Written By: Sarah Teich
I would consider myself someone who likes to know everything. Not to say that I’m a know-it-all or even that I’m good at playing trivia, but there is something comforting about knowing exactly what comes next. This probably stems from the term used in every single psychology class: human nature. When we don’t know something, the emotions we develop are generally negative. Fear. Anxiety. Overthinking. Discomfort. Anger. An example of this is my crippling fear of both space and the ocean. Just thinking about how they may both go on forever is enough to make my head explode. But what about embracing the more personal things that you don’t understand about yourself? Things that might still be unknown like your future, passions, purpose, and identity? What about accepting the things you don’t understand about other people and the world?
I started thinking more deeply about this concept after a presentation in my psychology class. I tend to zone out during class speakers unless they have the presence of someone whose TED talk has over 50,000 views, but this speaker was different. Will Sherry immediately captivated the room with a moving story about his transition to becoming a transgender man. The class sat in complete silence as he discussed his experiences and his role as the current director of the Spectrum Center, a center for LGBTQ+ students on Michigan’s campus. He spoke honestly and candidly about his transition, and reflected on his experiences with thought-provoking advice. When he finished speaking, the room erupted into a round of applause.
There is one thing he said that really stuck with me: It is necessary to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. He said that when you’re able to fully lean into the unknown, or the things that make you feel anxious to your core, you learn the most about yourself and the world around you. He used this in the context of learning to accept his true identity as a male so that he could seek happiness.
As a senior, much of my life is currently in the hands of an excessive amount of proactivity, great timing, and potentially some good karma. But once I graduate, everything in my life will change. I will no longer see the same people. I will no longer be put into the exploratory stage of life labeled “college student.” I will no longer seek happiness through an almond milk cappuccino at my favorite Ann Arbor coffee shop. The word “adulting” alone is enough to throw me into a panic. However, Will’s words changed my perspective. Sure, maybe the future is unknown, but this insecurity is also exciting. It is empowering to think that if one accepts this unknowingness, they have the potential to truly do anything.
About a week after Will’s presentation, I got a New York Times notification on my phone. “Transgender Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump.” The relevance of this headline to Will’s story was both surprising and affirmed my belief that phones do listen to their owners. I squinted my eyes to make sure I was reading the title correctly and stopped in my tracks. After listening to an amazing speaker talk about his process of introspection and becoming comfortable with his true identity, why was this the world we lived in? I quickly realized Will’s very personal lesson about addressing your own differences applies to others. That when people do not understand or experience the parts of you that are different, a lack of acceptance with those differences can be labeled as hatred.
We live in a world where there is a lot of hate. People come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors and believe in different faiths, politics, and viewpoints. Despite this, if everyone tried to understand each other and the different paths we walk upon, we would find that the road we are all walking is really just the same. At the end of the day, most human beings simply seek happiness and human connection. Yet, much of the hatred and violence in the world starts with misunderstanding. The way to truly bridge this gap is through making people “uncomfortable.” Putting them in a room with someone who is different than them and letting them realize their similarities on their own. I must give an ode to Queer Eye here that is an incredible example of how human connection can be created to fight against prejudice. When we start trying to walk in someone else’s shoes or educate ourselves on new topics, we grow as a result.
Are there answers to neutralizing the world of hate that we live in? Currently, I don’t believe there are any solid answers, but the first thing that comes to mind is love. Love for all people, love for all places, love for the world. Call me an idealist, but once the stories of the silenced are heard and valued, positive change can take place. This idealism can become a reality if all people learn to respect each other, educate themselves, and think before they act. We must accept our differences on both an individual level and a global level. I wish that stories like these would be shared with the people making decisions about those who are marginalized. I hope that they too can learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.