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No one will improve by avoiding talking about areas for improvement.

The other day we stopped our car in a nearby neighborhood to adjust something on our roof rack. As I got down from our Jeep, I inadvertently stepped right in a big fresh pile of dog excrement. I didn’t think, “Oh, our community is awful, everything about it is awful, and people should go around feeling ashamed of it.” Instead, more naturally, I thought, “Wow, how inconsiderate of some jerk to not pick up after their dog. We can do better than this. That person should really not let that happen again. And, certainly, others should not follow that person’s poor example.”

Recently, I saw that someone had chalked some threatening anti-gay and other chauvinistic tripe on a sidewalk in a nearby suburb. I didn’t think, “Oh, our community is awful, everything about it is awful, and people should go around feeling ashamed of it.” Instead, more naturally, I thought, “Wow, how inappropriate of some jerk to write something so threatening. We can do better than this. That person should really not let that happen again. And, certainly, others should not follow that person’s poor example.”

Similarly, when I said to my son, “Please clean up your room,” I didn’t think, “Oh, my son is awful, our house is terrible, we should all hate ourselves.” I simply thought, “I love our house, and I’d like it if we could all help keep it nice.”

When one of us recently spilled coffee, I didn’t think, “Oh, coffee sucks, you’re a terrible person, and I hate this kitchen.” I thought, “Could you please clean that up so we can all continue to enjoy this nice kitchen together.”

This “you’re just too negative about our community and our neighbors” line is really specious. I see it deployed regularly these days as a comeback to many sorts of comments expressing concern about racism, religious bias, anti-LGBTQ sentiments, and the like. The argument appears to be an attempt to shut off conversation, saying we can only talk about positive things. Grow up, folks. Any mental health professional, clergyperson, teacher, parent, or person with half a brain can tell you that nobody is perfect and that no one will improve by avoiding talking about areas for improvement. Have you ever been a supervisor or leader at your workplace? Have you ever been to youth camp? We always talk about areas for improvement. To avoid doing so is self-defeating.

I’m done with this line: “Oh, don’t be so negative about our community.” It’s code for, “Just shut up and be happy with our straight, Christian, white chauvinism.” I’m not going to shut up. And, before you twist my words, no, I have nothing against straights, Christians, and whites. I do have something against chauvinism.

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