…the short answer to the above question is yes, insofar as it concerns me and the following response.
I have been feeling a need to express more gratitude lately. Perhaps this is natural, given the climate, or the weather, or just exhaustion beyond explanation. Endorphins? Maybe the fact that Thanksgiving is this week? I’m not sure, but at the same time have been feeling a sense of frozenness, an inability to make decisions or take action. For the longest time, it felt like my perfectionism was acting up and I kept telling myself I would finish certain tasks (including emailing important people back, ehem) once I had drafted a thorough, complete response read over several times. The problem is, what does complete look like? What happens when we are never “ready?”
I was thinking about this question particularly in regard to learning allyship. At my university, we’ve been talking about best practices and how we can support students who are threatened and afraid. Do we wear the safety pins? Do we make public statements? How do we show up for each other in meaningful ways? So many uncertainties and yet, there is no time to seek the answer before something needs to be done. The time is NOW. Attempting perfection inhibits change and has encumbered me from supporting those who need to be held the most. So, as a white woman, I’m going to throw perfection out the window and trying to learn as I go. Is this dangerous? Yes. My “learning opportunities” can certainly be harmful. The damage is real. Taking action can, however, take the pressure off those I’d like to support, because waiting for complete knowledge around the “how” means the oppressed are tasked with figuring it out, and I sit and wait. We, human beings, are not perfect. We are inchoate. We are unfinished. And yet, we love and are loved.
This rambling comes in thinking about gratitude, to return full circle. One of my students challenged me about a month ago to do something every night: name one thing I appreciate about someone who otherwise gives me trouble, and name three things I love about myself. Can you guess which one is harder? In reality, it depends on the day. Every night, she has consistently reminded me to report my 1 and 3 to her, and in turn I ask her back. At first this practice seemed impossible. “He just makes me SO mad!” I thought, “How can I appreciate anything?” Moreover, putting aside self-loathing sounds simple but, of course the loathing is complicated. Slowly but surely, we have made progress together. Sure, some days still seem untenable- you know the ones. This past Friday, this student was in my office and we had a lengthy conversation about gratitude and what it really means.
As I understand now, gratitude requires faith in the imperfect. It means feeling thankful despite the suffering present in the world, in my life. It also requires mindfulness: a sense of feeling genuine in the present. When I feel grateful, I am not taking a backseat and determining that everything “will work itself out.” I am acknowledging that there are in fact slivers of hope, pieces of love to hold as we march into the darkness. I am grateful for the challenges, even if on certain days, they feel insurmountable to address. Gratitude is a call to action, not complacency- this is the difference between ignoring privilege and acknowledging it.