Practice Taking Risks

Okay, I don't consider myself in a position to preach. I really don't. I just know what *I* strongly believe and that's it...and I listen to others. So, this week, I'm in charge of the service and the topic of the month is "risk."

I just saw a colleague post about reminding a man not to refer to his female assistant (?) as a "girl." And I'm sure this was completely unintentional and there's nothing at all wrong with him and he probably, hopefully, appreciated having his attention brought to this. My colleague, understandably, felt a little embarrassed.

Here's my approach to this kind of thing: How are we ever going to stand up for the big things, when something's really at stake, and act in the moment, if we don't *practice?*

Like physical self defense, sometimes social risk-taking, standing up for what is right, has to become automated. Or it just won't happen. Knowing what you believe is only halfway there. It's a huge step, but then there's at least another one, and that's acting on it.

Because I believe this so firmly, and I hate being caught in a situation where I later think about how I wish I could have acted, or helped (and sometimes no matter what you can't), I make it a point to practice with smaller, seemingly less significant opportunties.

It's not about nit-picking. It's not about being overly sensitive, or making a "big deal" about something that wasn't meant to be a big deal. It's not the incident itself that should be weighed, but its usefulness in practicing. That's a different value judgement, and much easier to act from, then trying to judge every situation on a case by case basis.

All of us, but especially women and girls, do this thing where we get stuck trying to weigh the worth of an event. We're sitting there trying to figure out, from scratch, where the bar of "okay, THIS is a big deal" is on the nebulous spectrum we never seem to understand...WHILE something is happening, and long after, when it's too late to do something about it.

Some friends this week have been talking on Facebook about their experiences with abusive relationships. Horrific stories. Fascinating examples of manipulation and human sickness. I had a new appreciation for the fact that without knowing what you believe, or in this case, what to look for and notice, it is very easy to go from mild gas-lighting to suddenly a horrible situation that literally puts your life at risk...and scars you forever.

I know a little about what some "abuse" looks like in small forms, so I speak up at the seemingly little stuff. Comments that I don't agree with. Attempts to put me down, or coerce me to do something. Letting people know when I'm pissed at something, instead of hiding it or swallowing it and trying not to let it show. I'm firm, and yet not combative.

But since I have not actually been in THIS situation, I realize anew it would do me well to learn more what the flags are...because you can't see things when you're IN them. only if you have the markers ahead of time, can you know what to look for on the landscape. Looking at a map, and being IN the map, are two different perspectives, and exist in different dimensions.

Now, I've made mistakes. It is rare, but recently, I made one. I misjudged a man and had to go back and apologize, very, very humbly. I did, and he forgave me. But though I'm sorry I hurt his feelings, and I really did, I am not sorry that I acted on my beliefs. It's good for him to know that he can be misjudged, because sexism and harassment are serious problems and exist. Maybe he can contribute to doing something about it, if he doesn't want to live in a world like that. Mistakes can be corrected. Harm cannot always be corrected.

So...I haven't lived on this earth long enough, nor experienced lack of privilege enough, to really believe I have much worth to talk about when it comes to taking risks. But since I have to anyway, that is one of the points I will be bringing up: the importance of practice.

The little things *do* matter, people. We should never feel silly for caring about them. The worst that can happen is people don't get it and are annoyed with you. And guess what....people are going to think whatever they think, ANYWAY. Is that really so bad, if you know what you believe, and have the peace of knowing that you act on it? Wouldn't it feel better to be thought of as "that" person, when you've actually done something, not just because you timidly spoke and *suggested* something?

I admit I actually enjoy saying, "I disagree," when someone makes a comment that is upholding an oppressive, harmful belief. They don't have to understand...I don't need to convince them. i respect them. But it's good for them to know that someone might disagree.

If I stay silent, they will go through life believing that what they said was acceptable, because no one else seems to find it UNacceptable. And it is not my job to make sure someone who takes a risk by stating an opinion falls back on as soft a cushion of disappointment as possible. They took a risk; they can handle the consequences. I literally will say this sometimes only for the record. For the record, everyone does not agree with or endorse that opinion, but you're welcome to have one as long as you understand that.

Anyway, I wish I could say this more articulately and do a better job of being inspirational here. I just want to affirm for ANYone the value and rightness of caring and speaking about things that seem to have minimum consequences.

The little things are guilding over the big problems. Our rape culture, for example, extends from simple jokes, unconscious victim-blaming and mixed messages about gender roles all the way to the very worst. They may not be the same in degree, but they ARE connected. They are of the same nature, stem from the same problems. To respond to one less in degree is to contribute to lessening the worst that can happen.

Be strong. Know what you believe. And practice. Practice. Practice. You're not going to hurt anyone. Everyone will be all right. If you practice, you're less likely to overdo it when something big happens and you make a mistake, because all that anger and surge of emotion and years of not speaking out comes to the surface and crucifies whoever happens to be standing in the way that day.

But with practice, that energy flows more easily, and the mistakes don't have to be that harmful. The more we practice something, the better we get at it. NEVER berate yourself for standing up for what you believe, large, small, or miniscule. It's just being consistent, that's all.

Remember that poem that went around a few weeks ago, calling out how people look back at the Civil Rights movement, and firmly believe they would have marched with King, they would have seen very clearly what was wrong and what they were called to do, and yet TODAY, when we face identical situations, it is hard to get up and going, hard to see it the same way.

So people sit on the sidelines. And comment. And shake their heads, and tell protestors how they should be protesting, when they've never so much as held a sign themselves. I focused on women's issues here, but this is true for everyone. We all need to trust ourselves and value ourselves enough to be willing to act, and yes, without thinking. Thinking feels like acting, but it's not. Practice can help tell the difference, and hone the degree of appropriate reaction.

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Fri, 10/31/2014 - 08:11
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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative