Something I spent much of my life believing was that people are only one thing.
They are their worst action, they are their best action, they are something in between. They are one person they associated with, or they are one person they didn’t work with. In school, we’re oftentimes taught to think about things in terms of absolutes, and while it is easy to understand as a child, ultimately ingrains in all of us this sort of sentiment that denies the very innate part of being human: that we are all people with nuance. We should look towards understanding people from many perspectives to gain a further, more complete picture.
Like most kids, I usually had the highest of opinions of people when I grew up. Whenever I saw someone not live up to that high standard, I was heartbroken. It didn’t matter whether it was a family member or a role model, it would hit me like a truck every time this happened. I’d lose any sort of trust with someone or isolate myself from interacting. This sort of trend resulted in me keeping my distance as I got into middle and high school. I didn’t want to ever have strong praise or a stronger connection with someone (whether I knew them personally or not) because I never wanted to be let down. I never wanted that feeling of severe disappointment to ever happen again. While I may have gotten to save myself in some instances, I also felt like I didn’t get a chance to be as open to people as I needed to to get the most out of relationships with people.
About three or so years ago, when I started getting into journalism, I learned my approach to making judgments about people just was not conducive to my happiness nor my ability to work with others. In many aspects, I credit abolitionist frameworks and writing feature articles that pushed me. Abolitionists taught me that you should never make your complete conclusions about any one person based on the worst thing they ever did. For months, a year plus, I refused and didn’t want to believe this was the way to go about life. But, the more I interviewed and reported on human beings, I realized that is the only way you can then begin to understand who people are. You research their family history, talk to them about their jobs, and their mistakes. It is the human in context that then allows you to evaluate what they did was good or bad.
Out of all the times to write about this, I am choosing to do so now because I find this approach so crucial to analyzing and evaluating what we are seeing today. There is no thinker, no activist, no human being you ever have to unanimously agree with. And in contrast, I would argue that it is dangerous to follow any one person, whether far right, far left, or center. I think a lot about the discourse of Angela Davis and her casting a vote for Biden. I saw people shaming others into not supporting her agenda because some disagree with her voting for Biden. But it would be Angela Davis that would remind us that you should always make decisions for yourself. Just because someone may like Angela Davis or anyone else in politics on a particular issue, that does not mean they should agree with everything they say. Nuance stemming from back and forth discussions with friends and peers allows you to have your own informed opinion. I agree with MLK on a lot, disagree with him on some parts, but I still value his voice and recognize how important he was and remains.
When I think about how I approach a person’s perspective, I first listen to what they have to say, then do my research to understand the context through which they came to that opinion. I see what other people have said about their perspective, how they have evolved, and then I will make a conclusion. That conclusion is also very well subject to change, and I welcome it shifting. This is a practice that takes a lot of work, and I mess up a lot. But my commitment to this vision, to this belief, is something that I always am going to listen, to learn, to adapt, and grow. It may not be a strategy people will appreciate or something that may “look” particularly good in application. But I do this for myself. I do this to hold myself accountable to think about the world in this way, to look at all people with an open mind. It’s the only way I see approaching ideas worthwhile.
Being Noah Tesfaye #141: How I’m Training Myself to See the Humanity in All People
Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!