This past week or so, I have been thinking a lot about how to move forward as a country and in our communities with such challenging issues such as we are facing together. We are together in this, whether we want to be or not. We can use Us versus Them language all we want, but we’re only perpetuating the problem and getting further away from finding resolutions to some of the toughest issues our young country has faced. Sure, it makes us feel better to place blame on each other, but perhaps we need to look a bit deeper within ourselves to see where the responsibilities lay in improving our society. I am specifically using “we” language here, to include myself, to try hard to not perpetuate the Us versus Them crevasse we have all fallen into.
I think everyone on this planet has a deep, embedded, human need to feel loved and accepted. I believe that we have each been hurt in different ways in our lives too, that it’s only part of living along with happiness and joy. How we respond to that pain is what matters the most. If we choose to bury the pain and dismiss it and say it doesn’t matter or that we’re past it, that will inevitably come back to haunt us in our futures. Pain stays with us and changes us whether we want to admit it or not. But what if we ignore that pain, push it down, then get hurt again and again? What if we don’t have positive role models to help us heal and move forward in healthy ways? What if we are just alone and struggling to do the best we can do, but never take the time to heal because we don’t understand the depths of the pain or how to heal it? Taking these questions into a different space: What if we live in a culture that calls you a wimp, weak, or pathetic, if you acknowledge your pain and try to heal yourself? What if we live in a culture that values toughness over honesty and vulnerability? Unfortunately, that is the kind of culture we live in here in the United States of America even though many people are trying to change that. We are a society that for hundreds of years has told its children to “toughen up,” “you’re fine,” “just get over it.” I believe this mindset is foundational to our problems as a society. What if instead we stopped and asked the child (or the adult), if they’re ok, letting them know we’re there for them? What if we stopped and really listened to hear where the pain is coming from? What if we were willing to say that we’re not okay, because we knew that when we say this, the response is to receive support and help instead of hearing “get over it, weakling, you’re just over-reacting?” Where might this take us as a society? This morning I walked past a house in my neighborhood that has a huge, fresh, snappy Trump flag flying from the entryway. The byline on the flag says “No More Bullshit.” This is an obvious example of what I’m talking about here. “No More Bullshit.” In other words, quit your whining, you weakling, and toughen up. No one cares about me so why should I care about you? Right?
You might be confused about why I’m talking about our country’s challenges and our Us vs Them attitude, then shifting to this discussion of “toughness” and support and listening. In my mind though, these subjects go together hand in hand. These attitudes and the ways we address our problems as individuals, as groups, as communities, and as a country, will greatly affect the status of our challenges. As individuals or as a society, if we try to solve our problems by telling each other to just get over it, or by not really looking at the source of the problem and glossing over the history and facts, we will never really solve the problem. Things are much more complicated than we’d like to admit. You might have noticed that I like to talk about how humans try to put everything in nice neat boxes, including each other and our issues. We have to stop doing this from all sides. It’s not possible to neatly box our issues and each other up because we are all too layered.
Have you heard the term intersectionality? I think this is a common word to use if you are working in social services or activism, but it is not a word that many people regularly come across unfortunately. Intersectionality is the way all of our social and political identities combine to create each of our unique social descriptions. So, the intersecting things that make us who we are; Race, gender, ability, nationality, beliefs, etcetera. Thinking about this concept helps us begin to really understand the depth of our biases, our discriminations, our privilege, and can help us to learn how to dismantle our biases for a better society. With all of the discriminatory “isms” rearing their ugly heads loud and clear lately, we have an opportunity to shine the light on these issues and have conversations and take actions that will better our society. Take a moment and think about how our society’s issues, our country’s issues, might be intersectional as well as individuals. I think we all know how complicated and overlapping our country’s issues are, but the key is to remember that and be honest about it, and not try to wrap them up and pretend they are cleanly separate from each other just to spit out solutions we’d like to see. We have to take the time to work through the layers and work together to find solutions, even if that is very difficult and time-consuming and uncomfortable. We must stop trying to put each other and our issues into neat little boxes, pretending we are so wise. Putting each other into nice neat little boxes is very bad. It is bad for us as individuals, it is bad for our personal relationships, it is bad for our communities, and it is bad for our country. If we are ever going to succeed at becoming a more peaceful society, we must fight the urge to box each other in. We must work very hard to listen to the words behind the words and really dig in and do the really hard work it will take in order for our society to move forward in positive ways. Civil rights activist Audre Lorde once said very clearly, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
There is a lovely movement happening called Love Has No Labels. (www.lovehasnolabels.com). This movement works to overcome bias by spreading love and acceptance of others. On their page, “Why It Matters”, they write: “We all have the power to create a more inclusive world. But first, we must recognize that we live in a society where certain communities are marginalized because of their identity labels like race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. This affects how individuals are perceived and experience the world -- and it also affects how our society and systems work.” Stop here a minute. Slowly re-read that quote. Now think about this quote from Dr. DaShanne Stokes: “Privilege is not knowing when you’re hurting others and not listening when they tell you.” Recognition of other’s experiences is key to acknowledging our own privileges and working past them. Listening to other’s experiences is then key to moving forward towards solutions. Now the last part of the quote: “it also affects how our society and systems work.” That is a very powerful piece of all of this. Can we truly be honest about our biases and our privilege? We all have them; liberal or conservative, rich or poor, religious or not religious, gay or straight. Whoever we are, our willingness to be honest about bias and privilege is a driver of the success of our society. Those biases are ALL a huge part of why we are in this mess of 2020 and why our country is so chaotic and full of anger right now. From both sides. I hold biases and privilege that have been ingrained in my head from childhood on up, that I cannot always see clearly until I say or do something damaging and someone is brave enough to point it out. Will you be brave enough to really be honest about your biases? What are your privileges and what do they mean?
In a recent conversation I had, the person I was speaking with was saying how they do not like Trump and do not want to vote for him, but they also feel like he will further their cause of pro-life. This issue is very near and dear to her heart so I can understand her struggle with this even though I do not share her views. I have been thinking about this and other issues for a while now, feeling frustrated and confused and heartsick, at the status of politics and social justice in this country. Intersectionality is one answer for how to move toward resolution of our challenges. We cannot fight just one issue alone and dismiss the other many, many, troubling social issues that are wreaking havoc on our country today. We have to think in terms of intersectionality even if it is very difficult to do so because of our biases and our privilege. We cannot acknowledge one problem but not the other hundred – doing this, we will never solve any of them. (See Audre Lorde’s quote above.) We need to be honest about our own privilege and our own lack of understanding of other people’s experiences. We have to look beyond our individual views and instead from a metaphorical scenic overlook, at how the issues are affecting other people, not just how WE experience the issues. We have to listen. We have to care enough about each other – about all of the people, to set aside our own agendas and focus on the broader picture of how we are all connected and how we want our country to function. We must each think deeply on what is the most important issue at hand today, setting aside our biases and our privileges, and fully participating with our own minds. For myself, that issue is our foundation, our Democracy, our freedom to choose who governs us, and our responsibility as a great country to ensure liberty and justice for all.
Everything is connected. Everything is complicated. Conflict sucks. But, if we do not learn how to deal with conflict we will lose our freedom. This is where we are at as a country and it is up to us to fix it.
Working for the Forest Service in recreation management years ago, I cleaned up a LOT of garbage on our public lands. I taught my crew that when you are out working, driving around, walking around, and you see garbage stop and pick it up. Because there are no garbage fairies that will magically come along and do this for us. We are the garbage fairies. Since becoming a mother I have used this analogy to teach my kids about littering, about dog poop in public spaces (poop fairies), picking up their toys (toy fairies), etcetera, etcetera. They find this hilarious but they get it and they remember it and they pick up after themselves. People: We have to be responsible. We must participate fully in our democracy and we must participate fully in our relationships with each other. We cannot avoid conflict forever; our internal conflict within ourselves, or our external conflicts with others. No one is going to fix this shit for us. We are the freaking conflict fairies.
My challenge for you this week: Take some time to delve into your biases and your privileges, name them, own them. Think about the issues you care about and how they overlap with other issues facing us all. Do a bit of honest, un-biased, research. Think about what is the most important thing for our society and our country right now. Be your own fairy.
“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point – A higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.”