After two years at a private Liberal Arts college, sometimes coming home to my conservative, small-town home in Upstate New York can feel a bit like reverse culture shock. I'm constantly surrounded by such open and welcoming people (my family included) that I still find myself shocked by how less progressive some people are, even in my own hometown. This is never more true than when events such as the Pulse nightclub shooting occur or when #blacklivesmatter begins to trend on Facebook. In fact, sometimes I feel like avoiding my Facebook for days on end because I simply can't believe the kind of negative words people have to share on social media, especially in the face of tragedy. Now, I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I do believe that regardless of your views on politics or society in general, there are some things that everyone can and should agree on. Especially now, when social media has allowed us to put our opinions out in the open on full blast at any given moment, it is more important than ever to be kind to our fellow humans. Believe it or not, even just one voice has such a large impact on those around them, so it's imperative that what we put out into the world is setting a good example for what we would like to see in the future.
Some will argue that people nowadays have gotten "too sensitive," and while there are solid arguments on both sides of that debate, what is most important is that there are things that do require us to be sensitive or, at the very least, mindful. It's not always about being politically correct or a social justice warrior, but treating others with respect. Here I've compiled a few tips and tricks to remember while going about your day to make being a kind and courteous citizen that much simpler. While Mahatma Ghandi may be a rather controversial role model for these efforts, I do believe he said it best when he advised we "be the change that you wish to see in the world." These steps may not be the end to all the world's problems, but they're certainly a great place to start.
1: Tip The Waitstaff
Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, do not be like Mr. Pink and refuse to tip. Or better yet, don't be an asshole to anyone serving you food. Ever. I was a carhop waitress for all of two months once and let me tell you, it was one of the most anxiety-inducing positions that I have ever been in--namely because of the people I had to serve. Yes, it is their job to serve you and yes, they should do it well because they are being paid to do so, but that does not ever mean that they deserve to be treated with any less respect. The pay for waiting tables is never nearly enough to compensate for the amount of inconsiderate people they will come across in one shift. Not to mention it's hard work running around on your feet all day, and then jerks like Mr. Pink come in and tip low or refuse to tip at all simply because they're stingy or don't feel like it. There are many people out there who have to wait tables to get by and get paid less than minimum wage because their salaries are dependent upon tips. If you can't be courteous to your waitstaff, then you should maybe just stick to making your own meals.
2: Stop Using Gay As An Adjective
Am I the only one who remembers that one Hilary Duff commercial circa 2008? It's 2016, the time has come for us to realize that using the word "gay" in a negative connotation is no longer acceptable. Gay marriage is legal now; homosexual relationships have not and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. They're here, they're queer, and they deserve better than having their sexual identity used as a derogatory slur. As with the word "retard" (which is also deeply inappropriate and you should absolutely consider not using), it is a less-than-adequate means of describing something that was once used in the absence of understanding and no longer has a place in society under such circumstances. We are surrounded by information and diversity. Please, educate yourself about the changes happening in our society, realize that somebody else's sexual preferences have absolutely zero impact on your life, or better yet, realize it's none of your business in the first place. It's almost as if they're humans like anyone else and shouldn't be ostracized by labels, what a revelation!
3: Some Words Just Don't Belong To You. Get Over It.
In addition to tip number two, there are some words you just shouldn't say at all, period. As a general rule, unsightly and demeaning words belong to the ones who are oppressed by that word. For example: if you are white, it is inappropriate and disrespectful for you to use the "n" word. "But black people call each other that!" Yes, you in the back, I see your point. However, that would be because black people, and only black people, have the right to choose if they use that word or not. They have been oppressed using that word, so it is only natural that they be the ones who determine if they are to reclaim it in a more positive light and use it amongst themselves. The same goes for those who are beginning to reclaim the word "queer," or really any other negatively identifying word used against a certain community of people. Some have decided to reclaim the word "queer" as a means of identification, while others are still uncomfortable with its use because of the negative connotation previously attached to it. Since this tends to be up to personal preference, it is even more imperative that we don't make general assumptions and just leave the usage of these words up to the people who they belong to, and only them.
4: More Bodyshaming Does Not End Bodyshaming
Don't get me wrong, Meghan Trainor's songs are catchy as hell, but "All About That Bass" lost a lot of its potential as a song about body-positivity by bashing on other girls. Fat-shaming is unfortunately still an ongoing trend in the media, and while I'm all for lifting up each other and celebrating healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes, we don't have to put down others to do so. I would never say that "skinny" girls get more flack than their larger counterparts for their appearance, but having been a malnourished-looking teen once upon a time, I can say with great confidence that there is nothing fun or appealing about being called a toothpick or being told every day that you need to eat more. Similarly, while I believe it's sad that there are people so uncomfortable with their bodies that they feel the need to get plastic surgery, we shouldn't be bashing these individuals or calling them "silicone" either. People are entitled to making their own choices, and if plastic surgery makes them feel good then who are we to deny them their happiness? Besides, if someone wants to put silicone into their breasts, it's really none of your business anyway. It's in their breasts!
5: Casual Sex Does Not A Slut Make
You know what else isn't ever any of your business? Someone else's sex life. Are they sexually active? If they're into that kind of thing, then that's great! Are they having lots of sex? Even better; good for them! As long as they're taking all of the necessary precautions, then why should it be a problem that they're enjoying themselves? Everyone likes different things in different amounts, and for some people that means sex in great amounts. Instead of labeling someone based on their preferences, we should be building each other up and encouraging each other to (safely) pursue whatever it is that makes us happy. If someone that you're close to is perhaps making questionable decisions like not using proper protection or generally risking their health, then I absolutely encourage you to support them in educating themselves or acquiring any...materials...they might need. Otherwise, the action they're getting (or lack thereof) doesn't even need mentioning.
6: Yes, #AllLivesMatter, But...
The social movement #blacklivesmatter is so important as of late because it is unfortunately very relevant in regards to what is happening in our country this very minute. Yes, people of all lifestyles and race die every day--no one is contesting that. However, black individuals are absolutely entitled to their own social movement when they live in a country where so many in their community feel unsafe to even exist. Imagine you are in an understaffed emergency room with a person who has broken their arm and a person who has cut their hand off. The person whose hand has been cut off clearly needs attention first, but the individual with the broken arm insists that they be treated first because they got there first. Yes, both injuries matter and deserve to be tended to, but one is clearly more debilitating than the other and requires immediate attention, kind of like how the issue of police brutality and violent racism against black lives requires immediate attention because of its greater presence in society. You can still be supportive and concerned about other causes without bashing or belittling another!
7: Don't Joke About Rape. Ever.
We currently live in a country where rapists can get off easy because of their athletic potential and a "sincere" apology; this is no joke. Women are terrified of going to university, apps are being made to help women feel safer walking home, nail polish that identifies date-rape drugs has been invented, and yet some people are still not taking this seriously. It does not matter what a girl is wearing or how much they remember, the notion that a woman is responsible for such a thing is disgusting and so is anyone who believes it. The same goes for people who think sexual assault doesn't happen to men either. Joking about and/or justifying rape, whether you're serious or not, is only helping to strengthen the very culture that provides such despicable ideals and teaches through example that it's okay to defend rapists over their victims.
In summary: be tasteful, stay woke and stop making judgements of lifestyles and choices that are not yours to make. Societies cannot be changed in a day. In light of recent tragic events, I, like many other people, find myself looking for ways to remain respectful and educated about the ever-changing world around me. While these are only the tip of the iceberg, at least now we can all be seven steps closer to being more considerate human beings!