We are not that different or separate, but by negatively focusing on our differences, we will feel we are.
We don’t all have families, or run marathons, and we can’t simultaneously fit into two different political parties, but that doesn’t mean we’re the lesser for feeling left out. In some instances the desire to put up a sticker which goes against a more popular sticker or theme (though political stickers might be different) comes from the unacknowledged and unfulfilled desire to feel connected.
GMP author Mark Greene has already explored men’s deep desire for, and unfortunately inversely disproportionate experience of connection—through platonic touch—due to homophobia.
The reasonable desire for connection, not just through touch, but also through sharing experiences of all kinds, is not limited to men, though. Anyone seeing a group of people connected through the shared experience of child rearing, through sport, or through anything they don’t feel a part of, can be reminded of their opposite sense of disconnection. Just like it requires great courage to reach out and ask for help during a time of individual struggle, it requires great courage to admit you feel disconnected and alone. A much easier way to deal with that distress is to overcompensate and denigrate the group of people who share a connection which you believe you lack.
Again, this is just one possible explanation for why someone might sport a sticker like pictured above. Some people are truly just being funny, others are making a political statement about how unrealistic these perfect families are, and/or as a response to their heteronormativity. This probably doesn’t apply there, but where this explanation is relevant (especially for the anti-running stickers I mention below) these stickers represent two problematic ways of relating to ourselves and the world. Respectively, they are “negative identification” and a “general negativity bias.” Both problematic relationships are caused by the illusion of, and our belief in, separation.
“Nobody cares about your stick figure family.” “0.0; I don’t run.” “Not a Republican.” These are the messages of bumper stickers which seek to create an identity by contrasting the owner with something they’re not, something they’re against, or resistant to. They’re examples of negative identification. The first one mocks the custom stick figure families, including babies and pets, often seen on the back windows of family mini-vans, the second one mocks the distances of runs and races people have completed, in this case by showing zero distance instead of the usual 26.2 or 13.1 miles, and the third is for Democrats or liberals that are really mad at Republicans. There are times to say no, but identifying with a negative can create a general negativity bias, which is bad.
Have you ever read an opinion piece about a political issue framed outside of the typical narrative such that you struggled to identify what camp the author was speaking from or for—your own or the “other’s”—and then awkwardly realized you didn’t know how to read it? Should you accept it (or cheer it on even!) or be doubtful and critical of it?
A general negativity bias is like that but not specific to politics: it affects how you relate to everything. You start from a place of resistance, doubt and dislike. Said another way, identifying with negativity about any one thing can breed negativity towards anything, towards many things. Instead, you should identify with what most enlivens you, not with what most angers you. Foster love and acceptance for all, even if you don’t agree with or condone all their actions. Acceptance is not encouragement, and you can still discern when it’s time to say no to specific things, and when you do, you’ll be able to say no or abstain as required with an honest and unbiased certainty that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
In the past, some sharp observers have noticed when I’ve made this argument for acceptance instead of resistance, that I am making it by pointing out others’ resistance. Thus, I am resisting their resistance. They suggest my seeming contradiction is ironic at least, or hypocritical at worst. I agree. I have not fully realized the argument I’m preaching within my own consciousness and behavior. If I had, I might not even write this article. Regardless, I resist less than I used to, and it has been beneficial to me and I hope despite my imperfections in executing the lesson, that I can help relieve the suffering of others like I’ve relieved my own.
The contrasting outlook caused by negative identification and the embodiment of a general negativity bias are both rooted in our illusory belief in separation. This belief stems from the relative imperceptibility of our “gross senses.” I, and everyone else, are unfortunately incredibly susceptible to this illusion: we cannot easily see or feel our interdependence or connection. We must trust it. The only arguing point is how connected we are. We are at least an interdependent system of people and things working together. Less obviously, we’re connected through a level of sameness that exists across everything: either because everything is just vibrating matter, or because of our shared beginnings, for we—and everything—came from the same stardust. Yet our belief in the illusion of separation is so strong that we no longer see ourselves as just different, we now define ourselves by those differences, by what we are not, or worse, by what we’re against. This only creates more distance, strengthening the illusion.
We think our independence is a sign of strength, and it can be, but it can also be a sign of weakness if we attempt to heroically achieve everything on our own. It can take even more strength, and courage even, to ask for help. We feel like failures when we struggle as individuals when oftentimes all we need is a hug, maybe a little help, or a bit bigger love. If we struggle and fail to ask for help we may, ironically, fail harder. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will humble us from thinking we’re big and strong. We were just wrong. We embody this faulty belief, to a fault; it’s our human hubris. But we shouldn’t feel ashamed for holding onto it, then we might be doomed to never letting go, stuck in a shameful hole.
It’s time to wake up and walk out—away from our grandiose self-righteousness. We are big, and we are awesome, but not in the ways we nervously joke about ourselves with friends (Yes friend, you are awesome, but why do you need to laugh after you state it, do you not actually believe it?). Our inherent awesomeness becomes obvious when we’re open and loving to all, and able to lean on one another in times of need, which is to say, most of the time, because again, we’re inter-dependent. We depend.
We are never alone, never left out, and never separate. Even among all the seemingly separate contingents of bumper sticker wielding people, like the childless people and family oriented folks, the runners and non-runners, and the Democrats and Republicans, they all drive cars. Where we might assume there is only difference, there is always similarity; we just have to look for it. Then, we can remind ourselves of the similarities we already know so that we may remember to look for the similarities we haven’t yet identified. With that we will be able to constantly question the message from our senses, which we feel within, and the related message we unconsciously rebroadcast outward: that we are disconnected. It is the only way we will know the truth that we will forever have more in common than we have ever had differences in the past. It is not obvious and at the same time so unbelievably obvious it is sad and depressing to realize that at one time, we did not know.
— Photo used with permission from Elizabeth/Spilt Milk