be gentle with yourself
Posted by tino
This is a self-care post. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I can’t have all the wisdom I wish to, all the facts memorized, all the nuances understood, and that’s okay.
It’s easy to set high standards for ourselves and in the meantime, forgive others for not reaching those standards. We can forget to forgive ourselves and be kind to ourselves when we can’t achieve all our goals as fully as we want to. I try to remind myself that even though change feels excruciatingly slow, small things matter and help. I need to remind myself that I too deserve compassion from myself when I can’t meet my goals as fast or as easily as I want to.
This is a circle. Forgiving others, and understanding that we’re on different parts of our learning curves, helps maintain community instead of breaking it down. Being gentle with others reminds me to be gentle with myself, and vice versa. It reminds me that I too have learning to do and that’s okay. All of us make mistakes and we each have our own journeys to make. What’s important is that we stay committed to and present within the journey itself.
Do you want an example of a time when I totally missed the point of some of the concepts I was learning? I look back on this with frustration, but also humour, and think “man, I was doing it wrong”. But I’ve learned more since.
I was in school and had been involved with numerous organizations and communities that strive to be anti-oppressive, which was amazing and taught me a lot. During that time I took a philosophy course, Introduction to Ethics. I had a professor who had a lot of knowledge and also who clearly made efforts to connect with the students (most people in the course probably had to take it as a mandatory precursor to their other philosophy courses, and didn’t seem too interested in the content.)
During one lecture, the prof kept using the word “lame”. You know, the same way people do all the time, like “dude, the bus drove right by you and you missed it? that’s lame.” I spoke to the prof after class about the word and why it may not have been a great choice (um, ableism anyone?) and went home hoping I’d accomplished something.
Here’s the part that illustrates how much I still had to learn. (FYI this part discusses the murder of a disabled child by her father).
During another lecture, the prof brought in a real-life example for us to discuss. The example was that of Robert Latimer, who in 1993 killed his 12-year-old daughter Tracy Lynn, who had cerebral palsy. Our prof outlined that Mr Latimer stated that he was trying to show mercy to his daughter by preventing her from “living a life of suffering” (prof’s words). Us, the students, had to talk about whether we agreed with his decision and why or why not.
I hardly contributed anything to that discussion because it wasn’t sitting well with me, but I couldn’t verbalize why. Other students (none of whom had visible disabilities) thought that Tracy Lynn’s father could be forgiven for his actions because they thought that having cerebral palsy was awful and that having such a disability meant that life was not worth living. Others were unsure of their positions and made comments on various sides of the argument. I went home from that lecture feeling bewildered.
Much later, I realized why I’d felt that way: not once had anyone – the students or the prof – brought up Tracy Lynn’s perspective on the matter of whether she should live or die. Nobody. Because of her disability and likely also her young age, nobody considered her perspective at all. Maybe the other students thought that folks with cerebral palsy had no mental capacity for this kind of deliberation. Maybe they thought it didn’t matter as long as Tracy Lynn’s father killed her with the intent of offering mercy. The real disappointing part of this was the fact that the prof, who facilitated the discussion, didn’t mention Tracy Lynn’s missing voice at all, nor try to steer the conversation that way. I realize this is a really complicated case, and so much information was missing from the class discussion, but that doesn’t justify the way this person’s opinion was ignored.
Once I realized this, I wished I could go back to that class and point out this glaring omission. If in an ethics course, the voice of the person whose life was in question was ignored, what hope did we really have of learning about ethics? Whether or not it was intentional, the conversation seemed to uphold the idea of a “saviour” complex and encourage a limited view of people with disabilities – one that silences them.
I look back on this event knowing that at the time I’d probably attended a small handful of anti-ableism workshops, in addition to many other anti-oppression workshops, but it’s clear that all the nuances and everyday issues can’t be presented in a 2-hour time period. After that class I thought about the people I know (or knew) who had/have CP. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have their experiences, but what filled my mind at the time was how those individuals are as full of life, will and complexities as anyone else I know. (surprise surprise). It would be a huge indignity and injustice, in my opinion, to consider taking the life of any one of those people without their consent. (I want to point out that this is not about consensual euthanasia, as in the case of Tracy Lynn, she was not considered capable of either giving or refusing consent for her father’s actions).
I pointed out the word “lame” to my prof in an effort to point out ableism, but was paralyzed by discomfort and confusion and was unable to point out what really mattered in the ensuing discussion – the fact that even after her death, this girl’s voice was not being considered. It made me realize how much work there is to do both within ourselves and with one another. I now realize that I had a lot to learn, and still do, and that’s okay.
I write this for you but also myself. Take the time you need to learn and truly understand. Keep your mind and heart open and stay critical, no matter what kind of space you’re in with which people. Be critical of yourself, but be gentle too. Help each other and be patient with each other. Try to receive criticism from others graciously and with understanding; if that criticism is not meant to help but to inflame, leave the situation. Try to let your negative feelings out in constructive ways, rather than direct them at someone while trying to have a conversation. Take the space you need to feel safe and strong but don’t sever your connections with others if they’re elsewhere on the learning curve than you are. We all have things to learn from each other. Even if the struggle feels extra hard, know there are others walking with you.
Be gentle with yourself.
For some tips on self-care as activists, click here.
About tinoI'm an aspiring organic farmer living in canada. I talk about farm life, things I'm learning, other relevant topics like feminism, social & environmental justice, nature, animals, vegan food, and fun.
Posted on June 23, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged ableism, activism, anti-oppression, compassion fatigue, ethics, learning, philosophy, self-care, social justice. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.