Would you write something about being a male feminist, an anti-violence ally or social justice advocate, she asked. I can do that I say and we part ways. A strange feeling overcomes me, her question stirring up thoughts that have been my travel companions for a while now. The lecture I had been absorbed in had temporarily laid them to rest but now, they were wide awake and were taunting me to engage them.
The trouble with being a student at University is that sometimes, unexpectedly, unwittingly you stumble into conversations, dialogues and the occasional rant that leave you with snippets of knowledge and big complex questions. Fly-like you twist and turn and attempt to wrangle with these new-found insights attempting to free yourself from too much thought and headache inspiring self-reflection but soon you find yourself snared in this web where strands connect questions to answers to more questions and you follow and give in because once you are here you might as well sample the food.
Digestion is hard and you silently curse your desire to learn that brought you to this place. In the web you see others struggling beside you, in coffee places, classrooms, apartment lofts, gardens, beaches, lawns…and you feel less alone. Will you share the burden of knowledge with me, you ask, because it is getting harder and harder to bear. You are a gentle soul, kind at heart and most at home being your introverted self sitting in random places to look at sunsets and yet you feel conscience stirring deep inside; knowledge without action, what is it good for? you profess to like, nay, love folk and life and yet Martin Luther King calls for love that does justice. And you learn about privilege and responsibility and you wonder whose keeper am I and who is mine?
Thoughts of incompetence abound. What can I offer, what are my tools and will my efforts be ridiculed, thwarted, turned back or criticized? Will I have the courage to see it through? What is ‘it’? I don’t know that much and everyone else knows more and that is why I remain silent and listen and yet here is brother expectation and sister responsibility urging me on and on to engage truer and deeper and more actively.
I feel unsettled then, caught between the loftiness of ideals, goals, values and a deep-rooted uncertainty and smallness. Actions don’t always match thoughts and words and sometimes you feel like a hypocrite and that hits home and yet whom does this all serve? Who benefits from your inaction? your hesitation and apathy? The status quo? and what is that? No need for social justice advocacy if it were all that rosy, eh?!
And so you look for mentors and find them most easily in books and Jean Vanier, priest and amazing human being writes that “it is only when we stand up, with all our failings and sufferings, and try to support others rather than withdraw into ourselves, that we can fully live the life of community”. To acknowledge your own imperfections in the face of all this heavy complexity and to learn to live and serve with greater humility in the face of other’s vulnerability. Hmm. Can we look to small gestures of kindness, forgiveness, courage, love and stepping up, out and forward as responses to this challenge? Is it enough? Perhaps; and remembering that you are not alone in your ‘steppings’.
Peter Parker, author and indefatigable teacher says – and I am ever grateful for this sentiment – that a heart’s greatest challenge is – upon remembering it’s Latin language origin of cor meaning courage – , to hold the tensions and contradictions of everyday life creatively. The lofty ideals and the entrenched doubts; the stresses and fears and lonelinesses and urges to party like there is no tomorrow and to pursue being an astronaut while somebody dies of hunger and your own seemingly pitiful worries in the face of human plight. Can you do it all? no! and you are not supposed to. Imagine being quartered, eek! nay you cannot do it all and yet you can do something, two things, three things, multi-task, diversify, try things out, take ’em for a spin and make mistakes. Uff. Students dislike mistakes. Lowers their grades, percentages, achievings and it is all a competition or at least that is what the institutions demands, inculcates, encultures.
So this ally business, advocacy stuff or alliance building. What is there to say? Be humble. Learn to love and create out of tension, contradiction and headache. Self-reflect, hold yourself accountable, start the revolution at home, reach out, step back, step up, connect, laugh, grow and follow the strands where they may lead. Follow your passion, be what you are meant to be and live your story but do it with a sense of community. Remember community and both how fragile and powerful it can be.
A Hawaiian saying goes “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life” and I feel this drive in me to grow into my Aloha, my intelligence and to thus do honour to life, my life, your life, all life.