I began writing this piece almost a month ago, and have decided to publish it now, albeit unedited.
This past weekend was abundant with energy, excitement, rage, disappointment, and thoughtful growth. Over the past few weeks, I have reflected a lot on what I want and need for my own life and how I can breathe life into that plan. Over that, place the political and social atmosphere here in the United States, and what emerges is a tapestry on which chapters in a much larger story are being stitched and written.
On Saturday, I participated in the Women’s March on Washington. More correctly, I attended the pre-march rally, chanted and shouted slogans, talked with people in a generally non-political way, and simply added to the overall numbers. I did not know what to expect, but I was not surprised at what I discovered: energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration.
The March and the rally were, in actuality, not just about women’s rights, women’s issues, and a forum for women to demonstrate their power and their voices. They were also a space where many of us average citizens could stand up for any of our issues, be it gay marriage or the influence of money on our system. In some ambiguous way, I feel that something was stolen from the focus on Women, although I neither regret nor feel that the presence of protesters and supporters representing other causes and demographics (LBGT Rights, People with Disabilities Activism, Education Advocacy, Anti-War, Anti-corruption, Immigration Activism) detracted from the overall event. It became, organically, something more, while staying true, if not a diluted or expanded version of the original purpose. Issues are interconnected and intersectional. Being, as it was, directly on the heels of the inauguration of President Trump, the populist nature of a concerned citizenry rising up to be seen and heard seemed to bolster and amplify all voices.
At least, this is how it appeared through my eyes.
And, here is the disclaimer: I am caucasian, male, and heterosexual; labels that are significant to define and, perhaps, discredit anything I think, write, experience, or believe. And so, if the audience of this piece has already figured me out by knowing my race, gender, and sexual orientation, they are reminded of the lack of obligation to read further.
I feel it is important to get that out of the way first. I am not denying any privilege in fact or assigned to me by others, or by the world for that matter, and do understand that, no matter how I try, I cannot put my self wholly into the shoes of another.
I further understand that I need to recognize where aspects of my comfort and safety are simply given to me because of those labels. I am not seriously persecuted on those terms, and even when they are used cause me momentary discomfort or discredit an idea, I am, on the whole, sitting behind safe walls due to circumstances beyond my control.
I attended church this morning. It is a Unitarian Universalist church. As an atheist and a humanist, a lover of philosophy, facts, and repeatable methods, yet feeling that there is a “spiritual” side to my life, this is my kind of church. The church does exactly what it needs to do: challenges my thinking and forces me to improve my positions, revise them, or drop them. The sermon was perfectly aligned with what I have been pondering, in both a personal and universal way. As the Reverend spoke of what love, discourse, and understanding means in a context of civil disobedience, fighting (yes, fighting) for what is right, and truly marching forward, one of the major branches of the speech hit closest to home. I summarize as follows:
We must go down – down to where our fears, beliefs, strengths, prejudices, and love find their source. We must, or we run the risk of becoming a photo negative of what we are fighting against; that is, becoming the enemy we hate. We become different in the details, but using the same methods, same prejudices, same hate, same closed-mindedness, and the same stereotyping just to flip the tables and put out the enemy only to install our own version of right.
And to very many, that is fine and fuel enough for the fight. Their belief in what is right is as solidly affixed as their opponents. Many are fighting to be “winners”, not because they may profit from the position of power, but that their ideas are felt to be just. They believe!
And that is where it is so important to separate principle from results. I am not in their skins any more than they are in mine, and their beliefs are not mine. This is where deep understanding of my core beliefs and how they have been formed is needed the most. Those premises must be questioned, polished, questioned again against opposite, not similar beliefs, revised, and questioned further. If I am ready to defend, for example, that the funding of science and research is a net good and a responsibility of the public at large, I should be able to prove it to more than myself.
More than that, the sermon made me think about projection. It takes a lot of honest soul searching and abandonment of the defensive ramparts to determine if what we do when we attack others is projecting and simplifying the very demons we invite to sit with us for tea.
At the rally, I genuinely laughed at the jokes about comb-overs and tiny hands. But like the reverend also revealed, these seemed like cheap shots. This is an admission of pettiness on my part: I laughed from a lower “self” emerging from somewhere deeper. More so, these jabs seemed opposite of the message. Directly opposite. If I am to understand what it feels like to have body image issues, differently-abled physical characteristics, or be conscience of age differences, is it at all fair to promulgate that someone is diminished by any of the following: baldness, a lisp, an unattractive hairdo? A brilliant woman with a beard (non traditional for women) and comb-over can be exceptional in so many ways that are overlooked. Am I seeing “Attractive Privilege” in action? Making non-ideal women feel small sells magazines and risky diets, just as baldness sells heart-attack and liver killing pharmaceuticals to many men.
But why is it funny? It was on the playground in grade school – to everyone except for “four-eyes”, the poor kid, or the new kid from Korea who spoke English poorly. But…what if they weren’t only different, but were arrogant bullies to boot? Seems fair now, huh? Their jerk privilege gives us the same, right? Wrong.
It seems that when it comes to our adversaries, things are different. It goes without saying. They deserve the pettiness. Wrong again.
I have read many comments that lean along the lines of justifiable retribution (e.g. “You did that, so how do you like it now?”). Even if it isn’t considered explicitly, there’s something that feels good emotionally, a poetic justice or divine retribution. And, personally, I’m not too worried about the damage to the President’s ego. Another admission: I personally feel disgust at not only his policies, but at his personality. I am entitled to express this. I am obligated to defend my ideas.
Hence, the frustrating part for me: the shutdown positions. Threatened, it is much easier to solidify our position within impenetrable notions and petty attacks (regardless of actual relevance) and an associated increase in the volume and temperature. This happens at all levels of personal discourse during conflict. I often catch myself saying “I need to think about that before I answer,” as I recognize my defensive posture inflating. I then go on anyway, often without modulating my baser instincts.
If we were all to place our ideas in a box that spit out one random idea for us to consider and debate, we’d reject so much that is petty, irrelevant, or one-sided. We’d weed out the substance from the noise. But in the heat of battle, it isn’t about understanding at all. It is about complying with the loudest voice. Sometimes, there are no better angels. There is no time, and the stakes are high (they certainly are now for our democracy). Shoot every arrow. Wrestle with pigs, you’ve got to get muddy. Somebody does.
And here’s where my privilege matters. I probably don’t need to get muddy to be okay, or at least for now. I probably don’t need to become a pig to wrestle. I can sit on principle and be jaded, yet survive. The existence of choice is part of the privilege. That is, until choice is actually removed.
Uncertainty at deciding on what action is required is also a privilege, one that is shared by anyone who is not directly attacked and to whom action might bring a brightly painted target to bear. This happens all the time in the microcosms of our daily lives, from standing up for somebody being picked on to demanding accountability of our local leaders. It isn’t easy. What irks me is when the shutdown positions come out on both sides (“What do you know about this?” “Exactly how does this affect you?” “Sit down!” “Sinner!” “Tree-hugger!”, and much worse.)
The Reverend told of protesting in the hot sun of a southwestern city. He empathized with the armored police officers on the other side of the line being spit at and provoked by his side of the line. His position was unwaivering, but his guiding principle of “love” was tested. This was a powerfully personal admission and an honest personal conflict. I appreciated hearing that from the pulpit.
It seems I am dealing with this on at least two scales. One is very large and particularly damaging. The other is personal. Both have me continuing to reflect on my own perspective and uncovering the sources that feed them.