As a college student, I’m faced, every day, with the pressure to be perfect. I’ve talked about this before. As a person with chronic illness, I am simultaneously told by society (particularly American society) that I need to be the same as someone without an illness to overcome, and by medical personnel and other Spoonies that I need to rest and realize that I am human.
Being human, however, isn’t desired. Our society wants machines: be perfect, feel only what we say to feel, push forward.
Maybe that’s what our country lacks. We’re expecting machine-like qualities from humans. Machines are cold, unfeeling, and can easily be used to harm. If you hit someone with a car, the car doesn’t feel bad, the human does. If you fail to follow safety regulations and someone is hurt by a machine, the machine feels nothing, the human feels regret and guilt. If you shoot someone with a gun, the gun doesn’t know the difference, but the human shooting it knows they’re hurting someone else.
We are not machines. We are humans. When you try to block out humanity for perfection you lose the entire beauty of humanity. It’s beautiful because it’s imperfect. It’s beautiful because in spite of its imperfections it creates art, helps others, solves mathematical theorems….. humanity is not perfect. Humanity is messy.
Humanity is feeling a million conflicting things at once. Humanity is feeling apathy towards one person and loving another. Humanity is working painstakingly on a project, only to destroy it later. Humanity is crying over rejection while simultaneously checking out someone attractive. Humanity is doing your best and still failing. Humanity is getting a degree and then getting a job in a different field. Humanity is both hating and loving someone at the same time. Humanity is wanting to be alone but also not wanting to be. Humanity is wanting to sleep but not being able to. Humanity is uncertain. Humanity is calmness. Humanity is anger. Humanity is sheer panic. Humanity is knowing everything will work out just fine. Humanity is the acceptance of imperfection and the acceptance of our individuality.
What happens if you tell a young man, that his humanity is flawed? If you tell him every day that his feelings (except anger, you know… for sports) make him weak. If you tell him that he’s not allowed to fail in any way, that he has to have friends, enjoy only certain things, get all the girls, dislike only certain things, be anything other than human. What happens when that same boy is so privileged in our society that he usually gets what he wants either through his own privilege or his parent’s? What happens when that same boy comes across a moment in his life where his imperfections show through and he starts to feel something other than anger, like hurt?
Well, he fixes it the way he’s been told to. He stops, and erases his humanity. He kills the thing that causes him to feel empathy, towards himself and towards others. He kills his heart. He kills himself internally. Then he steps forward, weapon in hand, to show the world how well he did at killing his own humanity…
… by killing every classmate and teacher he can. By killing every theater-goer. By killing every cheering concert fan. By killing someone’s baby, someone’s best friend, someone’s uncle, brother, sister, mother, surgeon, teacher, crossing guard… by killing someone’s everything.
We have completely failed young kids, if we enact gun laws but fail to fix the systemic problem as well. Humanity is knowing there’s a short term solution and a long term (this also goes for systemic racial oppression). We cannot change the systemic destruction of an individual’s humanity in one night. But, we can put protections in place to make it harder for a young man, who has everything to prove and nothing to lose, to get ahold of a gun. Then, we can focus on the aspect that includes mental illness.
As Spoonies, we know well what it’s like to face the realities of humanity. Many of us also know what it’s like to face those realities with mental illness. However, mental illness is never an excuse to kill. The men who have stood up and decided that their pride, their pain, their lives, were more important than the lives of others, deserve to be punished for it. But as a society we also need to stop this idiotic bickering over which problem is really to blame.
Humanity is full of multiple problems acting in tandem. It’s looking at a situation like this and realizing it’s a gun problem AND a mental health problem. It’s a problem at home AND a problem with society as a whole. It’s a problem with failure to report AND with failure to realize that reporting isn’t as simple as the president makes it sound.
Humanity works in shades of greys. It rarely looks clean cut. It’s messy and difficult and filled with regret and pain but also of beauty. It’s filled with bitter arguments with cruel words, and then tears of remorse and embraces of forgiveness. It’s filled with acceptance of other’s imperfections even if they don’t accept your own. It’s filled with groaning because you have to wake up for work/school, while also marveling at the beauty of your sleeping child, the sunrise, your cute pet, or significant other. It’s waking up realizing, and possibly feeling disgust at, the fact that your loved one has shit the bed because of their illness, but lovingly helping them anyway. It’s long nights in hospital rooms, with occasional small moments of joy at a new visitor or a small amount of precious time gained. It’s dying a little inside every day watching a patient suffer, while you step forward to make their lives a bit easier instead of running away from that pain. It’s seeing the anxiety in the eyes of your students, and postponing an exam, or letting class out early. It’s taking the bad with the good and doing your best.
Humanity is all we have. Humanity gives us compassion. It gives us love, which can both create the highest euphoria and the greatest pain. If we could stop, for one moment and embrace humanity instead of trying to shut it out….maybe our world wouldn’t be so cold. It would still have pain, there’s no erasing that. But, it would be less cold and grey metal, and more warmth and color. It would be beautiful and exciting instead of dismal and soul crushing. Accepting our humanity lets us accept our failures with the ability to stand up and try again instead of giving up with “I’m no good at this”.
I know that my efforts to embrace my humanity will never be perfect. That’s the point. I will do my best to face the pain in my world. I will do my best to look at other’s pain and show them I care instead of turning away because it makes me uncomfortable. I will do my best to always have empathy. I will do my best. That’s all we can do.
Embrace humanity and stop expecting perfection from imperfect humans. We are not machines.