Projections of the Past

This post continues the themes of Strike the Root and We’re more alike than different.

Last night I came across more commentary about the youth taking a stand to demand gun reform. And I felt so conflicted. I find myself really wanting to support their efforts because how can you deny them? How can you get in the way of young people trying to make a positive difference in the world? I don’t want to dampen that fire at all. However, I find I can’t support their actual cause, and it’s actually hurting me because I want to so badly. From a practical standpoint, I honestly don’t believe more gun laws will reduce violence (and prohibition has never worked well in this country) but I can openly admit I could be wrong about this. But from a deeper place, and what makes this so difficult for me, is that I’ve come to realize that I’m unfairly projecting my own fears and anger onto these very kids. It has nothing to do with my (admittedly uneducated) opinions on gun control, but with my own horrible experience with public school.

Not that long ago, I was the target of relentless teasing in school, simply because I was “different”. When I see these young people standing up to decry gun violence, all I can see are the kids who didn’t think twice about making fun of me and others for not being like them, and all the other kids who just witnessed it and didn’t do anything. I feel the rejection of the popular kids all over again. I wasn’t pretty enough, cool enough. I was kind of weird. It was easy for the insecure ones to make me the scapegoat and dump all their own feelings of inadequacy on me.

When the teasing began, it hurt me very deeply. I’m an incredibly sensitive person and this pain of rejection was almost too much to bear. I started to build walls and become numb and hide my true self. It wasn’t too long until that pain led to a sense of indignation and anger. I tried getting back at those who bullied me, and even started to distance myself from other kids who were “weird”. I quickly learned the social structure. You don’t associate with the weird different kids unless you too want to be seen as weird and made fun of. If someone was getting made fun of, most kids just tried staying out of it. Those who stick out their necks to defend the victim become immediate targets.

There was a boy I had a crush on, and at some point, he starting making fun of me. This was a pretty hard blow to my adoring sensitive heart. So the next year, I relentlessly teased him whenever I saw him, usually making fun of his high-cut socks that I thought were dorky. Years later in high school, we started to become friends until one day he just acted mad at me and didn’t want to talk. He finally blew up on me for making fun of him years before and I was shocked. First, I thought that was water under the bridge. Second, he completely denied ever making fun of me, which was the ONLY reason I ever started making fun of him. Despite my sincere apologies and attempts to make things right, he never forgave me and our friendship died right there.

The sad truth is that I LIKED him. I wanted to be friends with him when I first met him. But he rejected me. And that rejection and disconnection made me want to hurt him. I wanted him to feel the same pain I did. I wanted him to feel as disconnected as me.

Unfortunately, I succeeded.

Disconnection breeds more disconnection.

As I’ve grown older, those desires to “get even” at others have disappeared. I’m not a mean person at all and can’t stand the idea of having hurt anyone (my mean phase didn’t last long at all, it’s so opposite of who I am). However, I think my previous desires of revenge have morphed into something else. I think I’ve used spirituality and a search for wisdom as ways to keep my distance from others. I’m far more spiritual than most people and sometimes this gives me a feeling of superiority (which is the opposite of true spirituality). I don’t need to get back at others for hurting me. I simply have to rise above them and condemn them all for being blind fools. I’m convinced I’m smarter than others, that I know better.

And so, when a massive uprising of young people starts forming over an issue I believe is well-meaning but misguided, I’m triggered a million ways. While I still think my overall analysis of the situation has been correct, I see now where my pains of disconnection are getting prodded and how I’m projecting my own fears onto the innocent.

I have no clue as to the characters of these youth. Like all large movements, I assume this one is full of the good, the bad, and those just jumping on the bandwagon. But I can’t make any judgments about any of them because I know zero about any of them. I have no right to project the mean kids of my past (and the kids who simply stood by without defending me) onto this group of kids. In recognizing this, I feel somewhat ashamed. I beg these kids to not project their own fears onto others while I project my fear onto them. Pretty hypocritical, right?

It’s hard to openly admit my hypocrisy (and yet, so liberating), but I’m glad to actually be the asshole right now if for no other reason than to give my readers a clear example of what I’ve been trying to communicate (please read referenced posts at the beginning): WE HAVE TO STOP projecting our darkness onto others. I’ve been distancing myself from these young people because it triggers my own pain. But disconnecting from them only ensures I will not listen to them or work with them to reach our common goals.

When I realized all of this last night, I was finally able to open my heart. I was sobbing from my own fountain of pain, but also realizing that I truly do love these young people. I wasn’t able to feel that love until I stopped projecting my pain onto them. When I owned my pain and released them from responsibility, I could see them as being just like me. Eleven years ago I too was a young person on fire with a desire to change the world for good. And just as I was supported by adults back then, I would like now to be the adult supporting a new generation of world changers.

My projections and judgments have been wrong, but there is an important lesson to be learned from both my painful past experiences and also my current situation.

The moment you stand up for truth, your own hypocrisy is going to be thrown in your face. Whenever you make a judgment call on others, you raise the bar for your own behavior. Expect everything you say and do to be scrutinized, and be thankful to discover when you have been wrong, as it allows you the chance to grow and become a better person.

To young people everywhere (and everyone else!), please listen to me: you must protect one another, not just from guns, but from your own insecurities. Don’t distance yourself from those who are “weird” and different from you. Never make fun of your classmates or harrass them, even if you think they deserve it somehow. And when you witness bullying, DO SOMETHING about it. Speak up for the voiceless, stand up for the weak, reach out to the lonely. Stop it with the dumb exclusive cliques and connect with people outside your normal social circles. There is so much pain in your schools, and I know you have the power to heal one another if you would simply reach out and connect. I wish I could go back in time and do the same. Although I can’t change the past, I can decide to do better going forward.

If we want to take a stand against violence, then we need to make sure we aren’t feeding violence in our own hearts. If we’re going to preach love, then we must BE love in all circumstances to all people. Otherwise, all our marches and movements and legislation are useless. Carry on with the righteous fight, but remember to examine your heart and behavior in all situations so that your walk matches your talk.

Writing about these topics has been good for me. I hope that I will continue to recognize my own false projections for what they are, and to allow my past experiences to draw me closer to others as opposed to keeping me away.

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