Over the last few weeks, I’ve written to you from a more personal place than usual. My intention in writing these pieces of my story is to share my humanity with you. As human beings, we all go through trials and tribulations. We all have hardships. And we all fall down but rise to stand tall another day. The last twenty or so months have been challenging as a society and the world has certainly not been hardship-free, even before COVID entered our worlds.
Mitigating Damage from Outside Noise
This week I’d like to write about the noise of the world, including the noise that has surrounded me, and how to differentiate noise from the truth. When I say the noise of the world I’m referring to Brene Brown and her reference to the warrior’s ring featuring Theodore Roosevelt’s speech.
Remember that Brene teaches us that the noise from the stands (the outside world) says nothing about our worth and that worth is inside each warrior dusting the blood from their knees to fight another day. In my observations over these past 20 months, and speaking honestly since our last administration took office, the noise from the stands seems to have increased in volume. At times the roar of the crowd can be deafening.
As someone living with PTSD, noise in and of itself can be challenging for me. When that noise is coming from others, it may not hurt my ears but can hurt my heart. Do you all remember this little ditty as a child; “Stick and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt me”? Yeah, me too. It’s a bullshit ditty if that’s a thing.
What the ditty should go like is “sticks and stones may break your bones but words can break your heart.” We as humans are not immune from the painful words of others and those words can make us question our own worth. It’s painful to realize that when others say unkind words (and worse) that there is a subset of people who choose to behave this way intentionally. These are the people making noise in the stands.
The Worst Part of the Crowd
The intentionally hurtful people in the stands seem to believe that by pointing out the imperfections of others that they are somehow pointing out their own perfection. That is to say that if they can be loud enough about how their belief system, sexual identity, race, gender, and the like is perfect that maybe, just maybe, it means their own, differing lifestyle is better than yours.
This may have made sense tens of thousands of years ago; classifying each other by how they looked and behaved. This allowed our ancient ancestors to know who was in their tribe and who was an actual threat. Yet as language and thought developed, currency also developed, and all of a sudden these cheap shot demographics became a sorting of worth. You need not look further than slavery and the treatment of women or look into the holocaust as societal examples for the danger of this type of behavior.
At a societal level, in a power-over dynamic, fear is necessary to keep the power in place. Teaching people to fear other people is very simple to do: just sprinkle in judgment, divide a few resources you say are scarce, add a God of your choosing, and tada! you have power. This is also bullshit, yet remains very real for a lot of people today.
Power & Control
Personally, I’ve always hated power-over dynamics used for power and control. Using resources to restrict others fires up my soul up like nothing else. Using both covert and overt differences as the fuel to feed this power is the match before the gasoline that starts the fire. For those of us who refuse to use a power-over approach and believe in our bones that humanity is equal, deserving a life with choice, a life with resources to live day-to-day encounters can be maddening.
Also, personally, even as a woman I have never felt this attempted power-over as closely as I have this past year. I have been told hideous things from my father’s family regarding women and their “God.” I have heard messaging from almost every person in the legal system to not fly my “feminist flag,” in our country courthouse. I have even faced the local football team head-on about racism in regards to my son.
The words I have heard from others in the stands this past year have been ugly, to put it mildly. It took me almost a full year to realize the noise from the stands was not real but my worth is. I have stood in the ring, dusting blood from my knees, and forcing myself to face the hate but not using it to fight. Hate begets hate.
Stop Listening to the Noise
Here in the US, we’ve been struggling for over a year, but it’s been a lifetime for so many others. My son surely did not have his first encounter with racism on his freshman football team. I’ve been questioned as a woman countless times even before this past year began. And people in “power,” have been using others for personal gain at any cost (including human lives) for centuries. Yet outside of this power-over dynamic is a power within with a different dynamic. A power that demands that all humanity is treated equally and deserving of respect. A power that tells us that no matter how loud hate is, love can overcome it.
So which will you choose? Will you choose to continue to section off pieces of humanity based on what they believe, how they look, or if you feel you can gain control over them? I certainly hope not. I also certainly hope that if you are choosing not to use power-over, you are using power with and standing up for your worth, as well as the worth of others.
We are brothers and sisters. We are more alike than we are different. If you ever find yourself in the stands, adding your anger to that of the crowd, know that you can stop, walk to the ring, and help your sister stand.
Last week I wrote to you about a new writer coming on to IABA to bring you content about autism and parenting. I wanted to let you know that my blogs have become my sacred space and I want to keep writing for me, hoping it serves you too. I believe my readers to be those who are looking to embrace their hearts and live their lives unapologetically and full of joy. I believe my readers are willing to look at pain, fear, shame, and guilt, and walk through it to bring understanding and shed light on what doesn’t serve them. This is hard as hell. It’s also totally worth it.
This week I want to write about my hope for you and me; our tribe. You see, my hope feels simple, yet I have felt damned from the time I was able to see it burning in my heart all those decades ago. I read a book to my boys recently titled “What Do You With An Idea?” In the book, a little boy keeps seeing an idea. The idea follows the boy and he ignores it. The boy is scared that other people will make fun of him for having this idea but the idea won’t go away. Eventually, the boy declares, “So what! This is my idea,” and goes on to learn that if you take care of your idea you can change the world.
I am not so bold to think that I can change the world with an idea but I am hopeful the world can change with collective ideas and actions. That we can all be as brave as the little boy in the story and honor ourselves and our ideas. Here is mine.
Choosing Kindness First
The hope and idea I have been living my entire life with is that humans can choose kindness first for themselves, then show it to others. That’s it. That’s my idea. I told you it feels simple, yet it ripped me apart for as long as I tried to embrace it. You see, I had a misconception of kindness and compassion because the world was telling me I was wrong. The world was defining what kindness looks like for a woman. Let me tell you what I was told. If you are a woman, maybe it even sounds familiar.
Kindness is noticing the needs of others. A good woman attends to the needs of others. Kindness is being polite. Do not speak in a harsh tone, raise your voice, swear, or insert your opinion where it may offend or even inconvenience others. Kindness is conforming; you do not want to make other people uncomfortable. Keep your appearance and demeanor in a way that does not offend. Kindness is being a polite little girl who grows up to be a good wife. A kind wife always listens to her husband. Men are, of course, here to protect us.
Fuck all that.
I read a book, “Brave, Not Perfect,” by Reshma Saujani, that talks extensively about the way in which society has indoctrinated women to be submissive. I shudder as I write the word ‘submissive.’ Ask my parents if they can put the word submissive and Jessie in a sentence. Nope. Not possible. Even though the US and many other countries have come a long way in some aspects, in many others it has not. We are still working against the narrative set by our white male forefathers over 200 years ago.
Shaping Our Future
Think about it. We have an entire political system that works on making amendments to words written exclusively by white men almost 250 years ago. While I would like to believe that there will be an awakening of some sort and that we are shifting toward a future for all, it’s not always easy to feel that way. When the pandemic hit and the tragedies in the black community came to our social forefront I thought to myself, “this is it, this is the bottom, people will wake up.” Some did. Some are using kindness and love to catapult us into a new future. Others continue to bring hate.
In speaking of my dream of kindness for all, the only perspectives I can write from are as a white woman and a mother in the US. I dare not and will not take the voice of the black community, LGBTQ, immigrants, or even men. I have not walked in their shoes and do not know what they were told to conform to or what they have experienced. But this I know to be true: every human being is born with the same worth. Let me say it again; baby, you are born worthy, you do not have to earn it.
As a woman, I tried desperately to earn value by following social norms while trying to fight these same norms. In my mind, I would stand bravely and push through a norm. Then I would fall back into shame. This constant push and pull was taking my life. This is how domestic violence overcame me.
Recognizing Abuse and Domestic Violence
Many people think that as a strong woman it’s not possible to experience, let alone live with, domestic violence and abuse. There is no way a strong or successful woman can live with abuse. I wish this was the case for me, but the truth is that at 34 years old I’m living without abuse in my life for the first time. Yes, I was strong and successful, but I also wanted to be kind and believe others were kind. That everyone is always kind at heart, even if they don’t show it. That when someone was abusing me they just needed a little more love to become the kind person they were born as. This would eventually spiral into, “why don’t they love me enough to stop!” Then I would get stuck. My version of kindness was killing me. Is it killing you?
In leaving domestic violence behind and working with an incredible trauma therapist, as well as having a loving support system, I am learning to apply my first belief about kindness; be kind to myself. This type of kindness takes from no one and offers a warm love to my soul that I’ve needed since the birth of my idea. I believe that if we are not kind to ourselves, which includes looking at ourselves (both the good and the bad), we cannot be kind to others. So I’m looking at myself and I’m asking myself to shed the narrative of kindness as submissive to become the woman I was born to be.
Cut the Noise Out
The world is a noisy place. When you stand up for yourself and what you need, remember that the crowd in the stands gets loud. You must be willing to block out the noise of the crowd to win the battle of your life. The battle to live free and unapologetically as yourself.
There is work to be done, systems that must fall, and people you must be ready to say goodbye to. We need to cut the noise out. But if you follow your heart home to yourself perhaps someday you’ll stand beside me in the ring. Perhaps we’ll build a kind world together.
Miracles and seen in the light, light and strength are one.
Last week, I wrote to you about imperfect parenting. It’s my intention to complete this series. This week it was on my schedule to write, “A Juggling Act; Putting Down Busy & Picking up Peace.” While I still think this is a valuable thing to write about, I’d like to write a personal piece in lieu of current events. I hope in some small way this article serves you but this one I needed to write for me.
Black Lives Matter
Over the course of the last week, we as Americans have watched another tragedy, a murder, take place. George Floyd was an innocent man killed by the hands of a white police officer. It was hate. In relation to this hate, our country is screaming, crying, hurting. The riots are happening to demand change and yet from them, some people are still acting selfishly. The looting and violence do nothing to honor George Floyd but we must remember this ugly behavior is happening to show a pain not healed. Black lives matter.
Blue lives, however, are not all tainted. There are countless good men and women serving us in the police force just doing their part. In the midst of the hurt, you may find yourself taking a side. I beg you, stop. Take a deep breath and open your heart to love. See that the murders cannot continue, the people looting are broken and need your prayers, and change must happen. Do not put another person down. The hate can stop with us. Together we can fight this hate and choose a different way.
In order to find a different way, here is what I implore you to do–look beyond yourself. America and the world would not be in their current states if more people did this. Please, don’t get me wrong; I know there are millions of wonderful people throughout the United States and the world. My concern is that, in some way, selfishness can come for all of us and it can feel overwhelming to make a change that does matter. I do not know all the answers, this I can promise you. What I do know is that if we as Americans were more informed, by making the active choice of informing ourselves, the world could change overnight.
COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter
COVID-19 came to us and fear set in. It’s still here today. The world was asked to stop and in doing so we all had to adjust how we were doing things. We also had to battle the many anxieties the disease brought to each of us. During this time I felt it was a reset for us, for the world. A message from a being greater than all of us to slow down and listen. That the speed and way in which we were living was not sustainable for our planet and good of our race. I’ve seen so many of my friends pick up things they would never have had time for before. Fishing with the kids. Learning to make pancakes. Sewing a new teddy bear. Trying their best to find a way to slow down. It’s beautiful, truly. However, all of my friends hold a similar financial status to me and our basic needs were met.
What about the others? What about the people that, due to COVID, were desperate to get their basic needs met? Or those struggling with domestic violence? Or those dealing with safety in their neighborhoods? My sister Kristen stated, “This pandemic is the closest thing I’ve experienced to being scared for my life and the life of my family–to even leave the house. And it’s not discriminatory or based on anything about me that I can’t change. I’m over it and it’s been 2.5 months. I cannot imagine what it’s like for black communities and other people of color. To live like this their whole lives? It’s bullshit.”
Yes, the world slowed down and from it I believe we were asked to truly look at how we were living and consuming. To me, with evidence from our planet, our current way of life is not sustainable. The riots are telling us something else is also not sustainable; racism and hate. It’s tragic to simply have to write that. I had the police talk with my son Dametrius yesterday because he is bi-racial. You know the speech? “Hands up when you get pulled over, do whatever they say, try to record the situation if this ever happens to you.” My heart was breaking, I was crying. Dametrius? He shook it off. “Yea I already know this, can I go play Fortnite?” How is this acceptable that he lives in a world where this is second nature? Also in one where I can tell you, “you know the speech?”
Consumerism & Selfishness in America
To me, this goes beyond race and class. It goes to the larger problem of, “it’s not me, it’s not my problem”. But this is our problem. All of this matters to me. It matters to me who manufactures my clothing and shoes because I don’t want to wear child labor on my back. It matters to me how animals are raised before slaughter. Prior to COVID, I ate local meat. We are now vegetarian in response to the treatment of immigrant workers in meatpacking plants. Follow Michael Pollen now to understand this more.
Also know meatpacking factories have the highest COVID death rate in the United States and its immigrants that are dying. It’s not OK with me that technicians at the nail salons work 100+ hour weeks using American names. But if we stopped going they wouldn’t have jobs, so what is the balance? It matters to me that people still go to puppy stores and those puppies come from puppy mills. Don’t you see it? The list goes on and on. Everything that matters to me is driven by the dollar? Each dollar that you and I spend fuels hateful industries and also lines the pockets of our elected officials.
Consumerism has a cost. A huge one. Each dollar we spend tells a Corporation or local business, “yes I like what you do/have.” Corporations grow, make more money, and with that money buy out our elected officials; giant corporations are essentially making our decisions for us. And here we are today. With a government not addressing racism or murder, and driving an economy that actively causes harm to others.
I realize I’m most likely not going to be the most popular person for writing this. Like I said before, that’s OK. It’s in my heart and I need to say it. What I’d like to communicate most though is a plea. A plea to see things from the perspective of your brothers and sisters from every walk of life. Change must come.
That change begins with you and me. Pay attention and stop this nonsense of turning a blind eye. Stop buying products that hurt others. Start voting in your local elections. Demand a zero-tolerance policy nationwide to address murders based on race. And offer a helping hand to anyone who needs it. A seed planted that is nourished in love is a fruit that always blossoms. Oh won’t you blossom with me?
From my aching heart,