How do we see each other? How do we see ourselves? I can and will only speak from my experiences, emotions, and perspectives derived from the events of my own life.
This morning, as I begin to write, I am coming from an emotionally heightened place.
I have been attending a weeklong training in Boston on the subject of Facilitated Dialogue programming for interpreters in the National Park Service.
I was forewarned that it would be intense and emotional. This warning was accurate.
I tend to shy away from conflict in some situations, provoke it in others, and embrace it in still other situations. I was tempestuous child, but over time, I began learning the behavior of an enabler and peacemaker. I began apologizing even if I felt I was not in the wrong, saying things were ok or I was ok if it seemed to be the expected response to make someone else feel better and at the expense of my own state of mind and being.
In this training, I am thrust into conflict. I am surrounded in a room full of individual beings, each with their own triggers, traumas, values, and life experiences.
A topic that has come up is the challenge in separating ourselves from our emotions in a conflict situation, studying and exploring the impact of words rather than the intention behind them from the speaker.
“Assume good will” has been a phrase offered to help move through difficult moments. The idea behind this phrase is that when a person in the room speaks and I am offended by their words, it is highly probably that their intention was not to offend me.
Assuming good will is a challenge for me. I am highly sensitive, and I feel easily offended, labeled, and judged.
Having studied and practiced dialogic principles for the past several years, I feel acutely touched by language that promotes blanket statements, generalizations (particularly gender-based generalizations), and speaks for a common whole.
In the writing of my dissertation, I had to literally go through sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, and rewrite entire sections of a document that exceeded 200 pages to ensure that I was only speaking my own truth and not attempting to speak for others on the subject of the self and sustainability.
This does NOT place me in a rank above any other being. I just try to pay closer attention to the words I choose when I write and when I speak (the latter can be very challenging because there is less time to process as the action I happening).
I feel uncomfortable when another person’s words or the way their words are organized, spoken, or directed, seem to place me in a categorical container, especially one that I perceive from their statement to have a negative connotation.
For example, these are two words that make me incredibly uncomfortable:
Whiteness and Privilege
Why does it bother me to have these two words juxtaposed?
The words and their placement have a negative connotation.
Connecting these words with the word “and” seems to promote the idea that being white means one is privileged.
Were the two words sandwiched around the “and” to be Female and Privilege or Blackness or Color and Privilege, the automatic interpretation from my experience would be negative but negative in the sense that anyone other than people of whiteness are underprivileged.
Why not write “Identity and Privilege?”
I am not trying to distill the conflict that may arise from a conversation about these words. I am simply trying to find a way to avoid promoting an agenda or unfairly adding a label and meaning simply by word choice and order.
I do not particularly enjoy being lumped into a container of people with a skin color, each of whom with all likelihood have had a different life than me, hold a different set of values, and move and breath through the world in a way that may also be different from my own.
I always struggle when I get to the section with the boxes to check on race.
I do not necessarily identify as a “White Caucasian.” I am bothered when the term non-Hispanic is included in parentheses after. What does this even mean?
I identify more as an “Other.”
I do not practice Judaism, but I identify with this heritage. I come from a family of immigrants, and I am not far removed from family in eastern Europe and Isreal.
I was talking with my partner last night, who jokingly suggested writing Off-White in the box next to the word “Other.”
I will readily admit and accept and even celebrate that I have experienced many privileges. I have never been hungry or wanted for basic needs and many things in a tier or two or three above fundamental.
But I did not grow up wealthy.
I did not grow up with a proverbial silver spoon.
I have had to fight for many things in my life, especially in my professional career.
My individual story is my own, and I do need or want anyone else to tell it for me or to lump me into a category with people who are “just like me.”
And just as I wish to be a voice for my own self and to have my words and emotions and experiences affirmed, I need to be open and accepting of this basic right for all other beings.
I do not need to feel judged when someone else tells their story, and I will spend time reflecting on why I often do.
This week has been an excellent reminder that my practice and my challenge can continue to be to make space for each person’s story and experience without feeling judged or threatened by it. It is also to allow for each person to feel what they feel without offering my own judging.