Archive for October, 2014

talents and privileges

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

When I was a child, mom used to take me (and later, my little sister and me) to church. We were raised Lutheran, and raised in a very small church; my confirmation class had three people in it, including myself. I continued attending church until I graduated from high school, mostly because it was normal in our house and because I was a part of the choir, which I loved.

Black_Harlem

I stopped going to church at age 17, and haven’t been since, with unfortunate exception for religious funerals.

One sermon that still sticks with me, one of maybe five, is one of the talents. In this sermon, we were told god gave three people talents (money), and given two weeks to grow these talents. One person buried their talents, one person lost his, one person invested and doubled their original gifts. God was said to love the latter two most of all, because they worked to do something with what they were given

However, this morning I was watching some documentaries (my solution for boredom during my bouts of insomnia), including one (mediocre) called “The One Percent” and one (outstanding), “The Black Power Mixtape”, thinking about privilege.   In a lot of ways, privilege is like the old story of talents.

Your skin color, your class at birth, your family of origin – these are things over which we have no control. We do have control over what we do, especially those born into privileged classes, racial strata etc. If you are born white, you can’t change and decide to be born black. You can choose to use your privilege to give opportunity to people who may not otherwise have a voice.

People who think this way need to burn for justice. We need to speak louder, use our place and our voices to amplify those marginalized by oppression. We need to remember our history and learn the lessons of Malcolm X, of Attica prison, of the Soledad brothers, of Angela Davis, of bell hooks. This is not anti-American. This is pro-American people.

When our time here is done, and we are asked what we have done to make this world better with our privilege and talents, how will you answer?

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Okay, the title is way more important sounding than this post will be, but bear with me.

veeeeeery important.

Last weekend I was in another state and became very ill.  Severely ill.  Like, three days of nastiness.  While the cause of my disgusting escapades is still unclear (most likely alcohol + woman times + flu), the whole thing got me thinking about sickness and who is in charge of you when you’re sick.

While I was (embarrassingly) throwing up outside of a restaurant at which I was attempting dinner, a friend came to me and continued to insist I “slam water, water is what you need.”

Now, this is fine advice.  And probably accurate; being sick is amazingly dehydrating.  But it’s not really a great idea to pour a couple glasses of water into an empty, heaving, already queasy stomach.  Despite my insistance that water was not really sounding that great and that slamming a glass or two wasn’t the best idea, this friend insisted (and narrowly avoiding it coming right back up).

Grossness of that story aside, it bothered me that this friend didn’t listen to me, emphatically telling him this advice was maybe not the greatest for me at this point in time.  Why did he insist?  Why didn’t he ask my preferences?  Why didn’t he listen even after I was violently ill after following this advice?

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When I teach classes, I often talk about boundaries, those gold plated ideals that make relationships healthy (or not).  Boundaries are really difficult to pin down, even for someone who’s been leading lectures and groups about boundaries for a bit over five years.  In short, they are your limits, what is and is not okay with you.

Boundaries are important to address for anyone, but particularly in cases of abuse and trauma.  Most survivors of childhood trauma (including, but not limited to, abuse) have no concept of their limits mattering.  

When they say “no”, it is not respected; their bodily autonomy, their pain, their mental and physical being, are of no consequence.  Living through this often means adults who are at the extreme ends of the boundary spectrum.  Either one rarely says “no” because they believe it is meaningless, and do not feel comfortable speaking up for their needs (think of a person who is uncomfortable with a full body hug, but does not pull away or ask others to stop, or someone who tells you their life story after just meeting you), or can be completely closed off, avoiding all physical and emotional contact with others, for fear of being taken advantage of.  These are when we have boundary issues.

All people desiring healthy, rewarding relationships need the ability to set limits with those around us (and know what our limits are).  However, just because boundaries are with others does NOT mean they get respected, and this is where things get a bit sticky.

I can assert my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll respect them.  You have control over you, and I have control over me.

As an example, one of my close friends is constantly calling other people “pussy” and “faggot.”  I find both of these words extremely offensive; not only do I have close LGBTQ friends, I am acutely aware of how language perpetuates prejudice and oppression (with often fatal consequences) and shows my friend’s incredible privilege as a cis, straight white male.

I have repeatedly asked him to not use the words; I have tried to open up discussions about how language is super powerful; I work to make him realize how stupidly offensive it is to use these words.  However hard I try, I cannot control what he does.

If I assert my boundaries, and they are not respected, I have a choice.  I can continue to assert boundaries, and I can leave.  Sometimes, the best assertion is a clear consequence and an I statement.  Put on your learning cap!

I feel ___________ when you ___________.  I would like it ____________.  If you continue ______________, I may have to leave the room/conversation.

I feel uncomfortable when you use the word faggot around me.  I would like it if you could try not to use those words around me.  If you keep using these words,  I may not be able to continue to be around you.

At that point, you can leave and come back, ensuring you follow through on your consequence.  And it’s worth looking at – why would you keep spending time with someone who doesn’t respect your limits, or the basic humanity of human beings?

At the end of the day, you cannot love others using the language of murder, torture, oppression and hate.