One of my dearest and best friends recently told me that they felt like they didn’t “know anyone not fighting a great hard battle in their spirit right now,” and I had to agree. So many loved ones are going through so many tough battles within themselves and without.
Folks being ostracized by their families. Children being academically pressured beyond reason and children being discouraged from academic or unnecessarily-gendered pursuits. Young (and slightly less young) adults being continually stepped on by debt and trapped by limited income. People in mourning. People trying to live beyond their mourning. Ordinary people whose brain chemicals like to whisper alternate realities into their ears. We’ve just been through another holiday season when so many folks are just trying to keep the family peace in the middle of gatherings where expectations are high and the world around us is…stressful.
I’ve been reflecting on my role in the lives of others and my tiny little corner of society. I don’t have much influence, and I don’t like to rock the boat. However, I live a pretty privileged life. I’m not wealthy, but I have a comfortable home, plenty of food and clothing, a savings account (albeit a skimpy one), and health insurance. I’m female, but I’m a white female, living life far closer to easy mode than so many others. I have few marketable skills, absolutely no understanding of or funds for investing, and no hope of retirement, but I am able to pursue the artistic life that makes sense to me. I struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have the love and support of friends and family (and did I mention health insurance?). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg of my privilege.
I don’t have any magic words of wisdom, but I have come to the rather mundane (but sadly personally-revolutionary) conclusion that it’s time I speak a little louder. I’m not going to go around picking fights, but I should also not try to simply maintain my comfort. All those folks going through some serious stuff right now? They shouldn’t have to be the only ones who carry that weight. If it were only up to the individuals whose lives are directly impacted by any given thing to challenge their parents, their coworkers, their peers, their society, how could we ever expect the world to improve?
When someone says an inappropriate thing, I need to rock the boat. I need to question them. I don’t need to be hostile, but I do need to be ready to engage. When Person A thinks people should be kept on the other side of a wall or held in cages, I need to speak up. When Person B considers someone else’s life or lifestyle “against the will of God,” I need to speak up. When Person C measures others’ worth by their financial decisions, I need to speak up. When Person D makes a barb about someone’s behavior being a result of their gender, I need to speak up. I don’t need to humiliate or berate or lecture. But I need to address the moment. I can say to Person A, “why do you think people seeking safety shouldn’t be helped?” I can say to Person B, “why is your personal perception of the divine more important than someone’s life?” I can say to Person C, “do that person’s financial decisions help others or the world?” I can say to Person D, “are you comfortable with your behavior being defined solely by your gender? Why?” These aren’t meant to be zingers. They’re not perfect responses, but they might pause the action and maybe start a conversation. At the very least, they might realize they know at minimum one individual personally who doesn’t agree with what they said/did.
If (and undoubtedly when) I, in my privilege, say something incorrect, biased, or inappropriate, I want someone to challenge my thinking, lovingly draw attention to my error, and help me consider what leads me to make assumptions. Yes, I’ll be embarrassed, and I’ll likely fall apart about it in private. But why would I want to continue to be a jerk even if an oblivious one? And if I want to remain a jerk, well, then I need to expect that plenty of kind, loving, and respectful people will have no need of my company.
My goal in speaking louder is not to create another classification of Us and Them: We who are above such low thinking and They who are narrow-minded. The goal also isn’t to make some compromise that allows the already marginalized to remain even slightly so. The goal is to build a society in which we can challenge and be challenged, where discourse is healthy and civility is valued, so that the humanity of one person isn’t sacrificed for the comfort of another.
To all the folks who are or have been fighting great hard battles in their spirit, their families, their world, I’m sorry for how quiet I’ve been. You deserve more, and I want to stand with you. Please challenge me, ask me for help, point out where I could be louder and where I should listen (don’t want to belittle that part either, but that’s another blog post). This isn’t a pity party for Kate; it’s my call to arms (in a pacifist kind of way…). It’s easy for me to click like, share, retweet, and spread articles, headlines, and memes to a community of like-minded individuals. It’s even comparatively easy to attend marches and sign petitions and vote, but I need to challenge myself to go small-scale too, to speak in the moment to friends and family as well as strangers. I need to examine my own words and actions, and I need to ask questions. Out loud.