The truth is, I’m afraid of you.
Well, maybe not you– not you specifically. You and I would probably be good friends. We’d go out for coffee and tea, and you’d learn to understand all my different smiles, and I’d learn to understand yours.
You are probably a great keeper of secrets, a trustworthy friend. You are probably open-minded, gracious, funny, and kind. Of course I am not afraid of you.
I’m afraid of you. The collective you. The you who doesn’t believe that someone with an opposing opinion is good at heart. The you who says I believe what I believe because I am confused, trod upon, and stifled.
I am stifled, but not by the oppressors you mention. You are my oppressor. The collective you.
I am your poster child and you put me on your banners. You didn’t ask for my opinions, and I don’t tell. The truth is, there’s a lot of things I don’t share because I know it matters to you in a way that would keep you from having a cup of tea with me.
Sure, you say you’d understand– and maybe the singular you– the one sitting across from me at a cafe really would.
But the collective you wants to eat me alive, wants to steal my thoughts and turn them into your own. The collective you wants me dead because I am a well-spoken spokesperson for the opposition and even torture is too good for the likes of me.
You want my eyes scratched out. You want my flaws exposed. You want to weaken my stance in the face of others, and weaken me so that you can inject me full of your idealism.
I think you call it “saving” me.
In a way, I thank you for that. I know you believe what you believe– truly, and unequivocally– and I’m honored that you think I am worth saving.
On the other hand, I know the consequence if I choose not to accept your grace.
I’ve seen you– the collective you– in the comments of YouTube videos and BuzzFeed articles. You are anonymous, you are fierce, and you are angry that anyone would dare believe differently.
You’ve decided that the only reasonable explanation is that opposers are confused, misinformed, or evil — perhaps all three.
I am not evil, and I am too smart to be misinformed, so I must be confused.
This analysis of my complex self, and this circular reasoning, confuses me more than anything.
You want a world where I am not silenced by others?
Only by you?
At a cafe, the singular you would hear me out. I would make you smile. It is a particular gift of mine. People smile even when I’m saying things they don’t approve of, or believe in. It’s a trait that makes the singular you and I such good friends.
It’s the trait that makes me an enemy of the collective you.
I am an enemy and you are fighting a war. If I speak, you’ll find me, so I stay silent– because I have things to protect. A family, a mind, a tapestry of beliefs, and a brilliant river of love. These things are mine and you — the collective you– will destroy them just to prove a point.
I understand, and I’ve always understood this.
A little version of myself, decades ago, sat on the knee of her father — my father — and asked a question that she’d be asking for the whole rest of her life– “Why do people get so angry?”
Dad explained. “People get angry because good people stay silent. People need to see, and hear, how very different people can lead very good lives. Silence makes secrets, secrets make fear. Only noise makes peace.”
Simple words for a child, without any signs of the struggle it is to make noise. Simple words, without any thought to the idea that maybe the child sitting on his lap didn’t possess his courage.
She would grow up, noisy on the inside and silent on the outside, because you– the collective you– is at war.
She is the enemy. She was born the enemy. She is me, and I am afraid.
I know that the singular you and I could share a pot of tea one day. I could share my life with you, and count on you to keep my secrets silent. The singular you frees me as much as the collective you imprisons me. The singular you encourages noise, but the collective you reminds me to stay silent.
If I make noise, the collective will find me– and, failing to save me, will bloody my river of love.
But there’s a risk to silence, too. People have been known to suffocate under masks.