I have been battling the flu and with it I have had time to confront my own feelings of inadequacy in terms of the appalling violence that has been occurring in the US. My tendency when sick, to my stomach or heart, is to retreat into paralysis, and besides a few Facebook posts, spend my grief in fetal position feeling isolated and alone as an expat. Sometimes I wonder if my living overseas is not an escape, an avoidance of responsibility to the deeply flawed nation that raised me. To my American students, mostly white, I teach intercultural competence and urge them to see the unequal power structures that plague our world. Some take their privilege head on and want to learn more; others avoid the topic all together and disappear. The latter is what I have been doing lately with the weight of the hate-filled violence I have been reading about. I am effectively speechless and breathless, perhaps the cause of my hacking cough and fever.
I have known for some time that my task at hand, is to find my voice and to never shut up. It’s an ability that I have had since I learned to speak. But now in my mid-thirties, after having recently survived an abusive marriage where my voice was essentially silenced, I find it hard to say anything at all. Yet I also now know the savory taste of freedom, of autonomy, of an unencumbered heart, and a mind teeming with ideas. Why is it, then, that my words do not find their way forth? Today I have decided to push past this silence. As a one-year-old takes her first steps, I am attempting to form my first words, as awkward as they are eager.
I will begin with my heart which is in pain, no longer because of the trials I went through but because of the state of the world. It seems that violence has become commonplace as a way to exert one’s power over another, and it is done mostly without consequence because of the failings of the justice system. Even if justice were fulfilled after such horrific events, we would only be alleviating heartache with a band aid, not with a cure. True healing comes when we change the system and culture that produced the murderer, and the ethos of fear and hate that provided him the ideas and the weapons of mass destruction to carry out his dirty deed. I am referring to white supremacy, male supremacy, police brutality, homophobia and the mass shootings which have become all too familiar. But how do we even begin to change such a massive and destructive structure under which we are just a pebble?
I believe change begins as a spark in the inner most point of our hearts. The spark might feel like anger, pain or sorrow, but it carries a hint of hope. And if you listen to it, validate this tiny energy with your conscience, it grows stronger and pretty soon a flame evolves and you start to feel its warmth. If you can be still long enough to notice it, you can warm yourself from its heat and encourage it to grow into self-compassion, then into believing in yourself, into believing you matter, into discovering you have power, into using your power, propelling you into action. What is this action? It is whatever action you are lead to. Life has a remarkable tendency to lay trials and opportunities before you at just the precise moment. But you have to be awake to notice them and to discern the right, the just, the good action.
We are all different beings on this earth, with different pasts and different futures, and yet we are all connected as part of one wonderful whole. What our world needs is more voices to question the status quo, voices of protest, voices of love, more than ever. We need to trust our own voice when it comes from the heart, even if we then decide it could have been said better. Silence is the world’s biggest enemy, because most of us know that something is gravely wrong and if not righted, the future of humanity is at risk.
Yet we say nothing. Like me, in my fetal position, silently hurting. It does nothing. In fact, my silence is most harmful to myself, because I end up reinforcing my paralysis, believing that I can do nothing, that I have no power, until I forget I even have a voice. This is a function of oppression, to believe one’s inferiority. It is incredibly dangerous because it is the most insidious way that privilege or tyranny, which is the same, stabilizes the current power structures, eliminating and invalidating descent. Don’t collaborate with the culture of fear and hate, say something! If we start to speak up, others will feel that they have permission to do as well. When two people are talking, we have a dialog, with three, we have a conversation, when a community of people speak up, we have a social movement, and on and on. This is how it starts, one voice at a time.