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that one thing

April 21, 2022

I’ve been thinking about how we sometimes judge people, who are generally complex, on a single characteristic.

This came to mind as I thought about Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill this past week. I have my opinions about that bill and whether it will or should do what DeSantis hopes. But I’m not going to get into that. What I’ve been more interested in is how someone's sexuality is a big deal to some people but not others.

And not just sexuality. Pretty much any personal attribute can be a big deal to you if you let it – or if you choose it to be.

A guy makes a new friend. They get to know each other, hang out a few times. Things are going well. They’ve got a lot in common. The conversation doesn’t touch on religion, until it does, at which point the new friend mentions going to church on Sunday. The guy, a staunch atheist, pulls away.

A woman gets to know a colleague at work, a new hire on her team. They work well together and push each other to perform. Until the woman learns that the new hire is a Republican. The woman, a Democrat, pulls away.

A woman in college meets a guy in one of her classes and is instantly attracted. She strikes up a conversation and realizes the attraction is mutual. He asks her on a date, but when he picks her up in his car, he's playing country music. She despises country music. She asks him if he ever listens to hip hop, and he says he "Never." She decides against a second date.

We each have many different attributes. Our gender, sexuality, religious beliefs (or disbeliefs), political persuasions, hobbies, interests in music…. For some of us, specific attributes in other people carry a lot of weight, and attributes that matter to some don’t matter to others. Some of us wouldn’t care if our new friend is religious or not, while for others of us, this is everything. Some of us don’t mind that our favorite person at work disagrees with our political ideology, while for others, different beliefs breed disrespect and distance. And some people might not flinch if a new love interest listens to music they hate, but for others, it's a dealbreaker.

I’m not judging anyone here, and I’m not saying any of us are better than the rest, because we're not.

I’m also not saying that you’ve got to love everyone. I don’t love everyone. Some people drive me up the freaking wall. Who you hang out with is your prerogative, and it’s understandably subjective.

All I’m saying is that it’s interesting what attributes we choose to care about – and how much we choose to care about them. I mean… are we making these types of choices thoughtfully, or are we making them emotionally? Are we basing our decisions on objective data or on recollections from our own personal experiences (which are naturally biased)?

It matters because what you care about in other people can impact your decisions in ways that impact your life. What you care about can bias how you evaluate your options. It can even take some good options off the table.

Years ago, when I was going through a very rough time, the only people who were there for me in a way I needed were a religious married couple. They cared about me, supported me, showed me love I never knew before – and I let them, even though their religious beliefs were very different from mine. And no, they did not shove Jesus down my throat.

After moving to Colorado, I found a handyman who seriously has my back. If I have an emergency, he’s there, and he’ll plow snow off my driveway without my having to ask. His political beliefs are not my political beliefs. His tastes in music are questionable, in my opinion. But I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him around.

My life has been richer because of people who have attributes that I don’t love. Where would I be if I let those attributes matter to me more than they did?

What you care about in other people is a choice. Which means it shouldn’t be emotional, impulsive, or biased. It shouldn’t be driven by your ego, your fears, your resentment, your personal experiences, or your short-term discomfort. Decisions made this way aren’t great decisions.

And this type of choice is important enough to be made well.

Though in some cases, one bad attribute may be enough. I loved Woody Allen before allegations about his sexual abuse came to light. Now, you can’t get me to watch a Woody Allen film unless Timothee Chalamet is in it, and even then it’s rough. I was a fan of Louis C.K. until I heard about him masturbating in front of women without their consent. Now I won’t give him any of my time. For me, how people treat others matters more than how they enrich the world with their art. I’ve thought it through carefully, and their talent is just not worth that much to me.

But that’s me. You’ve got your own choices to make. I just hope you make them well.

That is all.

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