Join Date: Jun 2006
Re: Reconcile the world
Do WE have a role? No, I think not, not as such, because there is no "we". "We" are not a unified body; we don't share a consensus. Those who share consensus can act as a group, as a body. Otherwise. it dissolves into platitudes and misunderstandings.
Should we create this kind of consensus? Maybe, but I'd argue that the past week's events are not the reason why. The consensus is the long way round, and won't work in any event without individuals doing their own individual work. I've been struck at the response of many white people to this week's events, which can be summed up as, "This is awful, I feel awful, I'm overwhelmed, make it better." I have nothing but compassion for this emotional response -- I share it -- but I think that a big part of how we got into this sad state, seemingly with so few tools to "fix" it, is through a long-established habit of seeking comfort when things get bad. It's an instinctive human response -- but is it always healthy?
A character in Toni Cade Bambara's "The Salt Eaters" pointed out that when terrible things happen, we should expect to feel awful, and to keep on feeling awful for a while. Healing takes time, and there aren't any shortcuts (although there sure as hell are ways to set your healing back). But there are also always ways to feel better. Got a broken leg? Take morphine. Keep taking it, and after a while, you realize, "Hey, this stuff works for headaches too!" This will end well...
And there are other ways of seeking comfort when the ill is social, and some are healthy, and many are not. Many are born of privilege. Privilege allows me to get away from the uncomfortable feelings caused by this week's events, distract myself with a drink or dinner or a trip to the beach or a lovely day at the spa or some mindless entertainment, to blow all that bad feeling out of my head and come back to my normal life with some assurance that I won't open my email and read about my son, my brother, my cousin, my neighbor dying because of this insanity. I can go on with my life, and not feel uncomfortable, and that's a problem.
See, here's the thing about discomfort. Humans don't like it. That's natural and never changes. But discomfort is part of doing the worthwhile and necessary work. We all know that from our time on the mat. We've all seen newbies come into the dojo and leave, for various reasons, but many for the reason that they just could not break the habit of avoiding discomfort -- of all kinds, physical, mental, emotional, social. They didn't like the discomfort of new stresses on their body, or the embarrassment of looking silly, or the fear/anger/feeling of threat when someone grabbed them or threw them or tried to hit them. They could not learn to stay with the discomfort for long enough to learn what it was trying to teach them.
And we are the same in our response to these disastrous times. "This is awful, I feel awful, I'm overwhelmed, make it better." Some of us have the option to do that -- for now. We're still stuck on this spaceship called earth, and seeking comfort is just a way of kicking the can down the road, as we avoid the hard and necessary work of reconciling the world. Seeking comfort prevents us from doing so much that we might do in this moment.
If we can stay with our discomfort, we can listen to others tell their story -- without the need to interrupt, interpret, shut it down.
If we can stay with our discomfort, we can learn compassion for others who do not have the privilege or resources to opt out of this uncomfortable moment. We can learn what their lives are like all the time.
If we can stay with our discomfort, we can see our weaknesses and our failings in a compassionate light. We can see them in others in the same way.
If we can stay with our discomfort, and lose the habit of needing to make things better for ourselves right now, we can learn patience.
If we can stay with our discomfort, we can free ourselves of the need for an instant response, rejoinder, comeback, snark, reaction. We can free ourselves from being used by others who count on that instant response to manipulate us.
If we can stay, just stay, we can learn what is the truth. We can learn that there are many truths, and that they aren’t mutually exclusive.
Staying with discomfort is not some act of martyrdom, it isn’t an act of penance. Our suffering doesn’t pay for the suffering of others; that’s not the point. The ability to stay with discomfort is a superpower that makes you into that warrior, the one who can do the hard and necessary work. And yes, comfort does come. It comes sooner than you’d imagine, just as a wound heals faster if you endure the discomfort of a good thorough cleaning rather than slap a bandaid on it dirty and take a painkiller. But we need the comfort of things made right, not the comfort of anesthesia.