San Fran Lets People Be Who They Are
One of the things that most college-educated people are at least vaguely familiar with is the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which basically says that there are five different levels of human needs and that the basic levels need to be met before people can attend to the higher levels. Put in very simple terms, you don’t have the energy to worry about complex issues of self-actualization if you haven’t eaten in three days and you’re worried that another day will pass before you have food.
This hierarchy gets put in to action in numerous different ways, and I have been reminded about it again since I have been back in my hometown for the holidays. In particular, I enjoyed a holiday dinner with several friends of mixed sexual orientation during which we were reminiscing about various times including the different experiences people had with coming out to their families. Reminiscing might not be the right word. What is the word for looking back not-so-nostalgically on the hardest of times and simply being glad that they are over?
In any case, through conversation, I was reminded that many of my friends went through years and years of inner turmoil while they agonized over whether or not they should come out to their friends and family. It seems almost unfathomable to me now, because I live in a time and place which are both accepting, and I choose to surround myself with people who are open to many different ways of living. But back then, there was almost a singular focus on sexuality; some were concerned about coming out and others were out and championing for rights but the focus was strong for everyone.
Today, my mixed-orientation group of friends is comprised of people who are all at different levels of self-actualization. We are involved in creative fields; we are pursuing education; we are dreaming of different ways to make a family. We are constantly pushing our own limits and asking ourselves, “who am I?” and “who do I want to be?” And we are in a position where this question is answered only in part, and often in small part, based on their sexuality.
This is particularly true of my friends in San Francisco. We have found a place of safety, where our diverse sexual interests are barely glanced at by the others in our lives (except with an eye for interesting personal gossip). Most of us have toyed around with our sexual choices and preferences until we have found something which works for us as individuals, and we have become comfortable with whatever that choice is.
Having become comfortable, and being supported by a community where we are safe, we can move on to higher levels in our hierarchy of needs. And I think maybe this is part of the reason why San Francisco is such a diverse, creative, interesting place filled with dynamic people who are doing amazing things. No matter who we are or what our life choices, we do not have to struggle so much here to be accepted. We do not have the limitations that other places in the country have, limitations which force people to focus on obtaining basic rights. And so, we can re-invent and re-define ourselves based on the myriad factors which move us and not merely on the hang-ups which other people have.
Despite this, of course, there are boundaries on just how much freedom and openness there is between people, even in San Francisco. We do sometimes have to attend to the business of maintaining our basic rights, because there are people who want to limit them every chance that they get. And of course, much of this limitation is based on fear of change. When people are not in a position where they have to constantly fend for themselves, they move in to a position of being able to create change. They can be inspired, they can work towards new solutions to all sorts of problems. They can move on to those higher levels. This is what changes the world.
During this time of year when charity is at its strongest, remember that you contribute to the world around you by allowing others to merely be who they are. It is important to work for your rights and the rights of others, whether your personal cause is gay marriage (see the latest local news here!!), abortion rights, children’s rights or something else all together. But more than what you do in your work, what matters is what you do in your life. By loving those around you simply for the way that they are, you create a safe space where those around you can grow and become new, interesting and dynamic individuals.