As with other personal posts, this one has a long and slow genesis, and a hesitation before I try to commit words onto the screen. I think it started a couple of months ago reading a very successful, middle-aged, middle-class, straight, white novelist in England expressing his disdain for the idea of safe spaces in college, on the grounds that people need to be exposed to all kinds of different opinions in order to thrive in this challenging world. The question arose for me, reading that, “When did you ever not feel safe, that you can make such a pronouncement?”
I am not a successful novelist, but I meet the other criteria of privilege listed above. When have I ever not felt safe? I can think of a couple of occasions in my youth when I was suddenly surrounded by groups of men who needed someone to punch, and I got punched. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I feel unsafe as a cyclist on a regular basis, occasionally as a pedestrian too, when the power dynamics with car drivers are firmly against me, and I know that I easily lash out with anger when things happen that make me feel afraid.
Beyond that, I can generally pass through my corners of the world not feeling threatened. So it is not my place to tell other people whether their feelings around safety are justified or not (a reminder of this amazing article). It is my job to listen and try to understand how people feel who do not have this ease of passing, for whatever reason.
Since the election, I have read any number of reaction pieces from all corners of the country and abroad. Some of them have stuck with me, and some of them are going to shape how I respond moving forward in these difficult times.
Just the other day, I received an email from Soren of Wisdom 2.0, which acts as a good starting point:
‘It seems to be an appropriate time to explore what it means to truly listen. Here are some suggestions:
In challenging conversations, can we pause, become curious,and ask questions?
Can we wait until someone is finished speaking before we share our thoughts?
Can we as Lao-Tzu suggested, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”?
Can we take the time to see from another’s viewpoint, as if we are in their shoes? This does not mean we give in or do not share our views, only that we lead with curiosity.
Thich Nhat Hanh says this about the practice: “Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.”‘
Here are some people whose views I have enjoyed listening to,and I hope you can take the time to hear what they have to say:
Ijeoma Oluo writes fiercely on many sites, and The Establishment is a place I go to hear views I do not encounter on many other sites (if you know some, please feel free to suggest them).
This piece by Julia Serrano is long, but it spells out in compelling ways how we can move beyond some of the toxic levels of discourse that are so prevalent right now.
Pablo Das writes movingly on Lion’s Roar about wishing to feeling safe within Buddhist communities; his line ‘non-reactivity simply creates the conditions for a wise response’ perfectly encapsulates what I have been trying to articulate recently.
This piece by Briana L Urena-Ravelo was written before the election; in my initial draft for these ideas, I thought of this as the anger translator for whatever I might manage to say.