From another isolated incident newsletter archives
December 11, 2009
November 29th’s Meet The Press on NBC hosted a conversation with Preacher Rick Warren from Saddleback Church. I often find myself in agreement and in disagreement with Warren’s statements or lack thereof — and I was struck by something that I want to share with you.
I call this newsletter Another Isolated Incident because this is typically what I hear people say when they want to dismiss an experience or event as an unusual happening instead of a pattern. It is the patterns of our actions and inactions that I believe we need to be clear about.
Warren talked about all believers of any faith or political persuasion having its fundamentalists. These extreme belief holders exist on all edges or fringes of any group. This is identifying a shared pattern across groups. What Warren continued to say moved me wholly.
A person or group can become rooted in the fundamentals because they have stopped listening. Once someone believes they have the absolute right answer or path of understanding that way of being is no longer available for more information. They have stopped listening. What a critical reminder of a basic social justice tool. Listen. Thank you Rick Warren for the reminder. By listening to Warren, I can continue to grow and learn — agree and disagree — and never become so locked into my own viewpoints that I can no longer hear. Thank you Rick Warren for the reminder. Now, talk to your friends in Uganda that want to execute gay men!
Reflections from the Road:
Leaving Doors Open
Remaining open is important to social justice work. Listening to others as if they are wise, as Francie Kendall would say, is significantly harder than one might think. We all know when we think we are listening. We think we are available — paying attention — present, but we know we aren’t. No one can fake listening.
I am reminded of this key tool when listening to my friends talk about war, troop levels, joblessness, global warming, hunger, HIV education, apathy and the like. I don’t want to be so certain that I have the right answer or all of the information. I want to remain open to both sides or many sides of a situation — take in all of the variables and trust while actively fighting against what seems so easy for me to shrug my shoulders and turn that trust into an ever widening blind spot of responsibility. I want to hold my responsibility, remain open, listen, process, decide, review, and repeat often.
A friend recommended that I read Pema Chödrön’s writings. I started with When Things Fall Apart. It was particularly interesting to read about the importance of hopelessness while a presidential campaign was underway based on and filling me with hope of a better future. I stayed in this place of contradiction and found my truth in both — being present in the now enough that I don’t need to hope for anything while also realizing that now could be so much better. I let this reading stir within in for almost a year and I have come to her next book The Places That Scare You.
Chödrön included a story (pg. 20) that I want to share with you now that I think pulls together the power of listening with the ever present sense of being stuck in my own social justice work and self reflection.
“A man’s only son was reported dead in battle. Inconsolable, the father locked himself in his house for three weeks, refusing all support and kindness. In the fourth week the son returned home. Seeing that he was not dead, the people of the village were moved to tears. Overjoyed, they accompanied the young man to his father’s house and knocked on the door. “Father,” called the son, “I have returned.” But the old man refused to answer. “Your son is here, he was not killed,” called the people. But the old man would not come to the door. “Go away and leave me to grieve!” he screamed. “I know my son is gone forever and you cannot deceive me with your lies.”
At what point does my certainty and ego create a self fulfilling prophecy where I inevitably appear right over and over again when all I have done is closed myself off from listening, growing, and taking in new information? At what point do I dismiss my sense of responsibility by only being open — letting new information pass through me without ever letting it take hold, land into a more informed opinion, thought, reaction, behavior? If the old man described above is one end of the spectrum, would an apathetic flip flopper be the other end? A flip flopper at least holds opinions even if they change over time. Perhaps the other end of the spectrum is where apathetic and neutral or purposefully ignorant live. This quagmire is certainly a place of stuckness — closed off — not listening — absolutes — fundamentals.
When I was growing up, my closest friend would have these calendar like things in the living room next to her family’s decorated trees. The calendar had little doors that counted down the days until she could open her presents. Behind each door was a piece of chocolate. Perhaps, in the time that remains of 2009, we can spend some time with our emotions and thoughts. Each day, open a little door of an event, memory, and relationship, and pull out the gifts of those experiences. Listen through them again. What story have you convinced yourself of and what have you left open to write? Like a little nibble of chocolate before bed, I find listening to my past, brings me to my present, and leaves the door open to what is yet to come.
How to Be an Ally to Transgender and People with an Intersex Condition
Challenge your own conceptions about gender-appropriate roles and behaviors. Do not expect people to conform to society’s beliefs about “women” and “men.”
Top 10 Issues I Get To Address While Holding A Microphone… That You Might Regret Asking Me
One of the scariest truths is that once I am given a microphone, I can and am often encouraged to “speak my truth with care.” This section highlights some of my most passionate thoughts about some of the toughest questions I get asked. Enjoy.
No, I do not feel that Affirmative Action allows for admission or other such standards to discriminate against whites to advantage non-whites that are less qualified or able. The largest benefactor of Affirmative Action has been white women not women or men of color. By naming and acknowledging that a system is uneven and that there are groups of people being marginalized by the very system, one has two options, 1) create a new system or 2) create a sub system to assist with the leveling off of inequities for those groups. Anyone has the ability to perform at any given level to meet any given standard and that performance is rated through biased lenses that create and support discrimination resulting in many receiving benefits that have not been earned or for which they qualify as well as closing doors of opportunity to many that do meet if not surpass such qualifications. Affirmative Action is a flawed system and we should be able to develop a new system that is even better, but in the meantime, I am willing to fight for Affirmative Action and its attempts to provide equal access to employment, education, housing, and the like. For the record, I don’t believe reverse racism can exist. Racism is based on the taking away of power at minimum and the acceptance of inherited or unearned power from others based on socially constructed determinations and characteristics. It is not possible, within this system, for a member of a subordinated group to take the power away from the dominant group. There is the possibility, if multiple identities are taken into consideration, for a person with one subordinated identity and another dominant identity to operate from a place of power in that place of dominance, but it will not supplant power in place of that subordinated identity.
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