Oblivious by design or choice … ??

Yep. See that cranky ‘WTF’ look on that bird’s face? Pretty much captures my feelings about the first six months of 2020. The year was not anything like what I was planning. My “2020 Vision” was to head into what is realistically the ‘last quarter’ of my life checking things off my bucket list. I had eagerly got the ball rolling last September by reducing my work hours and booking some once in a lifetime travels. Things were shaping up so beautifully, but then … there was Covid-19.  And then … as if a pandemic was not enough … there was June 2020.

I am not a particularly contentious person. As a counsellor/therapist, I am deeply committed to honoring people’s perspectives. I am usually pretty good at it … but … June 2020 was a real challenge for me. I should share that I have been schooled through the Faculties of Social Work for both my undergraduate and graduate level studies. And yes, I am proud to be a social worker … to the deepest core of my being. In my post secondary education, I realized that although we may believe we are well-informed and well-educated humans, but there is so much we don’t know that we don’t know about our humanity and those who experience life differently than those of us in the dominant mainstream. My studies invited me to take a deep dive into exploring the “isms” (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism, colonialism – to name a few) that were strategically ‘left out’ of our academic curriculums. I really began to understand the horrific oppression experienced by ‘others’ as a result of their marginalization.

Yes. Just like the fish doesn’t see the water it is swimming in, I felt ashamed to learn that I didn’t know a darn thing about the unseen advantages and unearned privileges I had unwittingly enjoyed for decades. Yes. I came to see very clearly that  as a heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, employed, married white woman, I landed fairly comfortably within the center of the mainstream, dominant majority. There were a few things that nudged me a little closer to the margins, but for the most part, I got a free pass.

I did not have a Hallmark life by any stretch of the imagination so please don’t misunderstand what I mean when I acknowledge my ‘privilege’. In no way am I dismissing or disregarding the challenges and traumatic overwhelm I experienced as a child. Collectively recognizing our White privilege does not mean we have lived charmed lives. It merely means we recognize that our skin color has not generated any extra hardships, hurdles or challenges for us.

And so, somehow, through my evolution and growth, I became deeply committed to social justice. And, as my understanding grew regarding the challenges Black, Indigenous and People of Color [BIPOC] faced on a regular basis, I became more invested in disrupting all the systems and structures that relegated  some folks to the margins and kept certain demographics of people oppressed and ‘othered.’ In fact, it might be fair to say that nothing gets me triggered more quickly than acts of oppression and social injustice. I am not sure what happens within me, but I am not able willing to keep my mouth shut. And, it invariably gets me into really hot water.

One of the first times I took a strong stand was early in my career. I speak more about it in another blog entitled Better Because you Were Not the Least Bit Nice. It was the very first time I took on the ‘bully’ and, although it built deep strength in my ethics and convictions to disrupt oppression, it was unequivocally the hardest challenge I had tackled up to that point in my life. 

My commitment to anti-oppressive practices also got me into some serious contention with my supervisor in my Masters Practicum in a clinical social work setting. I spent eight months immersed in a mainstream, medical-model of mental health counselling/therapy.  Much of what I was witnessing was bumping into my anti-oppressive teachings and contrary to a more trauma-informed approach to health and healing. I almost requested a transfer … but … eventually found my way to the end of it.  It was also one of the darkest rides of my life. 

My commitment to social justice also inspired me to take a firm stand and report a colleague who I came to recognize was causing harm. They countered by threatening to sue me for defamation of character unless I provided a formal apology or substantiated my claims. I opted for the latter. After appraising my position, the individual decided to ‘retire’. 

I also opted to take a stance with my employer recently regarding a number of concerns that I addressed in a 25 page grievance which I submitted to the Executive Director. Although, ethically, I would argue that the Board of Directors should have been privy to weighing out the concerns expressed in my grievance before I was handed my Record of Employment and hefty severance cheque … things don’t always happen as they should.  It cost me $9000.00 in legal fees to confirm that I did, in fact, have a case for wrongful dismissal. I had two years from the date of my departure to decide whether or not I want to invest any more of the precious moments of my ‘final quarter’ engaged in the ugly energy of litigation. While I remain committed to ethics and integrity … I realized that I would never want my job back … not given the direction that the agency was headed. And, I had to concede that you can’t force insight.  So, I made the decision to opt for peace over principle. I expanded my private practice and have never been happier in my career.

I share all of this because I am not sure what comes over me when I am in the presence of something that seems unethical or unjust, but I feel driven to take a stand. And so, on May 25, 2020, as the news of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was broadcast, I became deeply disturbed. Because the video of the murder was leaked online … there was no way to deny what had actually happened.

George Floyd was pleading with the officer to take his knee of his neck saying “I can’t breathe” and calling out for his deceased mother. These deeply disturbing reports motivated many, many meaningful “Black Lives Matter” protests which morphed into some destructive riots … and ultimately … generated highly opinionated and heated exchanges on all platforms of social media. Here is one of the worst ones that I felt compelled to address:

Seriously? Protestors are all unilaterally deemed terrorists?? I attended a protest. Does this make me a terrorist? I cannot begin to fathom what ‘rights’ White Americans were losing as protests tried to bring attention to the perpetual challenges, inequities and injustices experienced by those who are Black. But … Americans can’t breathe?? Oh my … I tried my best to be tactful in my response:

I struggle with posts like this because it seems to me that generalizing and defining all the protests by the actions of some is as unjust and misguided as judging and defining all police officers by the actions of some. I am not sure I understand how generating more ‘us’ versus ‘them’ by using inflammatory name calling is likely to foster a peaceful answer either.

The Black Lives Matter protests were quickly met with counter claims that “All Lives Matter” and “Rioting is wrong” and “Not all cops are bad.” I saw a great commentary speaking to this backlash written by one person but “stolen” from someone else. It’s another pet peeve of mine when people don’t credit the source of the sentiments they are sharing on social media. I realize that sometimes the source is entirely unknown … but would it not be far more respectful to simply give credit where credit is due rather than to ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ from someone else? Anyway, I digress. Here is something that I found worthy of consideration regarding all the competing opinions.

It might be a bit of a stretch to presume it makes them feel like a good person … but, I would agree that it allows people permission to discredit the expressed concerns of ‘others’. It also occurred to me that another way of looking at it is in terms of being a landlord with several rental units.

If one of my tenants calls to inform me of a problem with their water line … pleading with me by saying “I need water.” Would it be helpful for me to respond by saying “all my tenants need water?” Although it might be technically true that all my tenants need water, it would intentionally dismiss the problem. 

Would it be helpful for me to counter with “Hmmm, no one else is complaining about their water lines.” This also might be a very true statement … but … is not the least bit helpful for the tenant who isn’t getting water.

No. If I am a decent landlord, I am going to listen to their very real and specific problems and then focus my attention to correct the problems they are experiencing. My focus in their direction does not diminish my concern for my other tenants. Rather … it ensures that each and every one of my tenants have equal access to water.

And oh my, oh my, oh my.  People were highly charged by all the talk about racism. And, their ‘opinions’ were liberally plastered on every social media site possible. The opinions were not necessarily founded upon facts. I would agree with the following, but … that didn’t stop people from exercising their right to elevating their ‘opinion’ and deliberately discounting the experience of other people.

And, as the days turned into weeks in June, my heart struggled with it all. Although, as I said, I am usually able to hold a variety of perspectives side by each, but as the days turned to weeks, I became more and more outraged by what I was seeing online. I got into a few debates on social media myself. I took a few stands when it seemed that my silence was making me complicit with oppressive energy.

I did, however, get myself unfriended. The most egregious evidence of the “latch onto some minor inconsequential statement to discredit the whole thing in their heads” logic was displayed in a meme that I saw on on one of my friends Facebook profile. This was the one that tipped me right over the edge. The creator of this post went so far as to scoff at the suffering .. and … suggest very clearly that no one wanted to be bothered to hear any more about the injustices BIPOC have been experiencing for centuries.

I must admit that I lost my usual decorum and responded from an outraged place. While this meme may seem humorous at first glance … if we peel back the layers of what is not being said in the actual words … there is no denying that some racist attitudes are unequivocally visible in this message. From where I am looking, the people “copying and pasting” this sentiment are giving themselves permission to effortlessly elevate the damage sustained to corporate ‘material things’ as something far more grievous and worthy of their attention than caring the least bit about whether or not equality and justice is being served to each every part of our collective humanity.  

I concede that I should have waited until I was less heated before I responded. I am not proud of the way I handled my frustration in that moment.  I think my position was solid, but I could certainly could have made my point with less bite. I regret that. I trust they did not see what I saw in that posting because I cannot understand how seemingly decent people would deliberately choose to malevolently mock and callously dismiss the reason people are protesting in the first place!  Sadly, with a bit of grammatically incorrect quick wit, the entire intent of the 2020 civil rights upheaval was being hijacked by mainstream, dominant-centered thinking that globally dismisses experiences that they cannot relate to personally.  And, in doing so, unequivocally renders visible the racist attitudes that are being challenged by the protests.  

In my humble opinion, the folks who are chuckling while posting and re-posting this statement affirm and reify the entire root of the problem. And, sadly, it seems that as they self-righteously scoff … they obviate their absolute apathy, denigrating dismissal and utter disregard for the plight of others with their clever quip. Had the centuries of peaceful pleas persistently presented by BIPOC been held, heeded and honored rather than historically ignored, we might not have seen the looting and vandalism that emerged as a last ditch effort to get the public’s attention.

Where is the compassion for people who have had enough? While I am not condoning the looting/vandalism, I really do wonder how many of us can say we have never been mad enough to break something in our lives? How many of us have ever felt so helpless, hopeless and powerless that we lost our regard for the value of material things?

Unless and until our opinions of ‘others’ are informed and tempered by compassion, we will unwittingly continue to perpetuate the problems and erroneously believe we had nothing to do with it.

I’ve been watching myself with compassionate curiosity.  For the most part, when I see something on Facebook that I don’t agree with … I can simply scroll on by it. Somehow, though, as I have shared … I am not able to do that when it comes to social injustice. So, I have continued to speak up some more. I have stood in considerable discomfort. I have engaged in some really tough conversations.

As I shared, I attended one of the protests in a city nearby where I live. Even though we were in a pandemic, I donned a mask and headed out to stand in solidarity. From where I am looking … the potential for risk that I consciously took to attend was an essential and necessary risk to help mediate the persistent and certain risk faced every day (not just during Covid-19) by BIPOC. While many of us are getting our first taste of having our personal liberties compromised by the pandemic, many folks have endured a lack of liberation over the entire course of their lives.

It struck me that we might be wise to let our experience of reduced freedoms during Covid-19 inform and fuel our compassion for those who persistently must live without even the most basic liberties in life.  Not everyone saw it that way though.  Many people took exception to the fact that people were “allowed” to protest, but not allowed to visit their family members, attend weddings or honor their loved one’s passing at funerals. For me, the decision came down to deciding that violations of human rights must take precedence over concerns regarding application of public policy. That said, I was really relieved to hear that our Chief Medical Officer of Health here in Alberta  confirmed in a recent update that no cases of Covid-19 can be traced to protest activities in our province.

Not everyone is convinced that racism is a problem though. And, it seems that White people are particularly averse to thinking that they might be considered racist. Other bodies of thought contend that we are all racist. And … we can participate in anti-racist work even though we are working on our own implicit racist tendencies. There was a really good placard suggesting we treat racism like Covid-19.

However, most folks have trouble with the whole notion. It seems to evoke a black versus white thing instead of an opportunity to come together to eradicate the inequalities and injustices experienced by others.

Well at least it should be! Since my eyes were opened in post secondary education, I have never presumed that my education was adequate, so in response to this recent uprising, I started reading “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad. For us white folk, it’s a necessary but very humbling read.

I also discovered, in June 2020, that despite my five years of social work education, I had no knowledge of all the inhumane “Indian Hospitals” that unapologetically existed in addition to the atrocious Residential Schools throughout Canada. I wanted to learn more about why our understanding of those hospitals was nationally hushed, so I ordered “Medicine Unbundled.” It was not until reading that book that I became informed about how Indigenous people were used in very inhumane but government sanctioned medical experiments. The more I learned the more disheartened I became. I sometimes wished I didn’t care so much. I have wondered why I couldn’t just turn my attention away from it all …

But … the conversation about White Privilege was too much for many people. Oh my gosh … the backlash.  People responded quite indignantly that they had hard lives too! What they do not understand is that by acknowledging our privilege, we are not saying we have had an ‘easy’ life. The term ‘privilege’ speaks to the reality that skin color has never complicated a white person’s life in any way! In fact, it is typically an advantage … despite any other challenges white folk may be required to endure.  Well … except for the risk of sunburn. Yes. My pale, white freckled skin leaves me very vulnerable to sunburn … but that is it.

As we learn more, we can come to realize that our privilege affords us the power to effect the changes that the Black community has been beseeching and pleading to the masses for – for years.  I saw this placard when I attended the protest in Lethbridge …

The reason it resonated so deeply with me is because the oppressed don’t have sufficient power to effect the change that is so desperately needed. They need the mainstream majority to use their power and privilege to enact the changes.

My internal drive to advocate for social justice also inspired me to join a local equality alliance in our community several years ago. I marched with them in my first PRIDE parade in 2016.  June has been decreed as PRIDE month. It is usually marked by celebrations honoring the LGBTQI2S+ community.  And then, also in June of 2020, I sensed that my ally-ship was being discredited.  Ouch. Double ouch. I am assuming it was speculated to be “performative” (i.e. offered only to make myself look good). I spoke up on my own behalf, and could have belabored the discussion, but I decided not to invest my energy trying to shift perspectives in this regard. People will believe what they want to believe. It is really frustrating to be misunderstood. I am just going to keep doing what I am doing. 

That really pinched, but June wasn’t even near done yet. Forgive me in this paragraph where my privilege speaks loud and clear. Turns out that the old boy and I had to cancel the indulgent and idyllic ‘last-quarter’ trip overseas to cruise behind the Iron Curtain. We had booked it almost a year before and were supposed to be enjoying in September 2020. My Bestie and I also had to cancel our eagerly anticipated 100km walk along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  We also had a trip to Salt Spring Island cancelled in July 2020 because interprovincial travel was not yet recommended because of Covid-19. Yes. All the power and privilege I have  gained by being positioned comfortably in the mainstream got revoked. My skin color couldn’t get me on that boat … nor … could it buy me a pass to wander the Camino. 

Oh and because I attended the BLM protest in June…. I followed the recommendation of our Chief Medical Officer for all those who attended a protest. I didn’t have any symptoms and although the test  came back negative, it was interesting to experience the sense of shame that accompanied the whole situation. I hoped no one saw my car in the ‘testing line’ because I felt like I was somehow tainted as the Public Health Nurse approached me wearing all the layers of PPE possible. She was wonderful, but the process was definitely stigmatizing. All in all, it was such a humbling experience. 

And then, one night our phones started screaming with highly alarming alerts warning of a tornado from a storm that delivered hail stones the size of golf balls near here and the size of baseballs and grapefruits in neighboring communities. Good grief … 2020 seemed to stop at nothing to make us tremble in our boots. And, if that wasn’t enough for marking us half way through 2020 … it looks like some people were still committed to re-electing Trump in November.

Yes. June 2020 was a real head shaker. I share my comments about Trump’s supporters, because June 2020 really taught me a lot about ‘opinions’ …and … how unshakeable and how unreasonable some of our opinions prove to be. Pluto does a great job explaining:

And, it has been my experience that people, for the most part, don’t have the conversations suggested by Pluto. Nope. Seems people are exceptionally committed to their opinions … even if evidence to the contrary invites them to stretch their perspectives. All one has to do is spend a little bit of time online to see that people are quick inject their own beliefs into a situation without any obvious connection to the real meaning of the discussion.

Here is another example of people avoiding the deeper issues with police brutality and instead trying to turn the tables on the ones who have been assaulted. It’s really interesting to me because how many of us actually KNOW for sure … beyond the depictions we see on TV … how the police interact with minorities. Most of us have very little interaction with police. And so … we take our limited experience … and come to the conclusion that brutality wouldn’t happen if people didn’t get into trouble?? Seriously. Lots of people thought this logic made perfect sense.

Unfortunately, what people don’t know is that in the United States, the Thirteenth Amendment was established to forbid slavery, except where the condition is imposed on an individual as punishment for a crime!! And so, after the 13th amendment was passed, slavery was just resurrected in a new form. As confirmed in the data, the police were urged to charge as many Black men as they could in order to assure free labor continued. And so, contrary to the notion held by White people suggesting that people are being apprehended for lacking common sense, Black people were/are stopped for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Mass incarceration is an indisputable fact that White people have no idea about. It is, in fact, one of the reasons for the protests.

Oh my gosh. There are so many layers and complexities to consider in all of this. Unfortunately, it seems that many folk are either unable or unwilling to consider the possibility that their perspective is not entirely inclusive. I also came across another post on a Facebook group that I could not scroll past either.

One of the groups I enjoy invites people to post pictures of their travels! And, especially during Covid-19, it has been a real delight to experience the world through the lens of other people. That said, however, I came across this haunting picture of Auschwitz.

It took my breath away because it reminded me of our own visit there many years ago.  Of course we had heard about the unforgiveable atrocities that were committed upon Jewish people during WWII … but … to get a ‘felt sense’ of the place took my empathy and understanding of the heinous actions to a whole new level of understanding. Anyway, one of the comments under this post caught my eye:

I saw a number of responses suggesting that by removing evidence of the suffering and sanitizing these atrocious historical events and places, we risked allowing horrific things like this to happen again.  Valerie remained committed to her position and responded to another person’s suggestion that these moments in time must be honored, rather than rendered into something more palatable and “nice”.  

And well … at this point, the social worker in me was unable to simply keep scrolling.  For all of my life, I had understood empathy to be an act of feeling our way into another person’s experience … taking a walk in their shoes to embrace a deeper sense of how they must have been feeling.  It struck me that Valerie’s refusal to let the suffering of others into her awareness was the antithesis of empathy. Her stance was one of self protection. She could not bear to see it. 

But please don’t get me wrong. My issue with Valerie was not the sensitivity of her nervous system. I, too, can relate to being overwhelmed by external influences. I even quit watching the news because it triggered my arousal system so deeply that I needed to protect myself.  No. I recognize that there are times when we need to protect ourselves from the the stressors around us. That said, there are times when protecting ourselves from the ‘felt sense’ of experience of others can be very divisive and lead us to a lack of real empathy! 

For example, I vividly remembered feeling something similar to Valerie many, many years ago when I went to see the movie Born on the 4th of July. When the character played by Tom Cruise was paralyzed and forced to live in a horrid hospital setting … it was so sickeningly horrific to watch … I wanted to get up and leave the theatre. I felt like I couldn’t bear to see it anymore. I could actually hear myself thinking, “I can’t stand to see this … I’ve got to get out of here”.

And then … another voice within me firmly contested: “Those people, in that circumstance, didn’t have the privilege of leaving that horrendous space. They were trapped there for days, weeks, months!!  And, now, this is too much for YOU to bear … so YOU are going to bolt?? If they could LIVE through it for that long, you can sit through the truth of it for a few more minutes!!” 

Gah. So, I stayed. I sat in that seat and let myself really feel into the egregious circumstances that people endured during that war. And, I would argue that it was by actually facing the discomfort of another’s pain that I found a deeper sense of empathy for their circumstance.

So, as much as I could completely understand Valerie’s desire to look away … I took issue with her notion that by not looking into the truth of another’s experience that we were honoring them??  I took issue with her notion that no one should have an opportunity to get a felt sense of that horrific atrocity simply because ‘her’ personal experience of it was untenable?  From where I am looking, it is often our inability to relate to other’s experience that impedes our capacity for compassion. And so, I responded to Valerie:

I can see now that I might have wrapped my comments in a bit more context. My intention was to invite some awareness of how lucky most of us have been to escape the brutal life experiences that other people had no choice but to endure. Valerie did not accept my invitation to see it as ‘privilege’. In fact, as I shared before, that word is a real trigger for many folks  … and well … Valerie sure let me have it!!

Whattt??? As I pulled the daggers out of my chest, I double checked her comments to ensure I had not erroneously taken her out of context. Nope.  I had not. And I was once again reminded of how quick people choose to hurl insults at others when they don’t like what they are hearing. And maybe I should have simply ignored her comments, but I hoped I might be able to clear up any misconceptions … and … stretch her to seeing where I was coming from.

And so … it wasn’t long before the owners of the Page deleted the picture and all the comments. And, I completely understand why they did so. The unfavorable energy generated by my comments was not in keeping with the vision or intent of the Page.  And, I regret that my voice added to the anger and vitriol that was spewed about as a result.

Nonetheless, I believe my point was well taken. And I am sharing it here in order to expand upon the concept of privilege and choice. It does not escape me that I have sufficient privilege to escape many unfavorable discomforts that are part of BIPOC’s everyday realities.

And, so as we enter 2021 … I wish I could say that the challenges between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has landed in a place of mutual understanding. Not so. I find myself questioning whether we are oblivious to the challenges of others ‘by design’ or simply ‘by choice’ … or maybe … it is a complex combination of both.

This past week, a whole new type of protest happened.

  • On Capitol Hill.
  • Incited by the 45th President of the United States.

Donald Trump and many of the 75 million who voted for him were still contesting the results of the November 2020 election the deemed Joe Biden would be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States of America. The news reports have acknowledged that the perpetrators of this attempted coup … which is now being touted as “domestic terrorism” … were emboldened by the racist attitudes that have been seemingly normalized by Donald Trump over the last four years.

Media is also rendering visible how different the global response might have been were it BIPOC who stormed the Capitol. It is outrageous to think that people could gain access to these premises as easily as they did … and … the suspicion that their skin color aided and abetted them in their endeavors must certainly be considered.

This cabinet seat was arrogantly appropriated by one of the protestors.
Adam Christian Johnson smiled and waved as he was carrying Nancy Pelosi’s podium through the U.S. Capitol Building with other rioters. It is reported that he is 36, married with 5 children and has reportedly disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, as of January 9, 2021, there have been 55 arrests associated with the insurrection that claimed the lives of five people, including a police officer who was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. I find it somewhat curious to notice that the pages of Facebook have not been littered with criticism of the “terrorists” who led this march? The general public, at least the memes being circulated on social media, are comparatively quiet about this protest. How come??

It is very interesting to note, however, that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have chosen to ban Donald Trump from any further posting.

Gah. What am I missing here?? How is it permissible for this PROTEST to be instigated by Trump and carried out by his “Make America Great Again” [MAGA] supporters, but the protests honoring the Black Lives Matters movements were vehemently dismissed by MAGA … disregarded entirely as unsubstantiated claims of a non-existent racism. How is all of this possible?? My queries were confirmed by the ladies on The View.

I suspect part of the problem is because we have not been educated to see beyond our own personal experiences. The mainstream, dominant majority effectively projects their own experiences upon everyone else … and … readily dismisses any narratives that do no align nicely with their own. We create silos filled with people who share the same thinking as our own and we do not stray beyond that much. We do not embrace opportunities to entertain notions that don’t fit our own story lines about life. Therefore, I would say that to some degree, we are oblivious by choice.

And, further to that, we are simply not invited by our educational curricula to see (with any compassion or empathy) into the lives of those who do not look like, walk like, talk like the mainstream dominant do. No. The voices of mainstream power and White privilege are amplified in our education systems and fail to adequately instruct us (in thoughtful and meaningful ways) about those who are different from the normative standard that has been elevated before us … i.e. White, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class, English-speaking Christians. Therefore, I would suggest, we are oblivious by the sheer design of our academic institutions. Jane Elliott speaks to this issue very emphatically … in ways that many of us have before been invited to consider.

And, while I would hope that we would be open to learning from each other beyond the walls of our educational systems and religious organizations … I am not seeing a whole lot of that on social media platforms right now. But I certainly hope we can continue to have these hard conversations. I hope we will make room for discussions that make us reflect a bit more … that make us a bit uncomfortable … that invite us to check our privilege … that give us eyes of compassion … and ultimately … stretch our perspectives so that we might bridge the divide currently exists between us. 

With both hope and humility, 🧡 Karen 🧡

[GUEST POST]: How to Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin: 5 Easy Steps

In honor of PRIDE month …  and … in an effort to honor the human souls and tender spirits of those in the LGBTQ+ community, I invite you to let this meaningful message land in your heart.  And, perhaps it will invite each of us to consider alternate ways to truly live our lives from a place of love … despite our differences.

In less than 4 quick minutes, Emily Joy gives us some very prickly but potent points to ponder if we are seriously committed to loving one another ……………….

Thank you Emily Joy for your intense, brave reminder of what the dark side of our beliefs can look like … Karen

Video

“(S)he wouldn’t hurt anyone …”

Source Unknown

Your dog is beautiful. You love them. They adore you. And … you think your dog is harmless.  I know you believe this to the core of your soul … and … I would agree that your dog is completely harmless to YOU.  But this is not necessarily true when it comes to OTHERS.  Your dog has a primal instinct to protect YOU.  I completely respect that, but many dog owners aren’t aware of the challenge this innate predilection creates.

And … you may defend by saying that your dog has never ever harmed anyone.  And, I’m guessing by that you mean that they have never bitten anyone. But … ‘biting’ is not the only way your pooch can do ‘harm’.  In fact, the upset/distress/harm experienced by another because of your dog may not be at all obvious to you.  Allow me to explain …

I love to be outdoors … walking, running … metabolizing the stresses of my day with the bright sunshine warming my heart and cleansing my soul.  For me, it is not only the physical exercise, but a walk or a run is so good for my emotional and mental health. I am a counsellor (generalist practice) and EMDR therapist (trauma work) … so … I spend the bulk of my work days immersed in the pain and wounding within other people’s worlds. I love my profession. In fact, I wouldn’t want do anything else …. but … given my passionate commitment to this heart work, it’s imperative for me to find ways to release any stress and/or compassion fatigue that has accumulated in my own system.

Source Unknown

And so … my time enjoying the out of doors is such a precious piece of my own mental health.  And it remains entirely therapeutic for me … unless or until … I come upon unleashed or loose dogs. It’s not that I don’t like dogs. I do. It’s just that, unfortunately, I have come to fear the ones I am often confronted with outdoors.

My fear first began a few years ago when I was out for a morning run and crossed paths with a family … complete with stroller, preschool children and a beautiful large dog.  He was leashed as I approached them and attempted to pass by on the path. I’m guessing the canine misinterpreted the bounce in my step as an invitation to play because he unexpectedly lunged towards me and caught my upper arm between his incisors. Yes … he was tall enough to reach my bicep.

I stopped in mid stride when I felt the pain.  They just kept on walking.  I looked at the torn flesh on my arm and called out to them “Your dog just bit me.” They continued walking away, not even pausing … never mind turning back to assess the situation nor offer apology.  The person holding the leash casually called back over his shoulder … “He was just playing.” “But” I responded (pleading out helplessly to the back of their heads)“he drew blood.”

They never even looked back.  They were certain their dog meant no harm, so they completely disregarded the incident. I was aghast. And injured. And left abandoned on the path.  I stood there in utter disbelief until I could no longer see their silhouettes in the distance.

My mind was racing to comprehend what had just happened! Your dog bites a passerby and you dismiss the incident and injury as an intent to play?  What does your dismissal of the harm caused by your dog teach your young impressionable children about compassion and accountability and responsibility? I wondered how they were justifying their dismissal, disregard, ignorance of the event as they merrily continued to enjoy their walk outdoors. Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m deliberately calling it ‘ignorance’ because for them to choose to ‘ignore’ the injury is entirely ‘ignorant’ of the norms of human decency that we purport to uphold in our culture.

I still had a fair distance to go and the blood was trickling down my arm.  The local hospital was on my route home … so I stopped in to get a bandage.  The nurse was kind and compassionate … her empathy was comforting.  She cleaned the wound and warned me that if the dog’s shots were not up to date I could be at risk. She strongly recommended that I report the dog.

I pondered it all for the whole day … knowing that if I reported it, the authorities would NOT take my unprovoked injuries lightly.  We live in a relatively small town, so when my husband got home that evening, he was able to track down the dog’s owner and called him to ensure the dog’s vaccinations were current. Fortunately, they were. When my husband pressed the owner for an explanation of his conduct … he offered an apology. For me, however, it was a little too late to seem sincere. I wish I could say that the flowers he had delivered the next day made it any better. But they did not. They felt more like a ‘thank you’ for not reporting his expensive, exotic breed of dog, rather than a genuine effort to make amends for harm done.

One would think this would mark the end of the event. It was over, right?  Wrong.

Little did I know … but this was just the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life. I had no idea that the emotional arousal of this experience would become registered as a traumatic event within my limbic system.  And, that the hyper-arousal and unprocessed alarm of the event could be and would be triggered and reactivated, again and again, into the future … when and if I was accosted by dogs in the great outdoors.

And, since that day … my bestie and I have been chased and charged and cornered by dogs on several occasions!  I can tell you that one feels entirely vulnerable when a dog bounds unexpectedly across and down a street and won’t let you pass by … circling your ankles with bared teeth and vicious snarls. This has happened more than once.  When the dog owner in one of these scenarios finally captured his dog … he offered no apology.  Rather, he dismissed the whole incident by contending ‘he’s just a little dog’.  YES.  And may I say … the little ones seem to have something to prove. And regardless of their stature … they still bite … hard. 

And then, of course, there are the big ‘friendly’ ones!  Like the one my hubby and I encountered this morning … he enthusiastically lumbered towards us … both uninvited and uncontrolled by the owner.  I hid behind my husband.  The owner said he was sorry to have scared me but defended that “He’s just a big goof ball … he wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Sure. Easy to say … until it happens. Upon recognizing that I wasn’t comforted by his nonchalance, he looked down at his dog and said: “Come on … let’s leave the old lady alone.” Huh??  It might not have felt so offensive if I had not so clearly heard ‘old biddy’ in his disparaging tone. Perhaps he got defensive because we all knew he had to drive right past the off leash dog park to get to the area where we were all walking.  Grrrr.

But seriously …’old’ lady??  Well … okay, maybe true.

How about ‘scared’ lady?  Most certainly truer.

How about ‘innocent’ lady?  For sure. Absolutely. 

Maybe I should just be a ‘grateful’ lady? Clearly, its better to be insulted by the owner than bitten by their dog.  Obviously … there was no need for any extra compassion, because this dog owner saw no harm done.

On another occasion, a landscaper had his dog unleashed while he was working on a yard.  He was entirely unconcerned when his dog bounded towards us. I stopped in my tracks … distressed as the dog nosed towards my crotch.  I asked him to come and get his dog.  He  assured me that his dog wouldn’t hurt me. I was frozen … terrified to move. I actually pleaded with him to please come and get his dog. He smirked … apparently amused by my fear. I was reduced to grovelling for him to come get his dog away from me.  He snickered. Yes. I was terrified and was being mocked despite my outcries for help.  When did we devolve to the place where we think it is amusing to watch people suffer?

I completely lost it. I came entirely unglued.  My bestie’s eyes grew wider with deeper concern when I dropped the f-bomb. She had never before seen me in such a state of terror.  My fight/flight system had entirely taken over my system.  I was experiencing a full out trauma response. Yes.  Even though this dog never bit me … it was still a traumatic experience.  You see…. trauma isn’t something physical that happens ‘out there’ in the world somewhere … it’s something emotional that happens internally when we become hyper/hypo aroused and alarmed beyond our window of tolerance. And when old traumatic wounds get reactivated, we will find ourselves in fight, flight or freeze.

Source Unknown

It used to be that when I saw or heard a dog barking in a yard … or in a house … I could just calmly keep on walking or running. Not so any more. Now I experience a highly alarmed visceral response. I can feel the adrenalin and cortisol coursing through my veins. I can feel my blood pressure raise. Unfortunately, my flight/flight system is activated EVERY single time. And … although I am just one … I know that I am not the only one.

My bestie has also been bitten … more than once. One time when we were out for an evening stroll, a very large dog escaped the fenced yard while it’s owners were loading groceries into the house. This dog bolted … crossed the road … and then attacked us FROM BEHIND. My bestie sought medical treatment for the wound on her backside. The owners, on this occasion, expressed concern and regret. But as a result of this experience, even passing by a fenced dog doesn’t feel safe anymore to me. Especially if they are barking or growling. Even now, my heart starts pounding at the mere thought of it …!

And so … I share this for those of you who think there is no harm in unleashing your dog.  You can’t possibly know what is being triggered internally for others when they see that your dog is uncontrolled.  You have the luxury of being comfortable because … there is no chance that your dog will harm you.  I only wish I could feel so calm and relaxed. My body responds automatically.  It is not a conscious decision on my part. I cannot voluntarily turn off my internal alarm system.  And, research indicates that it typically takes at least 30 minutes for the stress chemicals to be metabolized … often longer. And so … I can end up feeling more stressed than when I headed outdoors with the intention to ‘de-stress’. Gah.

I am writing this blog as a call for compassion.  I hope you are hearing that your dog doesn’t have to bite someone to cause them distress and/or harm. Their trauma response may be triggered by the mere presence of your unleashed dog.  And, you would be none the wiser that your enjoyment of the outdoors was at the expense of another.

So … unless you are at an off leash park … please keep your dog controlled by their leash.  And, by that I also mean, please ensure you are strong and able enough to control your dog if you are in charge of their leash.  There are many occasions where leash holders would never be able to hold back a dog that gets aggravated or activated.  And, it is not at all uncommon for us to see dogs pulling their owners along the path.  In those situations, the leash is just an unreliable illusion of control that does nothing to calm my fears.

And finally … “thank you, thank you, thank you” … to all the dog owners who are mindful and considerate of the rest of us outdoors. “Thank you” to all the dog owners who shorten the leash when they come across others. “Thank you” to all the thoughtful dog owners who position themselves between their dogs and the passersby. And “thank you” to those who are kind enough to take their dogs off the path … or … simply halt with them … to visibly display that they have complete control of their canine. Your conscientious efforts to respect and acknowledge the comfort and safety of others is duly noticed, deeply respected … and … most gratefully appreciated!

May we all (young or old!) enjoy the outdoors without fear of emotional or physical harm … Karen

 

 

 

“To The Brave Ones” … An invitation to change the world by Glennon Doyle

Yes.  In response to the school shootings … an invitation to change the world … in the name of humanity! We need it more than ever!

Here’s a full transcript of Glennon Doyle’s speech:

To The Brave Ones,

This is cruelly specific to you. No generation before you has ever faced anything like this: Students being shot and killed in classrooms while adults do nothing.

What’s happening to you — it has a new face — but underneath? It’s oldest story known to humanity. It’s the story of evil born of greed.

Because there are two kinds of evil. There is the visible evil This is the evil you see on the news. The evil that happens when a kid shoots up a school. That kind of evil is often sparked by illness, pain, circumstance, hopelessness.

But we’re here today to talk about a different kind of evil: a behind the scenes kind of evil — not the evil that led the shooter to pull the trigger — but the evil that put a weapon of war in his hand.

Brave ones, that kind evil is harder to see because it hides behind fancy suits and degrees and good arguments and slick smiles and fake patriotism. This kind of evil is born in boardrooms and private jets and golf courses and handshakes between powerful people who plan how to divide us. And it’s not complicated, Brave Ones, It’s born from nothing but old-fashioned greed. It’s born when the love of money and power trumps the love of people. It’s unleashed when power decides to sacrifice lives for money, and when they wrap their decision in the American flag, in the name of God, in the name freedom –- so we’ll smile and cheer while our deaths line their pockets.

This kind of evil, Brave Ones, is not new – it’s when the greed of a few , in order to profit, strategizes to divide us and convince us to be afraid of each other. To convince us that we are against each other, when really these greedy few are only for themselves and We the People – We the People – who have been taught to fear each other, have the very same interests: our freedom, and our safety, and our children.

Greed is powerful – always has been. But you know what’s even more powerful, Brave Ones? Courage.

The story of our country is that humanity’s greed only reigns for so long – only until the people being sacrificed rise up and together say: ENOUGH.

Like the abolitionists rose up. Like the suffragettes rose up. Like the freedom riders rose up. Like the Vietnam War protesters rose up. Like the civil rights heroes who marched with King rose up. And the civil rights heroes who knelt with Kapernick rose up. Like women all over the world rose up to say TIME’S UP because ME TOO and like the young gymnasts — who joined arms and stood on that witness stand and shook with fury and conviction as they looked Larry Nassar dead in the eye and took him down together — rose up. Like the Parkland Prophets rose up in the face of their own pain and with their passion and intolerance for hypocrisy awoke our entire nation.

And Like YOU. LIKE THE AMERICAN STUDENTS OF 2018. Who — on February 23 — rose up together to say to power: “WE SEE YOU. Your greed is not patriotism. WE ARE THE PATRIOTS and we say: No country is free whose children are not free. “

YOU, who on February 23rd, became the BECAME THE LEADERS YOU WERE WAITING FOR.

You are not alone as you make history today. You are taking your rightful place in the long line of American freedom fighters. You are staking your claim on the side of history that knows and has always known that the Power of Love Overcomes the Love of Power Everytime. History shows us again and again, Brave Ones, that the game is long but when love shows up LOVE WINS.

On behalf of us parents, as you continue to rise and overcome the world’s greed with your love – I beg you, we beg you, to remember two things.
FIRST: Please- as you rise- Honor each other’s humanity.

Our generation got this wrong, Brave Ones.

We demonize people and groups who think differently than we do. We pledge blind allegiance to tribe and party and turn up our noses and close our minds and hearts to each other. We reduce each other to headlines and clickbait. We allow power to keep us afraid of each other – arguing with each other so we’re too busy hating each other and loving our own self-righteousness to make any real change at all. We allow power to use the oldest trick in the book: Keep them afraid of each other so they don’t turn on us.

And that’s why we failed you. This is why we haven’t kept you safe. Because we –as a generation — decided that being right is more important than doing right.

So, Brave Ones, decide differently. Don’t fear each other. Talk instead of tweet. Ask Questions. Be curious instead of judgmental. Seek first to understand. Listen to the kids whose parents have brainwashed them differently than your parents have brainwashed you. Fight bad policy instead of each other. Think beyond. Beyond party, beyond race, beyond gender, beyond sexuality, beyond tribe, beyond your parents, beyond Congress, beyond the Presidency…. YOU ARE THE GENERATION of BEYOND. The categories we’ve made for ourselves are killing us. Disregard all of them, and be humans among humans. When they tell you to fear each other, LOVE each other.

And Second: Honor YOUR own humanity, Brave Ones.

Rise and fight, Yes, but don’t forget to laugh and dance, too! It’s okay to be heartbroken and angry and it’s also okay not to be. Life is brutal, yes, but life is also beautiful, and the sun still shines, and art is still being made, and food is still delicious, and people are still AMAZING!

Listen loves, in the face of fear and oppression and danger, Joy is the fiercest act of resistance.
So as you fight for your lives, Brave Ones, don’t forget the things that make life so worth fighting for.

Keep Marching, Yes, But dance while you march us into the future you are creating for all of us.

So Brave Ones: Your parents are so proud of you. We are sorry that we didn’t protect you. We were confused until you rose. It all felt hopeless until you rose. But you have restored our hope and cleared our minds and strengthened our hearts. Your courage has helped us find our courage. And we will follow you and fight beside you until till we’re all free. Because you are the ones we’ve been waiting for, too. We love you.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America Everytown for Gun SafetyMarch for our Lives Elizabeth Gilbert Cheryl Strayed Brené Brown Women’s March Never Again

Video

Filled with PRIDE …

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Marching with the Taber Equality Alliance PRIDE FEST PARADE 2016  Lethbridge

I marched, for the very first time, in the 2016 PRIDE FEST PARADE in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada  … the largest city nearby where I live in rural Southern Alberta.  I feel badly that it took me so long to do so, because as a social worker, I made a professional commitment to resist social injustice by advocating for those who are relegated to the margins of the dominant mainstream majority. As it states in the final line of my social worker declaration:

“I will act to effect social change for the overall benefit of humanity.” 

And honestly … I not only see sociopolitical activism as my professional responsibility, but as a result of my extensive studies in anti-oppression, it has also become a personal passion to ensure that each and every one of us feels a sense of respect, love and acceptance in our lives … despite any perceived differences between us.  We certainly don’t have to agree on things and/or walk the same paths to be kind and compassionate with one another.

As an ally, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived to march in the parade … but I can tell you that being a part of the incredible PRIDE movement was deeply meaningful to me.  It touched me in ways that I could never have anticipated … and … that are exceptionally hard to describe with these words. You might get a wee sense of the sublime joy stirring in my soul from the smile showing on my face in the picture. My enthusiasm reflects the honor and pride I felt in waving the rainbow flag … both as an act of resistance to ‘othering’ and as an allied voice for inclusion.

It’s difficult to describe the energy of acceptance, joy, love and connection that was both particularly potent and entirely palpable during this event. It struck me that it didn’t really matter who you were … straight, queer, gay, lesbian, trans, bi-sexual, older, younger, married, single, white, black, brown, red, able-bodied or differently-abled.  There was such a rich and deep sense of appreciation for all of our humanity … in all its diverse expressions and equally divine incarnations. I sensed that each and every person in attendance was marinating in this undeniably warm, accepting and welcoming atmosphere.  It was clearly a safe place for folks to stand tall in the fullest expression of who they know themselves to be.

No apologies nor concessions were required in order to feel approved of … and/or … to be valued and recognized and acknowledged and appreciated. I can’t honestly remember being in any other social situation where I sensed such a complete lack of judgment. It seemed so unusual because, quite frankly, although unconditional love is loudly lauded in our culture … in reality … it seems relatively rare for one to actually experience it.  In fact, it strikes me that it can be quite challenging to find a space where people simply connect soul to soul … where hierarchies are suspended, differences are duly honored and each individual gets to feel unequivocally respected as an equally significant member of our human family.

The reality is that because I am a straight, married, white, middle-class, able-bodied, well-educated professional woman I can wander about my life enjoying an ample allowance of cultural acceptance simply because I visibly fit so comfortably into the dominant mainstream.  Not everyone is afforded this unearned grace. I reside in a very small rural town (about 8400 people) boasting a fairly homogeneous heterosexual, white, patriarchal, hard-working, family oriented and conservative Christian majority.  There is nothing problematic about that … unless you don’t happen to visibly ‘fit’ within that demographic majority … because it’s really hard to be anonymous here … unless you are good at hiding.  And, my heart aches because I know there are folks ‘hiding’ out in our little town because, in some way, they do not reflect dominant mainstream cultural norms.  Sadly, I’m aware that those who identify within the LGBTQ+ (i.e. lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus more) demographic may feel obligated to trade their personal ‘authenticity’ for the safety of small town cultural ‘approval’.  Yes. It can feel like one or the other for many folks. Many may feel pressured to hide the truth of their differences in exchange for a semblance of acceptance.

In fact, even speaking up so publicly in support of the LGBTQ+ community makes me feel somewhat vulnerable because I risk losing some of the safety and acceptance I currently garner from Taberites who perceive me to be solidly aligned with the dominant, mainstream beliefs of the Christian majority.  But I have to admit that, I too, have been hiding a bit.  I have been relatively silent in the public domain about my own sociopolitical convictions for far too long. It is time, however, as a constructivist, feminist, social worker that I stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been muted and marginalized.

From what I have come to understand, June is recognized as LGBTQ Pride Month due to a rally that took place in 1969 which was touted as the first major demonstration for gay rights.  And so, much to my own chagrin, here I am … finally joining those who have been speaking up for almost 40 years in support of the LGBTQ+ cause.

Yes.  At this point, my relative silence is starting to feel like a betrayal of human rights in general. It feels both essential and necessary to utilize some of my mainstream power and privilege to publicly support those don’t feel safe enough in our community to come out of hiding.  I sense it is important to do so, because it is common for our town locals to believe that we don’t have any members of the LGBTQ+ community living here.  They assume that the LGBTQ+ population resides only in the bigger centers.  And while it is entirely possible that many members of the LGBTQ+ community do, in fact, move away in order to live more honestly and authentically … the Forum Research Poll from 2012 estimates that approximately 5% of adults aged 18 – 59 in Alberta identify within the LGBTQ+ community.  That means, that of the 8428 people residing here … 421 may not identify as heterosexual or cisgender. And, as also noted in the Taber Times (our local newspaper) on April 5, 2017   … “of those numbers, some 194 could be students or youth (based upon a population of school age children and youth of 3, 879)”  And so, if we are not ‘seeing’ obvious evidence of this diversity in our town, then we can assume these adults, youth and children are working hard at ‘hiding’ their differences.

A couple of years  ago, I was super excited to learn that a local group had been started (in our small, rural town) called The Taber Equality Alliance (TEA).  The mission of this coalition is to create a safe space in our community for sexual and gender identity minorities and their allies.  This alliance is focused upon building a more welcoming and inclusive community through engagement, partnerships, social groups and advocacy.  I instinctively knew this initiative was something I wanted to be a part of.  We meet on a monthly basis and are slowly growing in both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+.  Our membership hit 135 people in May of 2017!  And … we are committed to gaining more visibility in our small rural community. A while back we gained some good press coverage when we acquired our ‘Society Status’.

After participating in the Pride Parade in Lethbridge Alberta, we determined that it would serve our cause well to raise our visibility in our little town.  Our first event was a fundraiser and silent auction.  It was a great evening for LGBTQ+ members and their allies to come out and connect.  And then … we got even braver and decided to put a ‘float’ into our own little community parade.  I wasn’t able to attend but our members donned their new white TEA shirts … and then … we also competed in the Chili Competition at our infamous Taber Cornfest Celebration in August of 2016.

And even though the clouds literally rained on our parade … the downpour never dampened our spirits!!

Recently, we determined that we should host our own PRIDE event … right here in our own little neck of the woods.  Our delegation of 22 people entered the officious Council Chambers of the Town of Taber to request that the PRIDE flag be raised on June 12th and then allowed to fly until June 30th.  This time frame represents five percent of the year to symbolically  honor the five percent of the community that identify as  part of the LGBTQ+ community.  Two of our delegates were seated up front to provide our presentation to the seven Town of Taber Councillors.  One of our members who identifies as transgender spoke candidly about the pain she experienced:

“The first time I attempted suicide, I was 10 years old.  I had been led to believe that how I felt was wrong and sinful.  I felt a great deal of shame for feeling things I did not understand or control. If I could not be a girl, then I didn’t want to live at all. I hated myself for how I felt, and the fact that I could not be normal. I went into the kitchen and pulled the biggest knife I could find from the drawer.  I held it to my chest and struggled with myself. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take my own life.  I placed the knife back in the drawer and went to my room.  I couldn’t end my suffering.  I felt completely and utterly trapped in this wretched life.

This wasn’t the only time I attempted. Every day I think about killing myself. It has taken a long time, but I have now finally been able to learn to love and accept myself.  Not as a boy or as a girl but as a being.  I’m now okay with being transgender and wear it as a badge of honor.  My hope is that through the efforts of TEA, we are able to help prevent someone else from going through the same misery that I have felt.”

I have to admit I was a bit dumbfounded to witness these two beautiful souls courageously expressing such achingly hard truths …  from the bottom of their hearts straight to to the tops of the Councillors down-turned heads. Although two of the politicians were visibly engaged and consistently sustained eye contact with our delegates, the majority of them were focusing their attention on the documents on their desks. Perhaps they had not yet read the package we had forwarded to them well in advance of the meeting? Perhaps this is common practice in the political arena? Perhaps I am just too old school …?  I have no idea, but I really struggled to make sense of what I was observing.  In this culture, from the time we are children, we are socialized to look at people when they are talking to you. It is perceived as a sign of respect.  It just doesn’t feel like people are really listening … nor interested in hearing you … when you don’t have their eyes.

It took a couple of motions before they agreed (by a very slim margin of 4-3) to permit us to raise the rainbow flag on a pole behind the Town Office. We had petitioned to raise it in front of the office where it would get more visibility on one of our main streets. It was suggested by one of the politicians that TEA should be “accepting” of their decision. It struck me as kind of ironic that we, the minority, were the ones being admonished to be ‘accepting’. It’s entirely paradoxical because the central issue perpetually facing marginalized groups and minorities (over time and across history) is that they have been silenced by the those in positions of power. And therefore, for the most part, they have had little option but to ‘accept’ the will of majority.

In the final analysis, however, we choose to see this as a small victory and, ultimately, a step in the right direction.  And … we will persist.

Margaret Mead

For some reason, it also seems germane to mention that prior to the meeting, I had noticed that one of the town Councillors had a sign posted in his front yard saying “Protect pre-birth rights.”  It was tempting to hope this meant he might be equally committed to also protecting ‘post’ birth rights … but he voted against both motions … adding verbally, with a slightly perceptible shake of his head, that he could not support this initiative. I do understand that the objections around supporting the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community are often founded upon religious convictions. That said, it is certainly not my intention, here in this blog, to take issue with people’s fundamental rights to stand behind their own tenets of faith. I completely respect every individual’s right to their own opinion.

And so, if the content of this blog offends your sensibilities, please accept my sincerest respect for our differences. It’s just that, from a my own spiritual perspective, I might interpret things a bit differently. From where I am looking … I am guessing that if Jesus was still physically present among us, he would have joined us for the flag raising … inspiring a spirit of compassion and acceptance for one and all.

I trust that we truly are a small town with big hearts!  I expect that there are many folks in our small town who are also interested in supporting post-birth human rights.  And so, if you feel inclined to help raise the vibration of inclusion in Taber and create more safety and comfort for members of our LGBTQ+ community, please plan to gather with us at our first ever PRIDE event  on June 12th, 2017!  I hope we can come together (both allies and those who identify as LGBTQ+) … have a hot dog, enjoy the entertainment and stand in solidarity so that this sector of our humanity can visibly ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the support that is available within our little town.

With deepest reverence for our human differences and much enthusiasm for all that is possible when we bring our hearts together … Karen

 

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Focus ≠ Exclusion. Ever.

Focus does not equal exclusion

Lately, our social media has been ablaze with competing American campaigns about whose lives matter. Is it the black ones? The police ones?  All of them?  It saddens me to see all these accurate assertions reduced to a public debate.  In doing so, we are creating unnecessary divisions between our hearts, and consequently, we are diluting our collective capacity to affect some significant shifts towards a more harmonious future … for everyone … on all sides.  I spoke to much of this in a prior post,  but I believe there are some additional perspectives that might be helpful to consider as we move forward:

  • We must refrain from assuming an implied “only” exists in front of these slogans.
  • We must not neglect the history and context in which these campaigns have been generated.
  • We must step out of our “Soldier” mindsets and into our “Scout” mindsets. (More about this concept later.)

Focus does not mean exclusion. There have been countless campaigns in the past that have intentionally invited extra attention to one thing, but we understood that this amplified focus did not imply that that other things were not also equally important.  For example:

  • “Feed the children” Don’t feed the adults.
  • “Save the Whales” ≠   Sacrifice the Seals
  • “Help prevent forest fires” ≠ Don’t concern yourself with grass fires.
  • “Join the Army” ≠ Don’t even consider the Navy
  • “Pray for Paris” ≠  We don’t care about Rome.
  • “Travel Alberta” ≠  There is nothing worth seeing in British Columbia.

These various social campaigns emerged for good reason and with just cause.  They were attempting to raise awareness in a particular direction for a specific reason. We didn’t interpret them offensively nor did we create counter movements … because we comprehended the context in which they emerged. In fact, one of the most popular and historically revered Christian campaigns in American society was“Love thy neighbor.” And, we would never mistake it’s earnest intention by assuming it meant that you shouldn’t love people unless they live near you. We would never presume that this meaningful adage was covertly conspiring to ensure all traces of love are withheld from strangers. Nope. No. Nada.  That wouldn’t even enter our minds.

And yet, there is no denying that the Black Lives Matter campaign has certainly touched a national nerve. And, as I was trying to make sense of the public push back, I was most grateful to a follower of my blog, Sue Dreamwalker, who authors a very meaningful and deeply inspiring blog, for kindly nudging me in the direction of a a very short but highly potent Ted Talk that may very effectively explain the contention has been sparked during this particular campaign. In roughly 10 quick but juicy minutes, Julia Galef raises the concept of “Motivated Reasoning” which very logically explains when and why we will feel “the drive to attack or defend ideas.”

Galef identifies two necessary and equally important mindsets than can land us in separate camps and on seemingly different sides of the coin.  It’s a fascinating perspective and it makes so much sense to me. She discusses the benefits/challenges of both the “Soldier Mindset” which reflexively triggers one’s internal defense system and is “rooted in a desire to protect your side” and the more curious “Scout Mindset” which is when we are “trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that is unpleasant or inconvenient.”  Each of these mindsets serves very critical but distinct purposes.

And so, we can see how these two mindsets can be activated and may or may not be beneficial in our lives, depending upon the context.  With this in mind, as White people reflecting upon the Black Lives Matter campaign, (and if we are willing to quiet our more defensive internal “Soldier” and make room to embody our more curious inner “Scout”), we can see that our own lived experience has poorly prepared us to see things from the side of African American people.  This is not because we are insensitive or stupid.  It is typically because we have been taught only one side of the story … our side. Traditional grade school American history books were written from the side of white, middle class, male academics who had the power to unilaterally decide what was important to include and what could be left out.  While this bias in our mainstream education most definitely needs to be changed … most of us have never even considered that our curriculum offers us a White-washed version of the history and context of Black lives.  It may be entirely unsettling for many of us to recognize that we have been sold a version of history that tends to dismiss and downplay the magnitude of social injustices experienced by African Americans.

Our solider mind may resist making room for us to see this, but our scout mind certainly does not.  Even though we have been distanced from truly understanding the African American side of things, it is difficult to deny that many, many innocent black people have been mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply because of the color of their skin. And recently, we could see their reflexive soldier mindset horrifically played out during the protests in Dallas.  And, with that, innocent police officers were mistreated and killed … rendered inexcusably vulnerable simply for doing their jobs.  And we can also see how the soldier mindset sparked the subsequent emergence of the Police Lives Matter campaign.  And then, in the space of competing interests, social media invites us to choose sides.  Really??  To me, it is all just entirely heartbreaking.

Instead of choosing sides, I would like to suggest that if we are going to successfully find the solutions to stop all the senseless suffering and loss we are seeing, we must be willing to temper our own soldier mindsets and round out our reasoning with our scout mindsets. The incomparable Marianne Williamson  invites the mainstream, dominant culture to do exactly that with an exquisite and exceptional prayer which compassionately highlights and sincerely honors the history and context surrounding African American lives that White people have been privileged enough to step over:

Prayer of Apology to African Americans

From where I am looking, this apology is so very long overdue.  I interpret the Black Lives Matter campaign as a sincere attempt to tell their side of the story … to help raise awareness and/or to generate support and to foster enough collective energy to shift and transform the unjust context in which they have been forced to abide.  And, I can also see that the Police Lives Matter campaign is a genuine attempt to honor their unique and particular side of the story.   How do we make space in our hearts for the voices on each side of these social movements without dismissing and diminishing the other?

I humbly suggest that we need to allow ourselves some focus.  As the old adage goes, the eagle knows that if it chases two rabbits, it will lose them both.  There are times when we must channel our focus in one direction because without that additional, sustained and fixed focus we will lose our power to effect the changes that sparked the campaigns in the first place. But once again, focus does not mean exclusion.  Our focus upon one thing typically means that there is something special, important and worthy of extra attention and/or consideration at a particular time for a particular reason.  We can choose to focus our gaze in one particular direction for a period of time to help address a pressing concern that needs extra public support and attention. And once we have affected sufficient support to alleviate the problem, we can turn our attention back to other important issues of concern.  It’s a triage of sorts …

And this is an example of the context where our soldier mindset can be counterproductive.  It seems to me that unless and until we engage our scout mindsets to gather enough history to adequately understand the context in which social movements arise we will remain subject to all manner of misinterpretation.  And then, instead of coming together to collectively honor, acknowledge and address the special interests that are being highlighted within the campaigns, we may be reduced to bickering with each other.  I fear that if we, the mainstream dominant culture, steadfastly stand in our soldier minds (i.e. intent on defending only our own side of the story), the marginalized parts of our humanity are once again pitted against those with more power and social clout … and then … we all remain angrily divided and helplessly distracted from pursuing a more unified humanitarian goal.  And, with the competing interests, the group with the least volume in their voice then loses any leverage they may have gained during the social movement and the status quo is very nicely maintained.

Sadly, when we allow oursevles to be pitted against each other, we are missing the sacred and divine opportunity we have to join forces in a caring, conscious, collective, conscientious and concerted effort to ensure, in fact, that ALL lives DO matter.

Right Vision

Hmmmm … my scout mind is inviting me to be very transparent here.  I must openly admit that it has crossed the suspicious and cynical part of my mind that this controversy (pitting ‘lives’ against each other on social media) certainly serves to maintain the status quo.  And … it cannot be denied that, all though “all lives matter’,  the status quo definitely privileges some lives over others.  Our soldier mind doesn’t like to believe it, but our scout mind knows it to be true.

And, it strikes me that the bickering between camps benefits the soldier mindsets/agendas of those in high places … those with the most power and privilege to lose if, in fact, we actually achieved a successful shift in the direction of a higher vision and landed in that miraculous space where we can unequivocally see the empirical evidence that All Lives Matter.  Arghhh . I really don’t like the sound of that unflattering perspective.  And honestly … given this particular social context, I’d sooner be wrong than right.  Honestly and truly … from the bottom of my heart. I would much prefer to believe that we were investing our collective energy into ensuring Marianne’s inspiring vision becomes a reality.

Yes, please … let’s make a concerted effort to do that, Karen

P.S. I’ve added even more extra-ordinary resources to the list in my prior post that will appeal to our scout mindset. 🙂

 

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Well, I Sure Got Told, Didn’t I … ?!?

Black - White Photo

Yep. That was the outraged response I received to a response I posted on Facebook after the following post appeared on my news feed.  I tend to get myself involved in a few tangles every now and again on social media. I can’t help myself from responding, though … when I see stuff like the following show up!  Here’s where it started. One of my friends had posted this on their newsfeed:

Race Card

I wanted to be delicate, because I didn’t want to shame my friend, but … I could not simply step over the problem I saw with this post. So this is what I said in response that prompted the tongue-lashing I received:

“Oh my. I swallow hard when I read this. I thought about simply not responding but my heart won’t let me stay silent. In theory, of course “all lives matter” … but when we snarl, scoff and generalize in this way, we allow ourselves (i.e. the mainstream dominant majority) to step over all the ways, places and spaces that this theory does NOT match the reality. When we do that, we give ourselves permission to dismiss, diminish, and deny the horrific injustices that people of color have experienced historically … and … we can then fail to acknowledge how these inequalities are currently being perpetuated. I truly believe we need to give extra careful attention to learning about the experience of the marginalized … to highlight the extent of the oppression that continues covertly … to help us collectively see how we are NOT actualizing that altruistic theory. With heartfelt respect, I humbly suggest we have much to learn from the ‘race card’ … and … I really hope that it keeps getting played until we actually sit up and listen, until we actually do something in order to see justice for all … beyond simply theoretical rhetoric.”

Well … this fellow was sure determined to set me clear and straight. I can’t quite comprehend how he’s qualified to accurately assess my level of intelligence because I don’t even know the guy. Maybe he’s just very comfortable with name calling? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing his scathing criticism says more about him than me.  I have no problem holding space for a respectful debate or difference of opinion. In fact, I welcome those discussions because that is how we stretch and grow and learn from each other. In this case though, his attack on my character does little to validate his position. By the same token, I would also suggest that the implicit snarl and condescending nature of the Facebook post (“get over yourself”,”put your race card away” and “grow up”) smacks of unnecessary vitriol as well.  Maybe it is just me, but as a counselor, my ears have also been trained to listen for what is not being said.  With that particular choice of wording,  I am sensing a somewhat covert but patronizing lack of respect for diverse racial experiences.

I understand, though, that what we see depends upon the eyes we are looking through.  Our opinions are fortified and framed by what we learn from our own lived experiences … and … by what we are taught (both formally and informally) in our families, cultures and schools.  I’ve come to believe that, without specific schooling, much of what we as White people really need to know, understand and recognize about race issues is simply not taught to us.  And so, although this guy’s approach was questionable, I can’t fault him for defending his perceptions. He just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I’m not being critical here. None of us do. How could we? The problem is not that we don’t know … the problem is that we think we do.

It wasn’t until I spent five years specifically immersed in social work and anti-oppressive practice (during both my undergraduate and graduate studies) that I began to understand how much I did not know.  I was dumbfounded to learn how much we have not been taught. It was deeply humbling and forever changed how I view things.  As White people we don’t recognize the unearned power and privilege that we are so generously afforded in our society.  It’s not possible for us to truly understand the complexities of these issues  … 1)because they are beyond the realm of our own experience and 2) because we are only exposed to some particulars about it. We are taught just enough to make us feel informed, but not enough to give us a truly comprehensive understanding of the complexities.  Unfortunately, the gaps in our awareness can skew our perceptions and derail our very best intentions.

I will give this guy two things though:

1.) There probably aren’t any black people alive who were “involved in the slave times.”  However, I would argue that the prejudice and bigotry that condoned and sustained the slave trade did not cease just because slavery was finally abolished. You can mandate changes in legislation but you can’t mandate changes in attitude. The legacy of such racism continues whether we like to admit to it or not.  One doesn’t have to look further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign to see that bigotry and discrimination is not only alive and well in America … but is now being proudly perpetuated and cavalierly brandished by Donald Trump. And most disturbingly, it’s being loudly applauded by a staggering number of American people … who, by the way, would vehemently contend they are not racist in any way.

2.) It’s true that life can be a bitch.  I would contend, however, that life is more of a bitch for some of us than for others. I doubt if my critic would honestly be happy to surrender the unearned power and privilege that he lives with in exchange for being treated the same as Black men often are in our society.  He can call me dumb again, but I’m not sure very many of us who live in the mainstream dominant culture would make that trade willingly.  In a mere 45 seconds, Jane Elliott clearly illuminates this point:

Although my Facebook critic contends that if people like me would just quit bringing up the past, there would be no problem.  He believes the mistreatment of Black people was only in “the slave times.” This video shows, however, that at some level we DO collectively recognize that what is currently happening to black people (however covertly) is not desirable!  We wouldn’t want that kind of treatment for ourselves, but we are comfortable allowing it to continue to happen to them.

And, that is why the slogan “BLACK LIVES MATTER” emerged.  If we are ever going to make a significant shift, it is essential for us to narrow our focus and point our gaze directly towards this longstanding and deeply systemic issue. When we generalize that “All Lives Matter” we take our eyes off the problem and focus instead upon a theoretical concept that may very well  be true … but that fact does nothing to solve the problem.  The following metaphor speaks to this issue very well:

Bob

Of course, all lives matter.  But, philosophical truths and altruistic rhetoric don’t feed Bob.  When we neglect to honor the specific needs/deficits experienced by specific individuals (or groups of individuals), we are failing to ensure compassionate and humane treatment for ALL.  And that is just not okay with me.

I am posting this blog in hopes that we will continue this conversation … over and over again.  We really need to talk about this.  It really matters to our shared humanity.  But, for the most part, as White people, we have the luxury of being bored, disinterested or maybe even annoyed by ‘the race card’ … and so … we don’t talk about it. And like my critic … we might do our best to simply shush anyone who brings it up.

During my social work studies, however, we did talk about it.  In depth.  I remember wondering why these lessons were not mandatory in our grade schools.  I was introduced to the pain that marginalized groups of people were feeling …  and … how as a White person, I benefit from racism by default. And once it was pointed out to me, I could see it very, very clearly. And now, I can’t not see it.

I came to understand that I don’t even have to do anything obviously “racist” to benefit from the way the system is set up in our society.  I enjoy ‘favor’  because of the way racism makes one part of our humanity count for less than another.  As my eyes were opened to more and more and more, I could no longer deny or dismiss the advantages of having white skin. I never had to worry about whether people would rent accommodations to me. I don’t have to worry about whether someone is willing to sit beside me at a public function. I never had to worry about my children experiencing racial slurs at school. I don’t have people making fun of the way I talk.  I don’t have to worry about being snubbed if I ask for help in a department store. I don’t have to worry that the job will have “just been filled” as I arrive for the interview. I am more likely to be considered for ‘prestigious’ jobs because I have the right ‘qualifications’ (white skin). I could go on and on and on …

But here is the real kicker!!  As White people, we don’t typically ‘see’ the extra power and extra privilege we are gifted because our society is set up to benefit us and not them. AND … it is exactly because of that unearned advantage that we have the luxury of dismissing and/or ignoring conversations about racism.  And, it is also due to our privileged place in society that we can also afford to remain ‘silent’ on the topic. I have done it myself. I would suggest that we are often more committed to protecting our own feelings and/or not making other White people uncomfortable than we are to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges beyond the margins of our own experience.  We are far more likely to ignore, dismiss or deny those struggles than to honor and investigate them.

It would be such a different world if we find it in our hearts to heed the wisdom of Glennon Doyle Melton

“Today: let’s be curious instead of defensive.

When someone says: I’m hurting.

Let’s say: “Tell me more” instead of: “No, you’re not.”

I think the difference between curiosity and defensiveness might be the difference between war and peace.”

We have so very much to learn. I just wish we were more interested.  But because we think we already know … we aren’t always open to looking or learning more. I was both stretched and humbled, though, by the many potent teachings and pivotal moments  over the course of my studies.  And perhaps one of the most critical is this: I now know there is so much I don’t know.  I am still learning.  Two sources of the most poignant and powerful lessons I received included these:

Now, I don’t expect that my critic would bother to take the time to look at any of these, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I sure hope you will!  Especially the “Blue Eye/Brown Eye Experiment” .  Gather the whole family, make some popcorn and pull this 45 minutes video up onto your smart TV or your computer and watch it together.  And then, I hope you’ll have a conversation with your family about it. And I really hope you’ll pop back and add your thoughts in the comments section  … so we can continue to deepen this very important discussion.

There are also lots of more recent publications, videos and resources on the subject that highlight considerations that often escape our mainstream dominant attention. Here is a smattering of some thoughtful and thought-provoking ones I have come across thus far.  I hope at you will check them out. AND, if you can suggest any other resources, please post them in the comments section of this blog.  I am always eager to learn more … and will add them to the list:

From where I am looking, the altruistic truth that ‘all lives matter’ won’t really be actualized UNTIL we ensure that ‘black lives matter’.  And Aboriginal lives … and Latino lives … and Middle East Lives … and … and … and …

But then again, as “the dumbest person … ever seen” – it may not be wise to give much merit to my perspective … Karen

 

 

 

 

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An Un-Lived Life …

An unlived life

Grrrr. Boooo. Hiss. Pffft. Arghhh …

A little while ago, I experienced a particularly troubling week … one in which my emotions got really ramped up.  I don’t tend to get triggered all that easily anymore, but two days in a row, right back to back, I endured distinctly different scenarios that both wreaked havoc with my heart and left me fumbling my way through the fountain of unfavorable feelings that arose in the face of those formidable frustrations.  And so … as I often do … I took pen to page to help me find the message that those muddled moments may be holding for me.

I remain so deeply discouraged by the inherent powerlessness of marginalization … both feeling it myself during that particularly woeful week and observing it for others – far, far too often. There are some things that are beyond my control. Important things. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, things that are important to me.  And important to some others …. but, for the most part, they are things that the vast majority doesn’t experience as a problem.  And, sadly, unless or until an issue affects people personally, many will not acknowledge, recognize  or even give much attention to such things.

Perhaps it is truer to say that in our dominant cultural majority, we have the exquisite privilege of not needing to understand the particular problems of  those who are unlike us … of those whose issues lie beyond the margins of our own lived experience. And, regrettably, we live in a world where assuming an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ stance is often glamorized as a desirable patriotic position and/or a reflection of our religious devotion. Sadly though, this sets up an ‘either/or‘ mentality rather than a ‘both/and‘ mindset.  And as a result, a very well intended desire to take care of our own often means that the issues of others get subjugated and dismissed. Or, even worse … ridiculed. Yes. Ridiculed. We get to be oblivious about the issues that affect them, because the obstacles they may be facing are just not at all apparent upon our own paths.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

When you are NOT the one being oppressed, you have the luxury of not even noticing the prickles and perils on the path that ‘others’ are experiencing.  And, you don’t even know what you don’t know because the ‘others’ are grappling with issues that have never even hit your radar.  It’s not that you don’t care.  You do care.  And you may very earnestly believe in equality … and … you might even think that because things are purported to be equal, that all people have the same rights and opportunities as you do.  Some may even think, if they don’t take advantage of the options in front of them, well … that is not my problem.  They could get it together, if they just tried or if they were really committed to helping themselves.

But ‘equal’ does not mean ‘equitable’.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Adapted from original source: Craig Froehle

And so, those with the most power and advantage can unwittingly continue to step over the unmet needs of others.  Not because they are heartless.  No. Not at all … but because they really don’t see the problem.  And, they honestly don’t.  It is simply not an issue that registers in the framework of their experience, and so they have trouble understanding how it could be a problem  for others.  From where they are looking, they see lots of  options that could be accessed … they see solutions that are not being actualized.  But, they cannot see how their own alignment with the majority affords them an unfair advantage … a fast track to ‘solutions’ that seem simple and obvious to them, but in reality, are not accessible to all. Many, in fact, will speak about their privileged standpoint as though it were a merit they somehow earned.

And yet, there are some places where we get that it is not a matter of choice.  We understand that we must collectively seek to disrupt the inequitable disparity among us.  Golfers get it.  They honor differences and foster equity by offering handicaps in order to level the playing field in terms of skill sets.  And somewhere along the way, we realized that the racers on the outside lane on an oval track have further to go, so we stagger the starting line to offset the advantages on the inner lanes. There are many places in the arena of athletics when/where we do acknowledge inequities and seek to rectify them.

But, it’s entirely exasperating to attempt to address a social issue with people on the inner lanes that don’t see the problem for those on the outside lanes.  Even those with ample power to changes things, may feel no sense of responsibility to rectify the issues others are be facing. Arghhhh.

Source Uknown

Source Uknown

And so, with that recognition, it is so tempting to simply give up … to allow myself to be silenced … to succumb in weary resignation and benignly accept the mainstream majority’s perceptions of what is ‘right’ for this world and/or adopt their narrowed notions about which minorities might deservedly merit some accommodations … and … which do not.

But … to do so … would leave my life un-lived.  To do so, would leave my days un-inhabited by the very things that steal my heart and kindle my inner flame.  To fail to show up for the ‘truths’ in my own soul would be to suffocate my spirit.  And, I sense deeply that this is no way for me to fully embrace my days.

As Dawn Markova points out: I must risk the falling … I must risk catching fire … I must allow my living to crack me wide open.  I must pursue my own particular passions and plant the seeds … in hopes of enjoying the blossoms … and … trusting in the fruits of my efforts, even if I never get to taste them myself.

I remember my red-faced recognition of my own complicity in the marginalization of others. I was taking a class in social work. I remember learning things I did not know.  I remember questioning why these important things were not taught to us in our mainstream curriculum.  I remember wanting to hide.  I remember wanting to blame others.  I remember my sense of shame  … and  … I remember ultimately recognizing that if I was not part of the solution, than I was part of the problem … by default.  

And so, I feel both obligated and compelled to inhabit my days more fully invested; with my eyes fixed beyond my own lived experience, using my voice to stretch awareness and disrupt the oppressive influences that I become aware of … despite risking my connection to my mainstream comforts – despite risking connection with the family/friends who can make me feel safe in my own comfort zone … because as Ben Franklin so wisely recognized:

justice - 1

And so, with a tremble and a tear, I make this pledge to myself.  I humbly choose to risk my significance. I cannot comfortably inhabit the polarized dualism of us versus them.  I cannot keep my gaze reduced to my own lane.  I cannot step over the injurious conjecture or contemptuous confabulations coming from those who don’t see or erroneously dismiss the complexities of an issue  … even though I have an understanding of some of the fears that perpetuate the problem.  I do recognize that we may personally pay a price when we make room for ‘others.’ And, I realize that when you are accustomed to living with privilege, a movement towards inclusion and equity can feel threatening … it can even seem like reverse oppression.  I get that. I just can’t continue to condone it with my silence.

So, I do expect some push back. But I am also sensing that many in the mainstream majority will want to meet me on the margins.  Many will want to gain a better understanding of what it is that we have not lived …  so we might learn what it is that we don’t yet know. Ultimately, for me, I am realizing that I have to keep stretching myself because it just doesn’t feel right for me to continue to dwell silently in those privileged spaces …without further investigation about who is paying the price for my comforts …and/or … who does not have access to the same.

I think its because I cannot fully live there … Karen

P.S. I believe that talking about power and privilege is not about imposing guilt on the mainstream. It is not about blaming and shaming any of us.  From where I am looking it is more like talking about air.  Please click here if you are interested in that conversation.

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Talking about POWER is like talking about AIR …

check your privilege

PRIVILEGE can be defined as the unearned access to social POWER based upon membership in a dominant social group.  And, yes, if you find yourself checking and of the boxes including White, male, middle to higher class, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual and/or able-bodied … you are afforded unearned social power. And, with that power, comes many privileges that you may or may not actually be consciously aware of enjoying. This is not something to feel guilty about … but … it is an opportunity to learn more about how it benefits you to belong to a dominant group.

In my opinion, talking about POWER is like talking about AIR. We all know it is there and we all use it, but we have the luxury of ignoring/denying its critical significance until we are somehow deprived of it.  It’s somewhat insidious because although the element itself is not visually perceptible, the substantive effects of its relative presence or absence are highly tangible.

Without it, the personal distress becomes grave and quite palpable. For this reason, I think it is incumbent upon all of humanity (but particularly those of us who work in the human service disciplines) to be highly diligent in seeking out and acknowledging areas in peoples lives where, metaphorically speaking, the air is thin. I believe an integral part of that inquiry involves us becoming aware of the covert ways in which we (from our oxygen rich standpoint in the mainstream majority) can unwittingly suffocate ‘others’ … or … be of the opinion that their shallow breathing as personal deficiency needing individual remediation rather than seeing their lack of oxygen as a reflection of a collective issue requiring systemic respiration.

Source Unknown

When I check the ‘privilege’ list … I can see that I dwell in a fairly empowered space. I can’t check all the boxes, but nonetheless … I enjoy a whole schwack of benefits and social power that I didn’t actually earn. I can breathe pretty darn easily in this culture.

And so, in the presence of that knowledge, I have a choice.  I can use the power inherent in my social standpoint and professional position to disrupt any impediments to universal and equitable access to air … or … I can allow myself to be richly oxygenated by my privilege and assume no responsibility for the shallowed breathing of others. And if I choose the latter, I might be tempted to assuage my guilt by blaming the labored breathing on the gasping individual themselves – admonishing them for not inhaling deeply enough … instead of faulting a biased ventilation system that privileges some while it asphyxiates others.

In every moment … in every interaction … with every thought, word and deed … I am always making a choice.  I am either sharing the oxygen mask I have been gifted or I am saving it for myself.  There is no neutral ground here.  Whether we like to admit it or not, those of us with the most privilege are responsible for the air quality. Yes. We. Are.  Because, we are the only ones holding the power to oxygenate it equitably for all.

So, each and every one of us has to decide whether we are going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. And, I have learned that I must keep a very close eye on myself … because it is so darned easy to take my power and privilege for granted. From my oxygen rich place in the dominant social majority, it is easy for me to take a nice deep nourishing inhale … and then obliviously … neglect to notice that so many others are woefully wheezing on the margins of my awareness.

May my personal and professional interactions with others be a breath of fresh air,  Karen

Words I Can’t Take Back …

sometimes the healing is in the aching

Once the words are uttered, you can’t take them back.  And honestly, I hope I never want to take them back.  I am typically quite cautious/deliberate about tasting my words before I spit them out … but nonetheless, sometimes the most caring and loving thing any one of us can do is be authentically straight up with another human being.  Tactfully. Thoughtfully. Compassionately. Not with the intention to harm, but rather … with the intention to help.

There are times when people inadvertently get in their own way.  I see it so often with my clients. I’ve done it myself.  I still do, on occasion.  But honestly, we can’t see it while we are doing it.  So, we tend to blame others for the tattered and tender condition of our heart.  And then … we get frustrated, because things don’t change.  We can’t see, however, in those fragile moments that our finger might be pointed in the wrong direction.

It is during those tenderly tentative times that we need someone to be loving enough, courageous enough and supportive enough to actually inform us about our blurry blunders. It is never kind, however, to completely blind-side people with these uninvited ‘truths.’   We need someone to gently open our eyes … as kindly, caringly and purposefully as possible, because it can really sting to discover that, unbeknownst to us, we are somehow complicit in generating our own unfavorable circumstances/situation/relationships.

And so, we all deserve a chance to muster the courage it takes to welcome the ‘ache’ that this awareness might invoke.  Usually, I will say to my clients: “I have a suggestion for you, if you’d like it?” or “If there was another way to see this, would you be open to looking at it?”  or “I’m having a thought … but it might pinch a bit.  Would you like to hear it or should I just keep it to myself for now?”

Questions like this give folks a chance to say “no, not interested” … or at the very least … time to emotionally brace themselves.  And, it’s important that I both respect their preference and honor their response.  I will rarely share potentially prickly perceptions unless I am invited to do so by the recipient. And even though there are times when the invitation is clearly implied (e.g. with blogs, Facebook posts, editorials etc), I know I can’t take the words back once they are uttered. I also know that it’s not usually helpful, supportive or therapeutic for me to persistently press these perspectives onto others (even with the best of intentions).

Not even with my loved ones.  Maybe especially with my loved ones.  One of my clients once said, “Your kids are so lucky to have a counselor as a mother.” But, that is not the way it plays out. I am not their counselor.  I am their mom. And, it is critical for me to honor that distinction.  I try to be careful not to push my ‘professionally’ oriented perceptions onto my family members without permission to do so. My ‘wisdom’ might not be welcome.

It’s a disquieting paradox though, because as Martin Luther King points out: “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.”  And, I have learned that our spiritual growth is typically tucked into those unflattering ‘truths’ that often seem too risky for our friends, colleagues and/or loved ones to dare speak aloud.  To our faces. Nonetheless, the most salient shifts I have ever experienced were because people were brave enough to risk my wrath and acknowledge something I couldn’t see for myself.

My education with The Ford Institute For Transformational Training was filled moments like this.  Achingly hard, but critical moments like this. As integrative coaches, we were trained by the incomparable Debbie Ford, to be ‘ruthlessly compassionate’ when invited to support others. Debbie was an absolute master at candidly shining a light upon the self-sabotaging thoughts, words and deeds that were compromising our best efforts to grow, stretch and transform beyond our perceived ‘stuckness’.  And although it really stings to let an unflattering awareness land in our hearts rather than promptly rejecting it, I owe the lion’s share of my personal growth to my coaching family for being such clear mirrors for me.

And I would venture to say that many of us are holding onto ‘undelivered communications’ that we think might benefit someone we know and love … but we are too scared it would hurt our relationship to share them. And it might. Some relationships may not be strong enough to bear the weight of such an honest exchange.  But, it may also be true … or even truer … that some of our relationships won’t survive without that level of transparency.  Unspoken resentments can be terribly toxic … even lethal. The strongest connections hold precious space for us to be caring catalysts for each other … to help us lovingly lead each other out of our own covert culpability.

But the most important caveat here is this: Our intention in sharing must always be to help not harm … and typically most effective when invited by the recipient. Because … these are words we can’t take back.

Trusting that “sometimes, the healing is in the aching” … Karen

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Those of you who read my “Better Because you Spared Me …” blog will already be aware that Christmas 2019 marks the 30th Anniversary of my Mom’s passing. You will also know that I didn’t even realize the loss of my Mom had remained so unprocessed … until the words, tears and unspoken grief spilled […]

Better Because You Spared Me …

Do you suppose this is true?? I am purposely pondering this possibility because … I don’t even know the man.  I do know who he is, though. And because we have lived in the same small, rural community for the past quarter of a century, I have seen him out and about every now and […]

Better Because of your Shining Spirit Kori!

Better Because of your Shining Spirit Kori!

My first introduction to the sweetness of Kori’s spirit was not even in person.  Although we had never before met … many, many years ago when I was in charge of soliciting donations for something … she voluntarily dropped off a donation for our cause. Who does that?? Unsolicited?  I suspected, in that moment, that […]

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