Coast, instead of going for a job at a museum in SF, I got a job doing readings full time at a very large metaphysical store in Silicon Valley that had multiple psychics working at once (at least 3-4 per shift). Shortly after being hired, I was informed that I was to do "phone readings" in addition to in-person ones, which came as a surprise (who I am? Miss Cleo?), but there I was, being handed the phone and the client's name.

It was through my phone clients that I learned something very interesting about human perception.  Many of them eventually came in to the store to see me in person, and every single one was shocked to discover I was only in my early 20's.  They had assumed I was a very mature woman, in my 40-50's - because of my manner of speaking: tone of voice, vocabulary, and ability to listen.

Fast-forward to the other week, sitting in a room full of somewhat-strangers at a party, many of which who were anywhere from 10-25 years my senior. Now, despite my ability to boisterously teach dance to large numbers of people, perform "half-naked" in public, or to give spiritual advice to strangers, I am very much an introvert. I tend to listen and observe long before joining in. And watch the inadvertent "sizing up" that happens prior to my opening my mouth.

Genetics have been very kind to me in some ways, if the large number of people who have asked me what school I go to, or who carded me in the last year is any sort of indicator. Combined with the creative way I adorn myself, most people who just experience me visually assume I'm still in my early 20's. And so I tend to get labeled and dismissed as "young, skinny, pretty/weird, goth girl" - which means with some older crowds, an automatic discount that I could possibly offer anything insightful or full of experience to a conversation. Despite the reality that I'm well on my way to my 40's, have traveled the world, experienced more of it than most people twice my age, and am a pretty knowledgeable geek on a variety of subjects.

Being dismissed for how I look is certainly not the worst problem anyone can have for sure, but that, and being a professional artist by trade, it makes me think about visual implications.

And it brings to mind a lot of the heated interactions I have seen online in the last couple of years.  Especially the ones where the initial thought is a discussion about bringing about social justice, gender equality, minority awareness, positive body/health issues, etc.  It goes like this: someone brings in an intelligently worded counter-response to whatever is posted, and the result is something along the lines: "You are ____! You have no right to say anything in this discussion!" (Especially if that someone is  a "white", "straight" cis-male. Why does that make it OK? How does denying this person their right to add respectful input solve the injustice? Who are we to say that someone else can/can't speak?)

My response is, what year is this? At what point does wanting equality for all, actually MEAN equality for ALL?

History throughout this entire planet has shown that systematically, every group that has been the oppressor has also been the oppressed at some time.  History is also that - history. A person of a particular ethnic group is not responsible for their ancestor who may have caused my ancestors tragedy and grief 100 or 1000 years ago. Likewise, the way a person looks doesn't mean they fit any sort of stereotype. What someone looks like speaks nothing of where they have come from, what they have experienced, or who they are.

So if we want equality for all - and I really mean for ALL, regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, we need to embrace what Internet presents us with: it is the great equalizer, it brings everyone to the table, for better or for worse.  And that if you want people to understand where you are coming from, and what YOU have to say, then you also need to expand your brain to understand where others are coming from, before dismissing what they have to say.  Because in order to truly bring equality, we need to focus on bringing balance and understanding. That's the beauty of the Internet - it can educate and help us share in ways never before available to humanity on such a large scale.

Now the awful part of it? In order to truly want equality for all, then we all have to shed labels.  Yes, whatever words you perceive to define you, whatever makes you think that you're an authority who can tell other people that they're "doing it wrong", whatever you think makes you a special snowflake - you have to let go of it. (Yes, I understand this paragraph pretty much eats the meta, but roll with me here.) The other thing the Internet brings us is the ability to make us seem to be someone or something we're not - do we ever really know who's on the other side of the screen? Are they who their avatar or profile says they are? So if you're going to dismiss (or agree with) someone based on their apparent labels, then you are allowing others to do the same to you.  Effectively defeating what you're fighting so hard for in the first place.  There is a better way to do it.  Unless you're afraid to abandon your own labels.

Don't assume - allow instead.
Don't react - receive instead.
Don't divide or defend - discourse instead.

Awareness comes through openness and positive effort, which opens the door for future change.

2014 is at our door right as I write this - why don't we ALL make the future now?

Let us all work to bring equality for real - not just a group, race, minority, majority, faith, gender - but for all of humanity. That's the only way it's going happen.