We have gotta learn how to be gentler with our good selves, dearhearts.
How often have you said to yourself, “It’s awful what I’m going through but so many people have it so much harder”?
How many times have you dismissed your agony just because someone out there happens to have a royal straight of human suffering to your two Aces?
Competitive privilege measuring gets us nowhere. In fact, it’s doing us a lot of damage.
It is time for us to deal ourselves a heaping spoonful of radical self love, and acknowledge that our experience was hard–full stop.
No comparisons, no pity poker, no apologies for feeling low, just love for a human being (us) who has walked through fire.
This past week marked the official end of a long run of Doing Many Very Hard Things in my life. My ears ring with the silence before the next storm, the lull before I step back into the world to do face next set of Very Hard Things that sit inevitably just over the horizon. And in that silence I have found that all I want to do is nestle my soul like a tiny, fragile bird’s egg. I tried to pick myself up and get ready for the challenges ahead, and something small in my heart spoke a quiet but firm, “NO.”
This past week my spirit went and sat itself down on the rocky ground and refused to take one more step up that mountain until it had rested.
And not just rested–my spirit refused to move until it had been coddled.
This past week all I wanted to do is cup my spirit in my hands and stroke it gently, as I would a newborn kitten or my daughter’s curls. This week I have been holding my soul as if it would break–that thing that has broken and shattered to a million pieces more times than I can count in the past years. As if I am afraid that it will break again with the slightest shady movement, even though I know it has proven itself to be made of stronger material than I ever imagined.
This week I held space for myself to be both things at once–both infinitely breakable and strong.
We activists like worlds of absolutes. We are believers in Great Truths, like Democracy, Justice, the Common Good and Virtue. But life is messy. We are human. And damnitall, the world would be SO much easier if that weren’t the case, huh? Many times life has not just one Great Truth in action, but many. But we activists, we’re really rotten at holding space for multiple truths to exist within ourselves.
It is possible for someone to be a good person and yet fail us terribly. It is possible for a man to be a good father and yet an unapologetic racist. It is possible for a woman to be a great philanthropist and yet ignore the homeless person on the corner. We can be both the greatest and worst versions of ourselves at the same time.
Since we are human, we can be both flawed and good. We can be both strong and resilient and yet fragile. There is no easy category or answer which will resolve it. We have to be gentle with ourselves and accept that we will not–we cannot–be pure anything. That’s just the way of being human.
I see so many activists having a hard time acknowledging their pain.
We struggle, and yet we say, “Oh, but there are so many who have it worse,” we say as we soldier onwards. I find that all our recent awareness of our privilege further engrains our need for absolutes. Our pain isn’t pure enough, so it must not have value. How could we possibly complain about this thing, this minor struggle, when there are personal stories in the world that make your heart bleed? What I am going through pales in comparison to those stories. And yet… this here hurts. It hurts tremendously. How to hold both realities in our hearts? We are plagued by absolutes and our inability to hold multiple truths.
So many times as I did one Very Hard Thing, followed by another, I was painfully aware of the fact that through it all I was a white woman of middle-class background and college education. Yes, this was hard, but so many others had it so much harder. I felt ashamed that I could not manage to do better, to survive stronger. It took me so long to realize that the shame serves no one. And that “surviving stronger” was a myth. We are all worn down in the end.
Pointing to my privilege and that someone else is also hurting worse doesn’t cure my pain. If anything it worsens it–I am now saddened by their pain, and also silenced from speaking my own truth.
Because of this pattern, I know so many activists that push-push-push so very hard and then crash, recover, and do it all over again. I myself have done the cycle more times than I can count.
It needs to stop. We need to get better at being gentle with ourselves, at nuzzling our fragility, at loving our contradictory human nature. We need to stop silencing ourselves, and one another.
Competitive privilege measuring keeps us separated and oppressed.
Pointing to one’s privileges when we are struggling is one more way that the Powers that Be keep their power. “Yes, you are struggling,” they say, “But you are not THEM. Be grateful for what we have given you and stop your whining.” I say we are ALL entitled to live fully realized lives, with no apologies.
We all will struggle at some point–because such is life, and we are ALL entitled to have as many tools as possible to get through those hard patches. I will not feel guilty because I have some tools; I will fight so that my neighbor has them too.
So give yourself permission to just be.
If this week finds you suffering, I give you permission to set aside the comparisons, the guilty quest for gratitude, the self-flagellation at your privileges. It does not need to be pure to be of value. If it hurts, then that is true for you and nothing else matters. I give you permission to claim your path through this world.
This week I challenge you to bust yourself out of the oppressive zero-sum game. I challenge you to open your heart to a radical world of plenty. We can all be successful and one person’s happiness will not dim mine; there is enough room in the universe to hold all our joy. Likewise, we need to find the generosity of heart to allow many of us to struggle at the same time.
There is beauty in the diversity of the human struggle, just as there is beauty in its success. My struggle is not diminished by yours; we don’t even have to compare them. What is hard for me is hard for me, and what is hard for you is hard for you.
We will hold each other up through it.
“I’ve heard that no matter what you’re going through, someone has it worse. I don’t like that statement. I’ve never liked it. It’s emotionally dismissive, it teaches us that our personal struggles are insignificant. So we hide, we refuse to cry out, and we try not to burden others with our pain. Someone might have it worse, true. But we are all broken, and we are all human, and we are never alone. Never.”
– Sarah Beth McClure