The Journey From a Bitter, Disgruntled Eighth-Grader To an Open-Minded Man: What Love’s Got To Do With It

“Also, there is the feminist thing. It started off good, but now girls think everything is sexist, and boys are supposed to be kind to them, because they might be going through a ‘change.’ So, as a guy, I must assume that every time a girl is depressed or gives me a hard time it is because they are going through ‘a change.'”
-From the journal of an eighth-grade me

Spending time in my childhood home always makes me reflect–both on who I was then and who I thought I was going to be now. A constant theme running through my journals through high school is a belief that I was losing integrity–that as I grew older, I also grew more nefarious. Upon having a few of those same thoughts recently and rereading some of those old high school journals, I’ve realized that there probably wasn’t a time of maximum integrity. A continuous looking back to some golden age of Spencer morality probably does more harm than good.

But while some things have remained constant, many other things have changed. I no longer believe, for instance, that feminism “started off good, but now girls think everything is sexist.” It’s even a little bit shocking that I am the same person as the boy who wrote those words. Change is strange.

***

I watched Cory Booker’s 2012 commencement speech to Stanford University today. If you have 45 minutes, I recommend sacrificing watching another episode of your favorite television show and watching this instead. (I watched it instead of watching another episode of The West Wing.)

Booker talks about a “conspiracy of love.”  He argues that true change, true innovation happens when individuals refuse to give up hope, faith, and love. He talks about a man who drove past graffiti on his way to work every morning. Rather than complain about it or grow cynical about it, he left for work a little earlier one morning, bought a can of paint, and painted over it.

I don’t think like that.

I don’t believe in things or causes or even other people. I believe in myself. If something, some cause, or some person does something I strongly disagree with, I leave. I “take my business elsewhere.” But I don’t think that’s how it should be. I think we should change from the inside. I think the world would be a much more interesting place if everyone was forced to join the religion and political party of his or her family. It would force change. Real change. Dynamic change. Meaningful change.

I heard a story today from a woman who was scared to tell her grandmother that she was gay. Her grandmother often railed against Ellen DeGeneres for her sexuality and so the woman thought there was no way her grandmother could ever accept that her own granddaughter was a lesbian. But when the woman told her grandmother she was gay, her grandmother accepted her perfectly and amazingly. Her grandmother even became the first in the family to reprimand family members if and when they told bigoted jokes (Smyka, The Moth).

Obviously, the woman has an amazing grandmother. But I think the reason this story had a happy ending is because there was real love between the grandmother and her granddaughter. What finally broke the grandmother’s bigoted views was not factual argumentation but a loving relationship. Because she loved her granddaughter unconditionally, she had not choice but to accept her granddaughter’s sexuality.

***

I try to remember the exact path that took me from the boy in my eighth-grade journal to the man I am now. I can’t remember the exact twists and turns anymore. But I know this: I was never swayed by an argument telling me I was wrong. In my mind, I had facts, stories, ideas, and people smarter than me to back me up. And I know how to argue. What ultimately changed me were people. People who loved me. Friends who had to have recognized my wrong-mindedness but loved me anyways.

I have convictions–ways I would like to see the world changed. Too often, the way I go about spreading those convictions is through arguing–on Facebook, on Twitter, in real life, or on a blog. But, I think I have to learn how to love that eighth-grade boy first.

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