Wednesday, September 10, 2014

There's a lot rummaging around in my mind today, and I'm going to see if I can flesh it all out. I hope it engenders discussion, but more importantly I humbly hope it might be a jumping off point toward healing, understanding, and harmony within my community.

First, I want to think about anger. We need it; it's what motivates us to do the work that leads to change. Anger propels us forward sometimes. Anger can even bond people together. It is often completely justified, useful, and in fact holding it in can often be very damaging. Women are socialised to avoid expressing anger, and as a result, when they do they are seen as hysterical, overly emotional, irrational, and so on. I understand that anger can be a strong political act, and that, as someone has said, "Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. "

So when I feel critical of people who are acting out of anger, I am wary of invalidating their feelings and silencing them. However, anger doesn't need to be put aside in order to feel compassion for other people and recognise their suffering.

Reflecting on times in my life when I was mean, ridiculed people, ostracised them, or acted out of insecurity and anger towards them, I honestly cannot think of one positive thing to come out of my actions. I'm sure I achieved my goal of making the other person feel awful, but I also made myself feel awful, and I cut myself off from the possibility of either of us learning anything from the situation. And believe me, I have life long enemies to prove it, which saddens me and is a mark on my character, no matter how justified most people would say that I was. I forgot about their humanity -- creating a tit-for-tat "they did this, so I'm going to do this" scenario. And now, no reconciliation is possible. The world was made worse for it, if only in a small way. I think about how easy it would have been to do things differently.

As activists seeking to create a more equitable society, I think it's important to hold onto our suffering and the suffering of the people we're campaigning for delicately. This suffering is our key motivation, but it is a very powerful weapon and shouldn't be used against each other, even when we don't agree.

I don't want to get all new agey or whatever, but in my search for a more peaceful and satisfying life with happy relationships, I roll this Thich Nhat Hahn quote around in my mind: "When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight." I look to this idea when I am feeling lost, sad, scared, angry, or even hopeless about awful injustices going on in the world. It doesn't make anything OK. The injustice is still there, and my anger is still there. But something in my mind opens just a little bit when I can see their humanity.

That's just what works for me. And I consider myself a pretty happy person, after years of trial and error (mostly error, and a few trials). There's definitely a difference between what I'm suggesting and the idea that people should police their tone to appear more nice to oppressors. Simply put, I'm suggesting that if someone disagrees with you about something political, you remember the other ways in which you are connected to them and remember that they might not be a worthless write-off. They might be doing their best to be a thoughtful ally, even if those efforts fall short in your book. I agree with the person who said, "True friends will speak their minds honestly with each other, especially if they think the other is in the wrong."

Personally speaking, one of the magical joys of being human is the exchange of ideas and the fulfilling and deep relationships we can form through language. Listening to one another. Seeing the ways in which we are trying desperately to understand each other and be understood, despite the fact that it often doesn't happen. That's the absolute best and most amazing thing about life. That through it all, people find ways to love one another. Despite disagreeing on issues big and small. Despite hurtful things that happened in the past. Despite wars. And despite the knowledge that the future is uncertain.

I'm humbled by a lot of things I've learned over the past five years since I started getting involved with activism. I am embarrassed by a lot of beliefs I've since jettisoned, and by some that I have yet to give up. But I am so grateful that people were patient and kind enough to stand with me while I educated myself and allowed my ideas to evolve. I think gosh, if I'd been written off back then, or at any point along the way, for having those beliefs, I wouldn't be who I am today, and I wouldn't be part of such a caring, supportive community.

So really I guess I want to thank my friends and comrades who have taken the time to get to know me, to love me for who I am, and for teaching me so so so much about respect, compassion, courage, perseverance, self-care, and hard work. You've inspired me, encouraged me, and made me laugh. You make the world a place I like living in.