“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
I spent all of last year on campus practicing something I called ‘silent love.’ Walking around from class to class, through the Diag or around the Union, I would yell, in my head, my love for the people around me. “I love you, beautiful girl in the red coat and red pants, you are as big as your heart will let you be, you are lovely. I love you too, sweet hipster boy with pants rolled up and head hung down, lift your head up for you are brilliant. I love you, boy with your head in a book of comics, and you, lovely professor or staff, fearless in brightly colored clothing. I love you too, man who sits every day to share your music with the UGLi and its sad neighbors.” I would speak in my head to every person I passed, give them compliments, tell them I loved them, would yell it at them so fierce.
Sometimes I fear we have lost our ability to love, to say thank you, “you’re beautiful,” or hold a stranger’s hand on a bus ride from Bursley-Baits to C.C. Little. We put up walls, judge on appearances and decide we don’t like people without knowing them, simply because of how they look or act. We do not know everyone’s story, everyone’s reality. We do not know why someone may be sad or glowing or angry. We no longer know how to ask the big questions or say the big things. Instead, we fill our days with small talk.
I have often been judged, sometimes accurately and sometimes completely inaccurately. I am a person who has been disliked as much as I have been loved, who has found herself bullied all through elementary and middle and high school, who stuffed her bra to try to fit in and cut her wrists to try to cry out. I am not here to prove myself as a person to you. I am just here to ask you to listen.
Several months ago a blog/website/Facebook page called Humans of New York blew up — a man, Brandon Stanton, would walk the streets of New York City and take photos of people. What made him different though was that he would talk to the people whose photos he took — would ask them powerful questions and receive even more powerful responses. He paired these quotes with the photos and gave a beautiful and raw humanity to these strangers.
I started following his blog, and as it took off, so did many similar to his: Humans of Boston, Humans of Detroit and Humans of Los Angeles. I began to think of a few things as I saw this evolution. First, how little or much we show through our face, carry in our body language and tell in our voice. How many stories those around us carry but do not share. Second, how much small talk we have, speaking about weather or current events but so rarely ourselves or our feelings. How reserved we are with those we love but how open we can be with strangers. Lastly, the girl with her feet hanging off the bridge might need you to smile at her, pull her away or maybe even simply join her for a bit. Sit in silence. Appreciate the new view.
As my campus has turned into a place of conflict, anger, frustration, fear — a place where people do not feel safe, listened to, or supported — I have wondered what the answer may be. Is taking away the humanity from those we do not know a new phenomenon? Or rather have we spent too much time learning how to build walls to know how to break them down? I hear everyone saying they want peace, but the ways in which they want it are not the same. We have shut our ears to the other side. We have tuned out.
Let me share something personal in the hopes that you will listen. I am angry. I am just as angry as you, or perhaps less, or even more. I am frustrated. I am privileged. I am oppressed. These are not mutually exclusive. I am white; I am female; I am pansexual; I am young; I am middle class. I have decided to live every day as an act of rebellion against the oppressive institutions, systems and cultural norms that perpetrate these inequalities. I will not marry until everyone, regardless of gender, can marry in the eyes of the law. I will not support a system that is oppressive.
I am angry. I want to wear the clothes that I want to. I want to dance if I want to, sing if I want to, not explain myself because you say that I have to. I have been sexually assaulted. I have not shared this with anyone other than family, closest of friends, therapists or hospital doctors. This is a story I wear every day in my voice and my body, on my face, but hide. I am not alone. We are all carrying our baggage, some tucked into breast pockets, some spilling over onto that 2 a.m. bus back to North Campus. I am not asking you to pity me, to say you are sorry. In fact, I am still not ready to talk about these things. I am just asking that you respect the stories that surround you every day.
I am pretending you are Brandon Stanton on a train in New York City, and you are asking me about the time I was the most scared. I am telling him, “I am scared every day. I am scared that someone will hurt me. That someone is hurting someone else. I am scared that we are not listening to each other. I am scared that there is nothing I can do to fix it.”
As my campus has turned into a volatile and emotional place, a place where some feel scared to share their beliefs, and others feel like there is nothing they can do to fix it, I see something else. I see passion. I see walls being broken down. I see people coming together in ways they did not think that they could.
I am just asking that we do one more thing. That we start being more mindful, stop judging others, start asking strangers questions, stop all the small talk, start saying the big things even if they hurt. I am asking that we realize that those who are privileged did not ask for that privilege, that they must recognize it and fight against it in the very act of their existence to the best of their abilities. I am asking that we remember that each person on that bus or sitting in the Diag enjoying 45-degree weather has a story, unspoken but real. I am asking that we all start practicing love. Not only self-love and friend love, but silent love. Let us give our peers back their humanity. Let us try to listen.
Corine Rosenberg is an LSA sophomore.