If critters can interact peacefully, so can we
Black And White Thinking
Yesterday I found myself doing that slow crying where you don’t realize it until you discover that your face is wet. Disheartened. Heartsick. Heartbroken. Like everyone else, I’ve been watching more news than is good for me; it’s nauseatingly, horrifyingly fascinating. I keep saying I won’t watch anymore but I can’t seem to stop. One especially painful element is the clear prevalence of black and white thinking on display right now; all white people are A (right?), all people of color are B, all police are X, all protesters are Y, all looters are Z, all corporations are XYZ. It’s much easier to fall back on generalizing and blaming/shaming than to recognize that we are all complex; we each have the seeds of everything in us, from peaceableness to passion, from anger and aggression to generosity and gentle kindness. I’ve been feeling very uncomfortable with my own emerging desire for perpetrators of evil to be punished in ways that really hurt them. I’ve never seen my own desire to hurt anyone else before and though I don’t want to do the punishing, I do want it to be done. Realizing that is bone-deep nauseating.
I can’t condone violence and I can’t truly understand it either because I’ve never needed to understand it. Nobody lives for close to 70 years on the planet without experiencing or witnessing some form of violence, but I always had the ability to look away, or to walk away. My life hasn’t been uneventful but despite some pretty rocky patches, I have almost always felt physically safe. I’ve never lacked food for any significant length of time. If I occasionally lacked housing, I never felt myself to be homeless because I assumed (correctly) that the situation was temporary. Looting is similarly obscured by privilege for me; I dislike being in crowds, I don’t enjoy noisy situations, and I am uncomfortable around people who are emoting strongly about pretty much anything. Nothing in me wants to grab a tv set and run, but then, I don’t watch tv and if I wanted one, I could buy it. I can’t feel judgement about people who do loot in riot situations, except when I can see plainly that the destruction is very deliberately being done, not by local people, but by paid agitators whose goal seems to be dividing and conquering our country.
Listening To Looters
Throughout human history, the difference between looters and those able to profit from disruption, deprivation, and danger has always been power and the lack thereof. In truth, the biggest looters I know of are the kleptocrats, corporations, and politicians who gleefully rape and pillage the planet and its people in the name of profit (or sometimes just because they can). I keep thinking about Dr. King saying, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” It took me years to wonder what, exactly, we weren’t hearing (ok, I wasn’t hearing), and to look past my assumptions to find out. What I’m hearing now is that some of those who took advantage of disruption to loot want to disrupt society, damage the social justice movement, and scare the crap out of peaceful, unarmed people. From others, I’m hearing the rage of being systematically unheard, unseen, unwanted, and unvalued, especially by people who don’t even want to know anything about fellow humans because on some level, they can’t feel superior unless someone else can be considered inferior.
Another painful piece is the astonishing, seemingly blind and deaf ignorance of so many of us wannabe helpers about what is helpful and what’s definitely not. We watch a white woman carefully spray paint “BLM” on a storefront, maybe feeling pleased to be pointing out a solid truth, then be dismayed as she’s reminded by a Black woman, “Don’t you realize WE will get blamed for that?” “But I’m only trying to help…” Ouch. I can hear myself saying that at so many times and places through my life. I’m only trying to help, but if I don’t take the time and invest the energy in learning what help would/might look and feel like for the people I’m wanting to help, I can’t be helpful except by accident. If I knew better, maybe I wouldn’t keep offering my simplistic, reflexive idea of help instead of what’s truly needed. We who are people of privilege must be brave enough to open our eyes and our ears and look and listen. Talking about racism won’t kill us but our silence can be deadly.
A Tale Of Two Cats
Fear drives every part of human history. It’s part of our DNA that we share with much of the animal world, particularly prey animals. I thought about that a few days ago, when a wild storm brought explosive, crashing thunder and more lightning than I’ve seen in one day, let alone a crowded hour (turns out it was about 2/3 of our typical annual allotment). While the storm raged, the windows shook and hail slammed the roof like a thousand hammer blows. During all this, one of our cats huddled under a bed, too terrified to poke her head out. The other cat sprawled on a wide windowsill, watching the storm for a while, then curling up for a nap even as hail rattled the window. A few minutes ago, I caught one cat bullying the other, who was backed into a corner of the laundry room, growling a bit but not fighting. She could easily have jumped up on a tall counter (the other cat is too fat to leap so high) but she stuck her ground, looking a little cross but mostly ignoring the aggressor, who threatened and snarled. Surprisingly, the aggressor is the scaredy cat who huddled under the bed, while the peaceable one napped through the noisy storm
Even after a year of living together in a small house, despite the imperturbable cat remaining calm no matter what, the fearful cat remains hyper alert, easily terrified and often aggressive. This morning’s situation reminded my daughter of something H.P. Lovecraft, master of horror fiction, notably said: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The entire world is living with multiple unknowns these days, and fear is clearly driving the bus. When we realize that our government is clueless about the results of their action and has no idea of how to help us (or much desire to be helpful to any but cronies), it can feel terrifying. I’ve been afraid for so long now that sometimes I forget al about it, as people do when living through slow-motion disasters.
Let’s Stop It!
After years of relentless abusive rhetoric and illegal, inhumane legislation, many of us already feel helpless. What’s the use of trying? Let’s stop that right now! That is part of The Hateful Plan; we are intended to feel helpless and despairing so we’ll get discouraged and stop working for change. The truth is that little things do add up. Small changes do make a difference. Over time, one honest, clear voice can change many minds and habits for others, who can change minds and habits in turn. Little changes, little ideas, little voices add up and do indeed change the world, if slowly. I often think of a concert pianist friend who said, “Bach’s music is made up of layer upon layer of simplicity.” Layer on layer of small, simple changes can weave the world we want to share. Stop, Look, and Listen. Onward!