Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 6-19-2020
We could all agree that our country appears to be divisive, yet again. Do I say that as if it’s an awful thing? Not necessarily. I believe, very truly, in freedom of speech. I also believe, that although it is rooted into our human rights in the U.S., people tend to come up with very crafty ways of shutting down those who try to practice it. Regardless of the amount of wars we have fought, the amount of murders we deem ‘acceptable’, as a mental health clinician, Afghanistan veteran and trauma specialist, I do NOT believe it is human nature to kill and destroy. I believe, it is human nature to want to survive. Unfortunately, there are occasions where our survival means others (attackers or predators) must die. That is the exception, not the rule. For the most part, our survival relies on connection, love, work ethic, community and kindness. If we are taught that our survival relies on the extinction, oppression or neglect of another human race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender and so on, we were terribly misled.
I think back on Afghanistan quite a bit, who wouldn’t? I will be honest, finally, when I discuss those small minute seconds/ minutes that scared me the most. Honestly, it wasn’t even the bombs that landed on our FOB (forward operating base), as if that wasn’t alarming enough. (These damn fireworks and sirens going off in Brooklyn everyday have not been fun.) I will never forget the stares. Anywhere I went, armed Afghan men (Afghan national army & civilians as well were working on our base) staring me down. This was after we were already warned of “green on blue shootings”, meaning an Afghan soldier killing an American soldier. They didn’t stare at the men the same way, they stared at the women more intently, the gaze never stopped. I’m sure it had something to do with them never seeing women unveiled, I learned to adapt to those stares every day. Whether I was headed to work, the gym or driving the gator across the FOB to pick up the mail, they never stopped staring. I was outnumbered every single time. I was armed, of course, but so were they. Everything in my mind wanted to see them as an enemy, it was one of the hardest bias’s I ever had to shake. Yes, I had to shake off that bias. Why? Because we can’t just go killing people or getting people killed due to our fear and bias. That is unjust. I recognize many are proud American’s, but we as humans are not more valuable than the humans in any other country.
It sounds ironic, but the military is incredibly good at teaching us the value of human life. One of the more common lines most of us have heard is “You need to take this shit seriously, or people can/ will get killed.” This was said not just in relation to ‘our own people on our own team’, but also the risk of collateral damage; innocent civilians. Most of the military men/ women I have met and worked with in a mental health setting did not crave killing others. They also had many moral injuries due to the nature of the mission’s they were tasked to do. Most would agree, they hope no one must die. Most would make the conscious decision to spare a life if they could help it.
We are fighting for survival every single day, but it does not mean people have to always kill in order to accomplish this. Although every human has that innate need to survive, we were not necessarily taught the same way, how to survive. Some are taught that survival means kindness, morals, teamwork. Others, unfortunately must fight for survival. Especially if they are in an area plagued with community violence/ oppression. Then survival becomes an exhausting and plaguing mission, leaving little to no energy to thrive. Then, others are in seemingly safer areas, being taught that survival means ‘staying away from certain areas’ or ‘staying away from certain types of people’. When we get into this mode, we are no longer surviving with healthy & moral tactics, we are now trying to survive off of a bias. It may seem innocent, and many can downplay this with a “better to be safe than sorry” mindset. However, if our bias get’s one innocent person killed, we took it way too far. Then, our mislead survival ‘instincts’ (prejudice, bias, triggers) become more dangerous than any enemy we could have ever imagined. We are now the danger, if we incriminate others based off those taught fears.
Who has the capability of minding their bias and knowing when their bias becomes a danger to themselves or other people? I find that it is incredibly hard to put ourselves and others in check with this. Right now, the average person is having a very hard time getting their points across without it turning into a large verbal altercation either in person or via online ‘keyboard warrior style’. I can absolutely relate to most of the population when I say, these arguments do in fact, get old and played out. However, if we lose our ability to practice our freedom of speech, we lose our ability to talk about danger and survival. We then lose our ability to stand up for ourselves and point out injustice. If we are forced into sweeping injustices under the rug and staying silent about it, we then live in a world where the true predators are free to prey again. Which is even more of a detriment to our survival than social media arguments.
In order to build and ‘survive’, this country has had a long and extensive history of war, murder, slavery, servitude, oppression and so on. Let’s just call it what it is. Bringing up the past is not a threat, and we must stop perceiving it as such. It’s reminding us that we must do better and be better. We may have all “gotten this far”, but could we have not done a better job? Couldn’t we be doing better now? Free of bias, coercion and control? We may have gotten this far, but are we all free and liberated to the point where we can speak freely without being told to leave the country? Can we all pursuit happiness as easily and effortlessly as our neighbor? Can we all go for a jog without getting shot? Can we all get our right to a trial and not get murdered? (No, I’m not a democrat)
How were you taught to survive? Was it easy or hard? Did it involve a form of discrimination to include staying away from other’s who looked different? Did it involve stepping on others to make your way to the top? Did it involve calling 911 if something or someone just looked suspicious? What is suspicious to you? Why is it suspicious? Were you taught that some must die for others to survive? Did your survival involve pretending the past didn’t happen? Denial? Moving on with life and not talking about the horrors of what you saw others go through? Were you taught that other people practicing freedom of speech are dangerous and ‘ungrateful’? Were you taught to listen and hear a person out when they are discussing their traumas and their fight for survival? Were you taught that your community is the way every community is? Or were you taught that perhaps other people’s version of survival involves a completely different template, something that you may never be able to fathom? Have you ventured outside the ‘safety bubble’ of your hometown long enough to experience a new way of survival?
I recognize this may be one of my more offensive blogs. However, I do believe in freedom of speech like I said in the intro. I also recognize the importance of deep discussions and self-exploration, much like what I do with clients. When humans began to realize that the power of speech sometimes meant the power/ ability to survive, it opened a door for a completely new/ safer lifestyle. It meant they could reason with each other, borrow, trade, assimilate, blend and much more. We may all be surviving with some form of bias but remember that everyone else wants to survive as well. That ‘annoying’ person screaming and ranting and raving on Facebook that has completely different views than you, wants to survive as well. More listening, less killing. We want to survive, and the bitch of it is, we need each other to do it. You can go and live off of the grid in the mountains with no neighbor in sight, but someone was experienced enough to build that house for you. Someone is delivering your fresh water, someone is taking your trash. Someone is farming/ slaughtering/ cleaning/ packaging and providing your food. They may or may not be people that are ‘to your liking’, but they are involved in your survival. We need each other to survive, more than we need our bias.
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A powerful blog❣️
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