One conversation at a time

NB: Like many, I’m genuinely struggling to put into words what I feel or to process what we’re collectively witnessing and experiencing in this moment. This is my own first step, based on a personal experience from this morning and how it might help me, at least, move forward and do something — anything — to affect positive change within my own network. The specifics of this morning’s experience are anonymised in order to protect my friend’s identity. This is my own perspective and reflects that alone.

Uncertain future. Illustration: Chris Riddell

I am not necessarily good at difficult conversations. I have never have been, and it’s perhaps the flaw I recognise as most unfortunate about myself. And, the flaw I struggle with the most.

If I am completely honest, I see the ugliest parts of myself surface during those moments. Specifically, I do not deal with criticism well at all, despite being more critical of myself than anyone else could ever hope to be. Contrary to understanding its necessity in helping me do and be better as a wife, friend, instructor, writer, [insert descriptor/role here], constructive criticism makes me exceedingly uncomfortable in the moment. I have no problem questioning my own beliefs on my own, but publicly I find such instances particularly painful and typically shy away from them whenever and as much as possible. I am also working on this. Because I want to grow as a person and be a better person for those in my life as well as my own community. But, it’s damn hard work.

Given the current backdrop of various bits of chaos that has become 2020, and the unreal events unfolding in the United States specifically, difficult and uncomfortable conversations are necessary. So, when a friend with whom I share very little ideologically reached out to ask me about a sensitive topic, I took a deep breath and dove in head first.

And, you know what? I regret nothing. It felt good. It worked. It was respectful and honest. Unresolved, but solid and a step in a direction we both welcomed. And, that’s something.

Because neither of us approached this conversation from the perspective of needing to be right or correct or proving our point, it worked.

To me, this moment provided an opportunity, not only offering the chance to reach an understanding of a perspective and the thoughts of someone with whom I do not share a world view. But, also, a chance to help someone I know understand a bit more about where to find resources and perhaps look at their own world view in a slightly different way, one which might prove more beneficial to those unlike us who desperately need allies who look like us. This moment hearkened back to a time when liberals and conservatives / Democrats and Republicans / blue states and red states could discuss the issues of the day and find a way forward rather than ripping one another apart.

This friend and I conversed with the intention of listening and gaining insight rather than being heard and judging one another. We challenged one another (I hope), but we also chatted aiming to help one another rather than selfishly and myopically support and validate our respective viewpoints. We did not approach the conversation intending to pick apart everything; instead, we tried to unpack one thing. We asked probing questions and patiently waited for responses. We left labels aside, placed pins in other important topics which were tangential to this specific topic and focused instead upon the meanings we might have missed by using various labels previously.

And, we left the conversation with points to think about and consider, with an agreement return to our discussion later. We did not leave feeling frustrated, angry, hurt of belittled.

We provided ourselves with a way to move ourselves as well as our communities forward. And, that’s huge.

So many of us right now are hurting, whether we agree on what pains us or not. So many of us lament and despair the loss of innocent lives and the inhumanity we are collectively witnessing, all in the middle of a global pandemic that demands social distancing and has impacted our social and economic realities if the not the very fabric of our lives. We may not necessarily agree on what causes the pain or anguish, or indeed upon on what specifically what must change. But, we agree that the wounds run deep and divisions are killing us. And, that change is necessary.

To me, we must also confront continuing injustices such as institutionalised racism and a system rigged to maintain the status quo and extreme power differentials in place. Doing so requires finding common ground and understanding wherever and whenever we can. It won’t be easy, and perhaps might result in more than a little blood, sweat and tears, for some real and for others allegorically and metaphorically. But, the difficult, sensitive and hard conversations and discussions must take place.

So, here’s an invitation: Come talk to me.

I will listen. I will do my best to be open to those difficult conversations, without judgement or justification. I will do my best to be respectful and less reactionary or defensive. Primarily, rather than shy away from them, I invite those discussions and conversations, welcoming them and genuinely consider them. I may not always agree, but I will seek out ways to reach consensus where possible and check my own biases and privileges and assumptions as necessary. I hope all of us will do likewise. Otherwise, nothing will change.

First-World Fortune

This week I have been reminded just how fortunate I am.

I have a loving, devoted, kind and principled husband, who also happens to be the one person on the planet with whom I could happily spend 24 / 7 / 365 and not become homicidal. Whatever issues in life we face, we face them together (and more often than not with some sort of ridiculous joke / quip attached to it which only makes sense to us). He places the same value on a just world and feels the same sorrow I do when we witness the various injustices which plague this planet of ours.

Perhaps it was his father’s visit this past week which brought home to me once again just how fortunate we are. In addition to have founding one another in this gigantic, crazy world, we have a solid roof over our heads, a full cupboard with more food than most people see in a year. We have our health and we have relatively healthy attitudes.

These are no small things. There are far, far too many in this world who don’t have a fraction of what we have and can only dream of having that fraction. There are also those who dare not dream for the dream is far too out of reach.

We have been thinking a lot about this simple truth: Whilst there are plenty of things we could (and at times do) b!tch about, we want for nothing really.

We live in a civilised, well-functioning country with all attendant social and health services making life relatively good. We have access to whatever health care services we need, and if we wanted, we could probably return to school for the further training of our over-educated brains. Our running water is clean and abundant and hot; the lights work, and our internet is fast. In winter, which is long, the heat is always on.

All too often, those of us who take these daily luxuries for granted, b!tch and moan about our First-World problems. We want a better-paying job, the latest and fastest technology (e.g., smarter smartphones or computers or whatever gadget du jour which may distract us from the world around us), or a bigger home with shiny, new conveniences.

We forget that the rest of the world would be happy to enjoy for a moment just a fraction of the multitudes of fortunes we b!tch about.

But, recognising and knowing that there are places where any running water is a treat (nevermind hot water or clean water), electricity is something which may or may not be available or will only work for portions of your day / week / month, etc. if at all, where food is scarce and your choice is between what’s there or nothing, where you may have access to great health care but vital medicines are scarce if available at all, and your complaints diminish.

Realising that we live in a place where violence is something we witness from afar makes all of our ‘troubles’ seem incredibly trivial and meaningless.

We are fortunate. Very.

Even though there may be moments when we forget this, we both resolved to remind ourselves often that we have infinitely more than many on this planet could ever hope to dream for, let alone actually hope to actually have. That we do so in a place which is peaceful and calm and free is simply priceless.

We spent much time this week looking out this window reflecting on our fortunes, which are many.

We spent much time this week looking out this window reflecting on our fortunes, which are many.