I think it’s fair to say that for many of us, returning to our hometowns over the holidays can be challenging. We go off and live our own experiences in other towns; experiences that are different from those who have stayed around. We surround ourselves with people with different opinions (a great variety of opinions if we’re in urban centres) and coming home can mean coming to an environment vastly different from that which we’ve grown accustomed.
I love my hometown. It’s got everything you need: kindhearted people, expansive fields, clear, starry night skies, two Tim Horton’s… You know, the essentials. It also has its limitations, of course: It’s small. Its demographic is aging – a microcosmic sample of the region at large. Employment is down. Its got a number of people who are relatively stuck in their ways and unwilling to fully listen to outsiders.
I’m gonna go on a bit of tangent but I promise it circles back.
I have long had the habit of taking things too personally. My parents would say something that rubbed me the wrong way in some small capacity and I would lock myself in my room for hours. In my early adulthood that’s still very much a part of my personality. Many might say “Well, get over it! Grow up!” and for many things that has certainly been the case. I overreact and it can cause some unnecessary stress in others, but I’ve read and watched enough Brene Brown (www.brenebrown.com) to not feel ashamed about it. It is part of my DNA to attach myself emotionally to issues with varying degrees of importance. I choose to live my life with the belief that I should embrace the things that make me me, so here’s how I see it:
I take things people say or do and I mull them over and pick them apart. Something might affect me in a way I can’t define, so I let my emotions play out to their fullest extent in order to try to unpack what it is that’s making me feel gross. I want to confront the feeling head-on and not run away from it. This allows me to learn from it. More often than not, I get affected by words that people say that are harmful to others: particularly others who don’t have the capacity to speak for themselves. Put another way, I call people out when they say things that frame other human beings as inferior or lesser than. I’m proud of that aspect of myself. If I feel that someone’s words or actions have potential to put others down, I take the step to counter that action.
I have felt that when I try to pick things apart in that way, people jump to the assumption that I am overthinking. I’m getting too emotional. I’m approaching the issue too heated and I need to get more levelheaded. But I’d like to really look at that word, “overthinking”. How do we define that? Where’s the line that distinguishes giving something some thought from overthinking it? I would say that it’s totally fine to think about stuff. That’s… what humans do. And don’t we value people for being thoughtful? I love this intellectual part of my personality. I love being able to think things through and truly understand them. And wouldn’t it be great to try and master our emotions and not allow them to take full control of our actions?
All that to say, I feel that this aspect of my personality hits a wall whenever I come home. Being in small town New Brunswick, where people’s values seem to be relatively set in stone, my approach to emotion and thinking gets met with resistance. What I would love to have happen is a more supportive approach to conversation on both sides. I need to work on not jumping to the conclusion that I am stifled in my hometown, and I would find it helpful if I could be listened to all the way through before being pinned as overemotional. I get so excited when I’m surrounded by people who, though they may have super different opinions, are open to speak productively rather than build walls thinking that, due to the depth of my thought, we just have to “agree to disagree”. We can all find things in others with which we can agree, and we can (and should) find things to disagree with as well! Life would be dull if we didn’t disagree about stuff and have fun and fruitful discussions.
I am grateful for my expressive and thoughtful personality just as much as I am grateful for my queerness. Being an outsider gives me the advantage of seeing things from the outside. When you’re not straight in rural New Brunswick, it becomes so apparent how easily you can be excluded from everyday life. I have a lot to say about my experiences of a town that relies so strongly on heteronormativity. And guess what: I’m not the only one. There is a ton of people, even in this small little town, who feel on the “outside” in some way. If we were all to become more open about talking about this, it would become apparent that we should be more thoughtful and considerate about the words or actions that make social groups feel more inferior than others. It’s not just a matter of pulling up our pants and getting to work. It’s a matter of pulling up our pants and getting to work on allowing space for all sorts of people with varying experiences.
I think it is important to note here that my “calling out” of people’s (un)intentional put-downs is not meant to be a way of showing more power. I don’t think I’m all high and mighty because I’ve had tough experiences growing up or because I have a lot of education. Conversations would be much less tense if we could assume the best of people. When you talk to me, assume that I have the best intentions, and I will assume the same. If we approach conversations in that way, they will be productive and fun rather than unnecessarily chaotic. We can all learn from each other if we can take the time to listen and assume good intentions.
I want to leave this world better than what it was. We can’t solve bullying or prejudice overnight. But there is nothing wrong with working towards the ultimate goal of happiness for everyone. We can work a little bit every day at listening to others’ needs and communicating effectively in order to improve the state of being for people around the world. We don’t need to feel shame, or be dismissed, for thinking that we can improve the world. Just because things are the way they are does not mean they cannot change.
I love this town, and the potential of change I’ve been seeing take shape over the years. The more we get artists to work and express here, and the more we allow everyone to feel freely and openly, the better it will be. Let’s listen to each other. Until I die, I will be proud of myself for fighting on behalf of others and advocating for better listening.
Do you have something about yourself that makes you that proud?