There have been many current events over the last year that have been anxiety inducing for me. It took a few therapy sessions and lots of introspection to get to the core issue.
Events like what happened in Charlottesville this past week are inexcusable and awful, but they don’t affect me personally as a white woman, so why am I so personally affected by them. Why am I fighting off a panic attack daily when hatred is brought to the main stage?
It turns out, in the midst of the abuse I endured at home that shaped many of my core beliefs, the support I received from neighbors, teachers, and strangers shaped a core belief I didn’t expect to hold. I believed that people, at their core, are good and understanding and kind. Sounds like a nice belief that wouldn’t cause anxiety, right? It’s butterflies and rainbows and hope in humanity. I believed in people. What could be wrong with that?
Well, it’s an irrational and incorrect belief, that’s what’s wrong with it. People, at their core, are selfish. We are. It’s not always a bad thing either. Selfishness ensures our survival. After all, if we can’t take care of ourselves who else is going to do it? I’ve written before about how the abuse in my childhood shaped me to be selfless to a fault. I have had to insert some selfishness in my life just to learn to be a functioning adult.
Once I remind myself of this fact I can handle the anxiety that comes with current events. I understand that people believe whatever irrational idea supports their deeply held world views. People as a whole would rather find an incorrect fact that supports their worldview, surround themselves with people that encourage that worldview, and trade stories that enhance that worldview than ever challenge it.
People, like me, that have experienced struggle in their lives ignore any words said after you say the word privilege. They’ve struggled, god dammit, no one handed them a damn thing. It’s programs like welfare an affirmative action that give handouts and they’ve never asked for a handout in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you explain that white people benefit more than any other group in welfare programs. It doesn’t matter if you explain that white women have benefited more than any other group from affirmative action programs. It doesn’t matter how many facts or how much evidence you give. They will not accept anything that challenges their own worldview. It’s too uncomfortable to challenge such deeply held beliefs.
I’m not saying people can’t change. I’ve challenged and changed many deeply held irrational beliefs in the last year. I’m saying they have to want to change and the vast majority just don’t want to. For me to handle my own anxiety I have to come to a place of peace. A place where I won’t ever stop trying to challenge irrational and hateful world views, but where I understand that humans are irrational creatures and I can’t force people to change. A place where I do what I can, with what I have, where I am and am content with the love I’m putting into the world with my words and actions.
I believe that people are selfish, but that’s not always a bad thing. My selfishly caring for my anxiety leads me to use my time and resources to support loving causes that fight the hate.
I still believe in people, selfish and flawed, and have hope that more will choose to challenge their world view and actively fight the hate and racism in the world.