Dumping

I saw a great Tweet recently. It really captured something I have been struggling with for the past year or so. The Tweet said (and I paraphrase): it’s fine to process with friends sometimes, and to listen when a friend is in need. However, a friend is not a therapist, and certainly doesn’t get paid to be one. In a nutshell, don’t dump too much emotional baggage on people- it’s not their responsibility, and it can be quite taxing.

aaron-barnaby-162974-unsplash
Photo by Aaron Barnaby on Unsplash

There are of course layers to this- therapy is expensive. It isn’t accessible to everyone, to most. Therapy doesn’t work for all, and a majority of therapists are white and cisgender, which is important to note because people of color and trans folx especially experience much more difficulty accessing a good therapist if they have the resources in the first place. That is not to say therapists must share all life experiences with their patients, but it is to say therapists are people and have limits.

What I am struggling with is taking on the emotional dump for a particular group of people- cishet white men. I am struggling because it is my burden and I want to own that. At the same time, I find some of their “confidential” complaints problematic. Further, when confronting the problems, the response I receive is often one of outrage and gas lighting.  As in, “I just wanted to complain, I don’t need advice,” or “You’re not listening, you’re being condescending.” Their complaints are about a felt “oppression” because of who they are. While I can’t fight feelings, I can correct the false narratives that lead to these feelings- one of these narratives is that “white people aren’t given positions of power anymore.” So, what is the balance between listening to a fellow white person when they absolutely should not be airing these unfounded grievances on people of color, and struggling against the exhaustion of fighting this emotional labor handed off to women and non-men?

Giving up is not an option, because that would invite two different scenarios. The first is perceived agreement- allowing these bullshit complains to seem valid just solidifies their position of unchecked privilege. Ignoring them and demanding they take their problems elsewhere is also unhelpful, because then someone else is burdened. I’m working on developing more skills to confront without feeling emotionally wrecked after a thirty minute conversation, but this question interests me.

I think beyond working on stamina skills there is a fundamental point of view that needs to change. It is very related to this popular quote that has taken 1000 iterations, something like “Equality feels like oppression when you’re in a position of privilege.” The reality is, as we work toward equity and eventually liberation, privilege needs to be dismantled. It’s ok to be passed over for a job despite having the proper qualifications. It’s ok to not have the mic or be the face of an office or a movement. The reality still is that white folx will demand positions of power and more air time, and continue to espouse a narrative that allows us to claim oppression. Another reality is that white men will continue to dump these feelings on non-men unless other men learn how to listen and hold each other accountable. I think the most dangerous position is to be in one without introspection.

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Birthday

It’s thaaaaaat time of year, again. I definitely understand the shift from getting excited about one’s birthday to really dreading having to say you’re another year older. Anyway, change is inevitable, so here we are. I do feel like my birthday gift came a little early this year, that is on January 2nd, the Trojans battled until the end and came out on top. I hugged my dad so hard and then definitely shed some tears (mostly releasing the pent up stress I carried for 3.98 quarters of the same). After starting out 1-3, I’m so impressed with the coaching, the teamwork, and the unwillingness to give up. Even if it’s only football.


Before the game started, I met my friends Darlene (affectionately Darlo) and Veronica (affectionately Vero) and stayed with Darlo’s family for a while as we counted down until the gates opened to the Rose Bowl (our natural habitat). As my dad and I walked the almost three miles to find them, I noticed some Penn Staters tailgating with a Confederate flag on their pickup truck. Admittedly, my face scrunched up in disapproval before I fully registered what was before my eyes. And I started thinking about how strange and unique this humongous group of people was that came together, at least physically, to watch a sporting event.

My dad likes to be overly friendly to visiting fans. Having traveled to many games, we have witnessed our fair share of mean, rude, drunk and nasty people before and after games, win or lose. No one likes getting trash talked, at least, I certainly hate it. My dad and I walked most of the way from the train station to the stadium with a family from the Jersey Shore, decked out in their blue and white jerseys. After we parted ways eventually and passed that pickup truck, I thought about what the two schools represented in this space- their locations, their atmospheres, their populations. USC lies in the heart of a densely populated uber-metropolis. Penn State is more than an hour away from a midsize city. USC is a medium-sized private institution that brags about their international population, and Penn State is a massive public school, about 3/4 of the students are white. Both schools’ NCAA football programs are considered in the top 5 of all time, and for the most part, both schools respect each other as historic rivals. Statistics aside, frankly, as I looked around I noticed how ethnically diverse the USC fanbase seemed compared to Penn States’. This isn’t a judgement, simply an observation.

I spent my week off reading, because that’s how I veg. Since the election, I have committed to exploring genres and authors who have written notable works in the past few years on identity-based politics. It feels like a tiny step in the right direction when I feel “frozen” in terms of social action. Reading by no means represents direct action to dismantle or tear down, but my thought process was that by sharing my own mistakes and reading about those who share theirs, I could take some small steps to avoid committing microaggressions, or be more thoughtful in my language. On the plane to LA two days before Christmas, I finished Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, a sociologist’s reflections and learnings about spending time among working class whites in rural Louisiana. The book has been a conversation piece in my circles lately. I wanted to read it because Hochschild states that her mission with the study was simply to try and understand a group of people who live in a very different world from her, and subsequently, consider politics quite distinctly. I think that’s a solid mission- it echoes goals of some interfaith communities, not to change minds, but to educate and understand, to find some common ground.

Hochschild interjects a few times throughout the book that she vehemently disagrees with her newfound friends on many issues- taxes, welfare, and the “right to choose”, among others. I found myself wondering, “how could this person have spent five years with people whose views make her terribly uncomfortable?” And yet, I believe that’s exactly where I need to push myself. Perhaps it wasn’t appropriate then, and would have led to unnecessary trash talk- but what would it have looked like to start a conversation with the pickup truck driving, Confederate flag touting Nittany Lion?

I’m going to keep reading, but recognize that only through some difficult conversations will I actually begin to educate myself. I think my toolkit as an interfaith dialoguer and someone who strives to sustain a meditation practice is helpful, yet not something to hide behind. Another year older, and hopefully, just a little bit wiser. Fight On!

 

 

My Revolutionary Love Story: A Call to Action

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I
PC: Greg Rakozy

 

Writing for the Revolutionary Love Project with one of my heroes, Valarie Kaur, and her team of Revolutionary Love Fellows these past three weeks has been nothing short of exhilarating. Every night I find myself  writing an op-ed, article, or blog post that speaks what my heart is feeling: that love needs to go further at this moment in our world. I have been reading stories of love overcoming fear and pain and hate. The stories I am privileged to read from other “love” enthusiasts like me always demonstrate a difficult decision they face and ultimately the choice to act rather than stay silent.

I have learned through these stories and reflecting on my past that “loving our neighbor” must mean more than loving only those who agree with us. In fact, as a practicing Zen Buddhist, I believe that that revolutionary love is about demonstrating compassion for those with whom we completely disagree, those whom we believe cause harm to ourselves and our world.

A few years ago, I was on a bus to Columbia, Missouri, to visit a friend working at the University of Missouri. Since my bus wasn’t direct, I connected in St. Louis. My first bus was almost two hours late arriving and in order to make the connection, I sprinted what felt like miles through the terminal, throwing myself on the steps in the bus just as the doors closed. “Whew,” I gasped for breath. “Made it.” I took the only seat open next to a young man wearing an old baseball cap and tattered jeans. “Ma’am, would you like the window seat?” My partner stood up to move before I could even refuse. I slid across the faux leather seats and thanked him. “On my way, see you in two hours!” I texted my friend.

The first half an hour or so, neither of us spoke. I tried reading John Rawls’ Political Liberalism, but my stomach began to feel queasy. Luckily, my polite seat partner began a conversation at that moment, asking me what I do. He explained he was on his way to Denver to become a truck driver. He had been traveling for over 30 hours by bus already. “I’m studying religion,” I started to explain, when he interrupted excitedly:

“Well thank GOD for that! Finally, I meet someone who is spreading the word of Jesus and being a good Christian. I’ll tell you, all these Muslims and gay folks contaminating our country, it is sure a relief to meet you.”

My heart sank to my feet. No words. I looked down at my lap, and stared at my backpack for a moment- the very backpack that held my UChicago Spiritual Life Council folder decorated with pictures of my friend Sunil (a Hindu-Buddhist classmate), my mentor (a lesbian Quaker woman), and my partner (an atheist international student). This man, a perfectly polite individual, had just shattered my hope in humanity for the moment. I was faced with a choice- I could say nothing, or I could tell the truth. If I said nothing, I could let him assume that I was a Christian, that I believe Muslims and gays sully our society, and I could guarantee we would have a seemingly pleasant conversation.

Or, I could tell him the truth. I could tell this man that I don’t believe in God, at least not the one he does. I could tell him that one of my best friends (who happens to have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) is a Syrian-American Muslim. I could tell him that my family includes a two gay uncles who adopted a son years ago. I could tell him that I vehemently disagree with his assertion that Muslims and “gays” are detrimental to our society, and that in fact, I believe they are essential.

I took a deep breath and explained that my master’s program was an interfaith one, that my classmates included Christians from several denominations, an agnostic playwright, a Lesbian seeking ordination, and that I don’t actually spread the word of Jesus as my messiah- though I do love his message and works. My explanation wasn’t smooth, or confident, or perhaps even completely comprehensible- I fumbled with my words and used “like” and “um” far too much. Silence followed. The man grumbled something about the next 1.5 hours of his life being wasted. I closed my eyes pretended to sleep. After an eternity, I arrived in Columbia and never saw this man again.

Yet, I did see this man again. I see him every day. I see Islamophobia right before my eyes when people stare at women wearing hijab on the train and grimace. I see homophobia and transphobia and plain ignorance when perfectly well-meaning adolescents use the words “gay” and “fag” as insults, or when people in my community mis-gender my trans colleagues and friends. I see the oppression my own mind, body, and existence are implicit in, and know that more often I don’t see it and no one calls me out because that’s what privilege is. The man on the bus is everywhere, and this is why I am a Revolutionary Love Fellow. The reason I chose to tell him the truth is love. Love for my friends and my family, and also love for the human being who invoked such harm. Revolutionary Love is not perfect, it is a process. It’s about compassion, for ourselves and for others.

My call to action is to share your story with me. Every time I read a story of someone choosing love and taking action, I am deeply inspired and motivated to continue the hard work and long hours. I want to know what Revolutionary Love means to you. What difficult path did you choose in order to put love in the world, and what has come of that decision? You can comment, email me, find me on social media. I won’t share your story unless you give me permission. Please consider sharing- your story matters to me and to the world.

For more info on the Revolutionary Love Project, visit http://revolutionarylove.net/ and look at the three calls to action. A little time can go a very long way. Thanks for your support and love.

 

 

 

 

 

All Are (Not) Welcome

In my interfaith work, I have taken up a bad habit that I only recently realized is bad. On posters, in newsletters, on Facebook, to colleagues when describing an event, dialogue, or even my office in general, I say, “All Are Welcome.”

It sounds great, in theory. How could you not welcome someone, given your position? Interfaith work is about welcoming those with whom we disagree. And now you’re suggesting this is bad?

I was walking on one of the warmest days of early Summer with a colleague at the university. We were discussing a joint dialogue and the details when we began discussing places of worship and the historical pain many have caused. “You can put your rainbow flag out all you want,” they said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m welcome. Where am I going to sit if there are traditional gendered seating areas. Where am I going to pee? Is everyone going to stare at me because I don’t fit?”

My colleague has a point. Many churches and other places of worship do genuinely want to welcome those whom have historically been rejected- members of the LGBTQ community, for instance. I walked by a large church on Boylston Street a few days ago with a big sign that practically shouted, “Muslims Welcome Here!” I wondered why this church felt compelled to welcome Muslims so aggressively. Moreover, I pondered what it would mean to show, not just state, the welcome.

all are welcome.jpg
PC: Peter Hershey

When students are new to interfaith work, we often talk with them about religious literacy, the deepening of knowledge about rituals, practices and beliefs that are foreign and sometimes in opposition to their own. The basic conversations revolve around knowing what kind of food to provide at an event (no pork, probably good) or how to choose a date and time (Friday evening for Shabbat observant Jews? Not a good plan) or even greetings that will make guests feel welcome (Salaam Aleikum!) These are all wonderful practices, and they catalyze a developing mindset toward religious differences. The goal is to help students eventually deepen their knowledge enough that they do not accept “normal” for them to be “normal” for another.

Still reeling from my deeply meaningful experience at the Beyond Walls Spiritual Writing program at Kenyon College two weeks ago, I have been thinking about a seminar  that focused on how we as writers define our audience. Our guide shared with us a helpful catchphrase: “When you write to everyone, you write to no one. But if you write to someone, you write for anyone.” This sounds exclusive. The point is, when we turn our attention to a particular audience, we are intentional and focused. Best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote Between the World and Me to his sons; millions of people have read the book.

Knowing my audience is key in my interfaith work. Saying “all are welcome” negates the sometimes overlooked truth that even in a space open to folks who may disagree, we still all agree on certain norms and values. If a white supremacist, fundamentalist person attended an event and began spouting hateful words, I would ask them to leave. They are not welcome. In interfaith work as in all spaces, it is necessary to demonstrate how certain individuals are welcome, from bathrooms to belief affirmations. It is also crucial that I know my audience, I understand who will come to the space and uphold the values of learning from one another, finding common ground, and respecting their peers. If we welcome all, we welcome no one. If we welcome someone, we welcome anyone.