Manifesto of a Catholic

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I am a Catholic. Extremely.

Yes, that’s right; I want the world to know that I am a proponent of Radical Extremist Catholicism. No, I am not going to allow you to label me as an Extremist Catholic, or a Leftist Catholic, or a Radical Catholic, or a Cafeteria Catholic or any other adjective of your choosing. I am simply a Catholic; extremely.

I believe in God, in Jesus Christ his only son, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Extremely.

I am extremely opposed to neo-Nazis, white nationalists, Klansmen, racists and bigots of any kind.

I am extremely opposed to capitalists, communists, authoritarians, totalitarians and peddlers of greed and oppression.

I am extremely opposed to war.

I am extremely opposed to abortion.

I am extremely opposed to euthanasia.

I am extremely opposed to animal cruelty.

I am extremely opposed to police brutality.

I am extremely opposed to capital punishment.

I am extremely opposed to any kind of violence towards any other living creatures.

I am an extreme believer that healthcare is a fundamental human right.

I am an extreme advocate for the poor and oppressed.

I am an extreme advocate for the rights of all immigrants of good will, regardless of their status.

I am an extreme believer in science and man-made climate change.

I extremely believe that we have an obligation to care for our planet, the creation that was given to us by our Creator.

I extremely believe that we will all face judgement before our Creator and that he will judge each one of us based on how we treated and tended to our brothers and sisters in this life. Who are your brothers and sisters, you ask? You extremely need to read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

I extremely believe in civility in discourse and I believe that those who refuse to see the fact that a world exists outside of themselves have made a willful choice to ignore the word of God.

I extremely believe that we have become far too hard, too violent, too abrasive and too vindictive as a species and I am extremely concerned that too many people are choosing the easier road to Hell, rather than striving to be their best selves.

I am a Catholic. Extremely. I can be nothing else.

 

Feed the Good Wolf

Is it ever acceptable to make a conscious choice to fully disengage from the madness of the political realm? That’s a rather bold question coming from someone who is as opinionated as I am. But I’m beginning to notice a somewhat disconcerting trend in the clients I interact with on a daily basis. Working in a mental health clinic has its inherent challenges. Many clients are already feeling the complications of chemical imbalances and stress factors, both internal and external; it is elementary to see how these existing conditions are exacerbated by the constant bombardment of media via portable electronic devices and TV news. Social media only serves to further augment the sense of siege that many of my clients feel that they are under; many cannot differentiate between legitimate news and the ever-increasing flood of “fake news.” I don’t think I need to elaborate on the difficulties faced by individuals with mental health problems in terms of processing information that they’ve heard or read; fear mongering and overt negativity can push unstable people over the proverbial edge.

But the manifestations of media overload aren’t just impacting people with diagnosed mental illness. We can see the evidence of this at family gatherings and social events with friends–some clinicians might have us believe that everyone suffers from some sort of mental imbalance and while I can certainly bring myself to appreciate their perspective, I am not convinced that this is universally true. Essentially I’m referring to otherwise fully functioning individuals who, as a result of a number of factors including the 24/7 news cycle, attachment to social media and political polarization which is leading people to shelter themselves from individuals with differing opinions by associating only with people who fit their own political mold, are becoming mentally and emotionally frazzled and even unhinged. I can recall numerous gatherings in my younger years where politics would be the debate topic du jour, but they never resulted in outright screaming and vitriolic ad hominem attacks; recently, however, the viciousness has become far more commonplace and this is simply not healthy for any parties involved.

It is this behavior that is prompting me to wonder if it might not be best for some of us to take some time off from the game of politics. I realize that in doing so, especially given the current global political climate, one risks enabling the potential forces of authoritarian populism to spread unchecked. Could we perhaps remain in tune with the “top stories” for the sake of keeping an eye on things while maintaining a certain distance? I suppose this is possible, though I am suspicious. I don’t know if there is a middle ground to be found. My primary concern is far more micro in scope; I’m worried about individual people and their mental wellness. Of course rampant fascism would not bring any greater semblance of mental stability to the nation and world as a whole, but I often wonder if some–not all, mind you–of the political boogeymen that we encounter on our social media feeds are contrived for the sake of stoking fear and instilling uneasiness in us; what is it that we are fundamentally lacking as a species that lends itself to our collective trepidation?

I’m not one to preach; those who know me personally know that I am a practicing Catholic. I will be the first to acknowledge that I am a terrible Catholic. I need my Church more than it needs me. I find a sense of peace in my faith and I understand why many people who are opposed to the notion of religious belief feel the way they do; some would accuse me of attempting to artificially manufacture a sense of purpose and security in a world that is chaotic and violent. I stand accused and guilty of their charges, in that I do find purpose and security in my faith; as to whether or not it is manufactured, we will simply have to agree to disagree. I’m the last person who is going to try to convert anyone, as I have always seen my faith as something that should be personal in words while being visible in actions–I don’t mean outward expressions of wearing my faith on my sleeves, so to speak or making the sign of the cross after scoring a goal in pickup hockey; I mean kindness, empathy and a sincere attempt at trying to see the goodness in all people as they are, not as I would will them to be. I am not trying to say that the decline of religiosity is the hole that we are trying to fill as individuals and as a society; but I do believe something is missing from our psyches and our souls that might otherwise provide a sense of clarity and/or groundedness. It doesn’t have to be God as I would think of God or even a sense of mysticism but perhaps something as simple as wonder would be sufficient, as I feel that we have collectively lost that sense of wonder. We have become so literal and material as a society that we are starting to become too fragile, too sensitive and generally morose and stoic. What happened to our joy, our benevolence, our desire to see our neighbors succeed alongside us?

Considering how health conscious–relatively speaking–we have become as a society, why is it that we seem to neglect our mental health? The electronic leashes that we have all willingly embraced, despite all of their potentially negative side effects, are still essentially tools. Just like a table saw, they have the ability to make our lives easier in many ways, provided that we use them properly. But I’m beginning to think that they are serving a detrimental purpose by keeping us plugged in to an ever more deleterious and malignant stream of bad vibrations, which, at their root, feed upon those of us who are reaching out for something, good or bad, that could consume us. Feed the good wolf, my friends; tis’ far more preferable.

Sometimes, IT IS All in Your Head

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It is neither revolutionary nor unique for me to state that our world would be a much more enjoyable place to live in if people would simply alter their perceptions of and approaches to the little things. It seems as if complaining and venting have become so commonplace that many people have begun to believe that the complaining and the venting are the solutions to their alleged problems. I say alleged because the pendulum seems to have swung from the repression of the 1950’s to a modern day where self-victimization has become trendy. Talk therapy is all well and good and as someone who works in the mental health field, I am a believer in science and medicine, but I’m beginning to think that far too many people have bought into a delusion that someone will fix their maladies for them. Without getting too political, I think we’ve taken our belief in the “social safety net” too far; it takes a village is a cute concept and there are elements of validity to it, but we have completely lost sight of the fact that ultimately, it takes the individual; more specifically, it takes a person’s willpower to lift themselves out of whatever it is that is irking them, followed by a conscious and determined mental effort to change how they view the world. In other words, stand up, walk out the door, find something fun to do and stop fucking whining!

“This is all I’ve ever known” and “that’s how I’ve always done things” are little more than excuses for laziness or license to whine about how life has somehow dealt you a bad hand. Freedom is not something granted to you; it is a choice. You can choose to be enslaved to x, y or z, or you can choose to be free. I am not a proponent of tough love, but I also have a deep disdain for enabling attention seekers or pity cases; there are people in this world with very serious problems; it makes it very difficult for those of us who work in mental health to assist those people when other people milk the system—so to speak—as a means of compensating for their own unwillingness to help themselves find enjoyment in life. There is so much in this world to take pleasure in; so much in this world to explore in order to find contentment and connection with the divine. To waste life by intentionally turning a blind eye to all that is good in order to focus solely on why “life sucks” is the apex of immoral behavior. It is choosing to be a source of darkness, rather than a source of light.

I will admit, at times I have been guilty of all of the things I’m writing against; in other words, I’m writing from experience. Nothing good comes from overt negativity and aside from the pain and aggravation that such behavior brings to those around you, the person who suffers most from it is you. I find myself constantly exposed to individuals who relish in the opportunity to belittle and gossip about others. They scoff at how other people spend their time and seem to take a warped sense of pleasure in ridiculing people who genuinely enjoy their lives. This is clearly a sign of disguised envy but it invariably comes across in the form of, so and so or such and such couple are weird. Besides the obvious meddling and busy-bodying, this is perhaps the worst kind of projection; it speaks of the individual hating their life so much that they would sooner bring happy people down into their misery than take the necessary steps to improve their own lives.

This isn’t so much a full length blog post as it is a plea for people to get off their asses and find something in this world that makes them happy—something that does not come at the expense or toils of someone else.

Perspective, Restons Ouverts

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I often do wonder what the world looks like from your shoes; I might be introverted but I could never be accused of lacking empathy. I possess a fairly keen awareness of the fact that the world does not revolve around me and although I do not claim to understand why other people behave in ways that are foreign to me, I’m not going to wax superior to them for the fact that I think and act differently than they do. The one caveat is people who deliberately go out of their way to inflict harm upon others, whether directly or vicariously through legislation; in those cases, I won’t say that I’m superior to them, only that I find them to be bereft of any discernible sense of moral goodness.

Nevertheless, I do consider that in some ways the world would appear significantly different when viewed from the vantage point of another person’s perspective. That said, there are obvious things that I can only logically conclude that we would agree upon. The window with the chipped white frame to my left would not cease to be a window with a chipped white frame to my left; it would remain a window and it would remain chipped and white and to my left. We can all agree upon this. The passing cars would still be passing cars; the parking enforcement officer would still be out there creating financial headaches for patrons of the local brewpub who, through forgetfulness or inebriation, have lost track of time. The solitary Narnian lamppost with a hanging bouquet of pinkish flowers would still be there, the saltwater inlet beyond it would still be salty and flowing and the sky would still be an almost too perfect shade of blue. Taking into consideration the possibilities of eye-conditions such as colorblindness or outright blindness, as well as arbitrary differences in educational backgrounds and upbringings—for instance, a person who has neither read nor seen The Chronicles of Narnia would not describe the lamppost as Narnian because they would not have the formative literary foundation to do so—in nearly any other person’s shoes, what exists before my eyes from this perspective would look exactly as it does to me at this very moment. A thing is either the thing that it is, or it isn’t; and if you say that it isn’t, you take ownership of the burden of proving your case. Being obtuse is not an intellectual right. If you want to make a public case that a cat is not a cat, but rather a dog, you’re now responsible for supporting your case; if you choose not to, you have ipso fact stripped yourself of intellectual relevance; in essence, you’re a kook.

Why do we have such a difficult time looking at something as it plainly is and en masse, agreeing upon what we are seeing? It might be amusing to joke about “alternative facts” but the fact that anyone would sincerely allow themselves to give credence to such an inane notion is intrinsically lacking in humour;  contrarily, it is a bit unnerving. I am disturbed by how far down the slippery slope of doublespeak we have descended.  We cannot simply dismiss this behaviour as the mere rantings of a mad president and his legions of mindless supporters because we see very similar manifestations of it in our daily lives; corporate advertising techniques aimed at duping consumers into believing they need things that they don’t legitimately need and, in many cases, cannot afford; doctors prescribing medication combinations that are known to have adverse effects on patients simply for the sake of pacification, rather than healing or curing; perpetuation of myths and outright lies by authoritarian, political-minded religious leaders who pimp themselves to the highest bidders because they  couldn’t care less about saving souls, but are in the religion game solely to bring themselves power, money and attention.

I am not so much of an anarchist that I believe that we should be completely lawless; such thinking is irresponsible and dangerous. But the implementations of rules which exist solely for the purpose of fortifying the imposition of social conformity are, by their very nature, a form of institutional slavery. Restrictions on allowing people to look, dress and act as they wish are a form of exercising control over other human beings. This very concept is not only immoral, it ought to be illegal. The fact that, after millions of years of evolution, human beings still cannot get past essentially superficial facades is unfathomable. If Albert Einstein had looked like Marilyn Manson, would his style of dress and appearance have negated or diminished his genius? The world likely wouldn’t have known his genius because he would never have been granted the opportunity to exercise that genius; he’d have been turned away because of the shallow biases of some narrow-minded dimwit with a title and an inflated ego. Tattoo policies, piercing policies, restrictions on hair color and length, dress codes, even forms of remote censorship and the corresponding implementation of punitive measures such as policing peoples’ social media sites and lifestyle choices for the sake of terminating them from employment or academic standing. Can I place myself in the shoes of a business owner who imposes these restrictions on his or her employees? Yes, insofar as I can physically see the person with tattoos and piercings and tri-colored hair in the same way that the business owner can physically see that person. But our perception likely ends there; they see a person who might “frighten” potential customers who are as narrow-minded as themselves, thereby diminishing profits—aka their true god, whereas I see a person who is expressive, comfortable in their own skin and might be open-minded and free-thinking enough to offer new perspectives and opinions for the benefit of the business as a whole.

Judgment is not and should be a dirty word; pre-judgment, that is, prejudice is something entirely different. If I meet the person with ink and facial hardware and that person is a complete buffoon, I can now judge that person as being unworthy of filling whatever role I as an employer might need filled, in the same way that I could judge a person who was conservatively dressed to the nines, clean-shaven with close-cropped hair combed neatly who might prove to be incompetent in an interview. But from my own unique vantage point, a guy in a suit is just a guy in a suit until I’ve had a chance to speak with that person for the sake of getting to know who they are and what they have to offer; similarly, a girl with a punk rock motif is just a girl with a punk rock motif until I get to know the unique person that she is.

The window with the chipped white frame to my left is what it is; regardless of who is sitting here in this grey chair with four plastic legs. The chair could be replaced with a black leather chair on wheels or a metal folding chair, but the window as it exists at this moment is just a window with a white chipped frame; no more, no less. It is entirely within the realm of possibility, however, that if one was to dig deeper, they might find that the chipped paint was a sign of internal rot or termites or the use of poor materials. They might also find that it has been there for 200 years, still going strong and the chipped paint is just a sign of its longevity and resilience; is this not precisely the point I’m trying to convey?

Condemned To Be Free (My Obituary)

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The quest for deciphering the purpose of life was not lost on Joseph Michael Di Marius, who died last week at the age of 90. An avid adherent to the Kierkegaardian model of Christian existentialist philosophy, Di Marius was prone to standing on the edges of cliffs and tall buildings, inducing a sense of smallness and disorientation. He would ponder the fear and anxiety that would rise within him and the fact that his free will could easily lead him to throw himself off the side, but for his faith in a God that he could neither see, nor touch, yet whose presence he was ever-aware of in his life all the same. He sought meaning in everything and found it in nothing, save for his unwavering understanding that he was the creation of a Creator and that the only true meaning of anything would be revealed to him only after his time in this world was over.

Born Giuseppe Michele Caracciola, October 2, 1980 in Brooklyn, NY, Di Marius was keenly aware of his status as a pilgrim passing through this world from an early age. At once deeply in tune with his surroundings and obstinate in his opposition to the boorish status quo of Italian-American family life, he began planning his path out of mediocre tedium at the early age of 9. By the time he was in sixth grade, he was sending away for college brochures. His first course of action upon entering high school was to visit with a guidance counselor to see how he might go about graduating in three years. He spent his high school years writing and playing music, excelling in Music Theory and Creative Writing. At 17 he left New York to attend college in Arizona where he found a world not dissimilar from the imaginative conjurings that had consumed his every waking thought for years prior. He became politically active, began writing for the school newspaper and started to lay a foundation for the radical Catholic anarchist that he would become.

The ensuing years would bring about a veritable cavalcade of travels and encounters including a very brief stint in the Air Force, studies at five different colleges, a variety of careers and residencies in ten states. Upon completion of his Bachelor’s degree, he married his best friend Jessica and they each embarked upon graduate studies at Fordham University. It was due largely in part to their mutual Jesuit academic formation that they chose to leave behind six-figure careers in San Francisco to minimalize their lives and radically buck the trend of American materialistic consumerism. They made it their mission to reduce their earthly possessions to only what could fit in one plastic bin per person. Upon completion of their Master’s degrees, they moved into a “tiny house” near the Red Lake Indian Reservation in north-central Minnesota where Di Marius worked as a social worker, specializing in youth counseling and Jessica taught high school philosophy. Di Marius wrote heavily during this period and eventually published two books; a memoir entitled There’s Nothing More to Say: Conjectures of a Militant Pacifist and a best-selling novel entitled Dream House of Our Demise, which was translated into 14 languages and remains the single highest selling work of fiction in Denmark.

They would eventually relocate to Orcas Island, in remote northwestern Washington state where together they managed a bed and breakfast during tourist season. They spent the winter months in a small cottage on the island of Foula, in Scotland’s Shetland Island archipelago. Di Marius continued writing in his advanced years, though after the publication of his two books, he became reclusive and refused to submit any of his work for further publishing. Having majored in History, he was asked by a number of publishing houses to consider writing an historical account of the downfall of disgraced American president Donald Trump and how the United Nations temporarily lifted their moratorium on administering the death penalty in order to implement the verdict of Trump’s conviction for crimes against humanity, which carried with it a sentence of death by urine-boarding at The Hague. Di Marius declined, offering only a short response via email which stated: It would be best if the world simply forgot about the mere existence of such a charade of a man; he isn’t worth my time or effort.

Di Marius is survived by his wife Jessica, 87, their adopted daughter Amelie-Maëlys, 46 and their cat, Cat III, age unknown. His headstone reads: If You Can Read This, You’re Wasting Your Time; I’m Not Here, And Neither Are You.

A Thank You Note to Good Catholic Friends

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As a rather introverted person, I often delude myself into thinking that my world would be better if I simply found myself in a Jeremiah Johnson-like situation; alone in the mountains, just my wife and I, finding our own food, building our own shelter, in a state of blissful solitude and silence. And yet, the wisdom of my truest friends has always found a way to keep me grounded. “And what happened to Jeremiah as the story unfolded,” a wise man once asked me? Touché.

I have always enjoyed taking life slowly. I love taking leisurely drives, preferring county roads to highways. I love sports but I would much rather shoot a basketball alone on an empty court or skate on a frozen pond and shoot a puck around by myself. I’ve surfed since middle school and while my friends–young and aggro as most teenagers are–preferred larger waves and short boards which are much quicker and more maneuverable, I always opted to ride longboards on small wave days, enjoying the slow, gliding rides. I love empty churches, cemeteries and crypts. I have an almost fetish-like enjoyment of hidden nooks in libraries and bookstores. As a freshman in college, I found a room in my school’s library that was seemingly forgotten. It was a glorified storage closet and to this day I’m not sure if it was open to the public, though there was no signage indicating otherwise. What I loved about this room was that I never saw another person enter it and there was a window in the back that overlooked the entire campus where I could actually sit in the window on cushions. In that window, I first read Descartes, Kierkegaard and Ginsberg as well as books like Ishmael, The Prophet, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. In many ways, literal and metaphorical, that became my window to the world.

My mind never turns off. I’m sure this is not a unique trait and perhaps it is indicative of some sort of latent mental illness. I am hyper-perceptive which has frequently gotten me into dilemmas. I analyze everything and because I have a very keen sense of justice, I tend to see issues in very black and white terms. Those who know me know that I do not mince words. I use the written word in a manner which can best be likened to bringing a nuclear weapon to a knife fight. I have always been turned off by hypocrisy so the notion of being chummy with one’s adversary for the sake of personal gain is a foreign concept to me; I see that as a form of prostitution. Despite the many bridges I’ve burned over the years—and Lord knows they are indeed many—there have been a select group of people who have not only stood by me, but have inspired me to be a better person. I am not perfect. I have never tried to dispute that fact. I try to be humble. But my sense of indignation can make it very difficult for me to remain calm or accepting of things that I cannot control. My relationship with the Catholic Church is—and probably always will be—contentious. And yet, thanks to these aforementioned people, I’m able to find True North when my compass goes fucking batshit. The Church sure as shit doesn’t need people like me—though they would argue that the Church does need people like me to challenge it, and perhaps they’re right. Regardless, the fact remains that despite my criticism and ire, I need the Church.

What I mean when I say that I need the Church is that I need these people. They are no more or less representative of the Church than anyone else. Their progressive, ecumenical views do not diminish their Catholicism—or mine. It is not always easy to remember that, especially when confronted by the conservative blowhards who think their abrasiveness and loudness make their views more representative than ours. These friends of mine have remained consistently committed to gentleness, kindness and compassion toward all people. They have been critical of me when criticism was necessary. At times I’ve gone off the rails in fits of knee-jerk reaction to things that I hadn’t adequately researched and they were always the first people to call me out on my foolishness. Again, I’m not perfect. But they practiced the forgiveness that our Lord commanded us to practice and they welcomed me back with open arms. For this, I am eternally grateful. For this, my eyes remain open to the fact that the Church is many things and that even if the Church is crowded and noisy and seemingly full of people that I would prefer to get away from, there is always that small window in that remote room where I can escape to and gaze out at the madness, safe in the comfort of the wisdom of wise and good-natured people.

An Honest Witness Tells the Truth…

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the type of person who speaks and writes in an unusually direct manner. That is not to say that I am callous. I don’t go out of my way to try to offend or hurt people, but I have always sought to be a transparent person. Those who know me know exactly where I stand, for better or for worse. This approach to communication can be jarring for most people, given that our society has long promoted the nonsensical virtues of politeness and facades for the sake of positive appearances. I don’t buy into that line of thinking. I prefer to speak my mind openly and before I’m accused of spouting off a la our orange-faced Fraud-in-Chief, please know that my opinions are always supported with an abundance of evidence and data. I will not speak about or write about any topic unless I’ve conducted extensive research on it.

While I certainly believe in nuance and diplomacy, I also have very little—if any—tolerance for opinions that are inherently bigoted, vile or cold-hearted. On those opinions, I am very quick to pounce and I do so with literary guns blazing. I’ve been asked by friends and family members if I’m afraid or concerned that my public opinions regarding public officials might get me into trouble. First off, I know which lines I can cross and which ones I cannot. Furthermore, my response has always been consistent: what’s the worst thing that could happen to any of us; we die? I have absolutely no fear of death. I know you’re probably thinking to yourself, c’mon Joe, you can’t possibly mean that. Let me reiterate, I have absolutely no fear of death. There are only two possibilities when the last breath escapes my lungs: something happens or nothing happens. Either way, I’ll either know that I’m moving on to something else–which my faith inspires me to believe–or I won’t know anything because there will cease to be an “I.” So while I remain in this current state of being, I am not going to live every moment obsessing over merely surviving for the sake of survival. I’m not going to live in fear of kooks, terrorists, government henchmen, cops or any other kind of boogeymen. I have but one life to live on this earth—unless the Buddhists are right–and it is in this life that I will speak the mind I currently have.

My commitment to being honest and transparent in my opinions also applies to reporting what I hear and observe in my inner circles. As a side note, understand that I would never intentionally betray anyone’s confidence, provided that the individual in question is speaking to me in a setting and with words and sentiments that are conducive toward confidentiality. In other words, if you are kind and benevolent, our conversations will never be made public. I also would never speak to anyone about anything that my wife and I discuss privately and that is absolute. Beyond my wife, I am only willing to maintain confidentiality if what is being discussed is not offensive, ignorant or hateful. Once you’ve crossed any of those lines, it doesn’t matter to me who you are, I will likely out you. Family, friend or otherwise, if you think it is funny to crack jokes or express political opinions about “niggers,” “kikes,” “towelheads” or “fags,” (or any other various epithets) I’m no longer beholden to any kind of confidentiality and you are now fair game for my writing pleasure. I might or might not conceal your identity, depending upon how generous I’m feeling. Then again, I might refer to you openly as my uncle, cousin, sibling and even use your name. Why? Because I can and legally, there is nothing you can do to stop me. As for any ethical betrayals, well, fuck you; don’t be such a fucking bigot and you won’t have to find yourself in that position.

There are consequences for actions. We learn that from a young age. I have never done physical harm to anyone, nor have I intentionally sought to harm anyone with my words. However on many occasions I have used people’s words against them and in those scenarios, I have no remorse because the harm committed is self-inflicted; I’m merely reporting back to the individual–and to others–what they said. If the truth hurts, they might want to consider changing their opinions—or at very least be mindful of who is present when they express those opinions.

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