Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupying Our Humanity

The title to this posting is, of course, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement happening all over the world. As I have read the various articles, editorials, and blogs, looked at images, and engaged in discussions, this phrase kept popping up. I have been trying to figure out how to make sense of all that is going on, where my Self is located in the world these days, and what I mean by this phrase that came to me out of the blue.

I want to tell two stories to get to the answer:

When I was in my graduate counseling psych program, my cohort participated in a cultural diversity exercise that has haunted me for almost a decade now. About a dozen volunteers sat in a fish bowl arrangement and randomly chose a sticky note with a few words written on it - presented face down so they had no idea what they were choosing - and placed the label to their foreheads without seeing which label they chose. As the volunteers in this exercise sat in their circle, they were to interact with one another only through the label. That is, they were to disregard the whole person sitting in front of them, the person they had chatted with at lunch, the person who was a mother or a brother or a teacher or who took on a thousand other roles in his or her life, and to parcel out the one thing that defined them at this time, leaving the rest of their human experience outside the fishbowl.

The scenario they were given was something like this: The group must choose the ten most important things that will allow them to survive indefinitely on a wilderness trip they are preparing to take. As they planned, they were to interact with one another solely on the pieces of paper stuck on their foreheads. These notes were directives such as: agree with everything I say; ignore me; respond to my statements only with questions; laugh at everything I say; argue with everything I say. It was one of the most painful experiences I've witnessed.

Sitting outside the fishbowl looking in, I saw the pain come over the person with "ignore me" written across the forehead. My classmate figured out early on what the label said and withdrew into a reinforced silence. The person who had "agree with everything I say" also figured out early on what the label said and took full advantage of it, suggesting outrageous items to include on the list for the group's survival. The person would say, "Let's take an elephant from the zoo!"

"Yes! Yes! That's a great idea!" the group enthusiastically responded. Later, the person with whom everybody agreed said this brought up old narcissistic pain, old ways of being in the world he thought were left behind long ago.

This exercise has stayed with me all of these years because I watched people I knew and loved become people I couldn't recognize. All because there was a label on their foreheads that told the world how they were to be treated. It opened my eyes to this phenomena in my everyday life.

I have had more than a few conversations in the last few months regarding the number of Facebook postings I put on my wall. Some have said they have to ignore most of them. A few others have said they hide my postings at times because it just gets to be too much. Evidently sometimes, when I'm really cooking, I'll post enough articles, images, pages, and videos to take up a person's entire Newsfeed page.

These links run a gamut of issues I am passionate about. The top contenders at the moment are: women's reproductive rights, the privatization of public education, LGBQTTTIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, transsexual, transvestite, transgender, intersexual, asexual) rights, and global movements. Right now, my newsfeed is streaming links from all over the globe regarding Occupy Wall Street.

Evidently, I'm a Facebook nuisance. When I asked my husband (I must come up with my Blogger name for this man) if he had seen my posting about the delicious gluten free pizza I was making for myself these days (he's been in China for the last 5 weeks), he said he reads the first two postings I put up and then moves on. Says he doesn't have hours to spend on FB reading my posts. Even my husband thinks I'm a FB nuisance.

What is happening in the world today is big. It's really big. Conversations are happening between human beings and not just between governments these days because of tools such as Facebook. I have friends all over the world, wherever social media is allowed, with whom I can establish warm, loving relationships. There are humor and pathos. There are jokes, rants, and questions. We are all just people trying to figure it out. And the socio-political realm is reflecting these new relationships. Things are getting all shook up. Chaos reigns.

Here are some wise words from a friend in India, who watches global movements with a keen eye:
If we want to break free from oppressive politics and hegemony, we should first start with just that - speech. It is the most fundamental act towards empowerment.

In an age when we are told what to say, speaking up about what we think is a revolutionary act.

Talking, speaking, debating, and disagreeing are at the core of a process of reinventing identities that form a community able to govern itself. . . . We need to ask questions. And we need to seek answers. . . .

Our voice will join us in the shared grief of our loss, empower us with the ability to empathize with those who are different from us but are like us in their pain and unite us towards the shared goals of freedom, liberty and self government.

We have a great opportunity here to reinvent democracy as consensus of the people, by the people, for the people. Each one, having their say, is the first step.

We must not fear failure, we must fear silence.

How can I keep silent when our right to speak out is at stake?

I sat silent in the experiential exercise as I watched people I loved work in painful divisiveness and as all-too-human tendencies overtook their better judgment and the workings of the cerebral cortex. No law said I had to sit in silent acceptance. I had so many choices I could have made. I could have moved to my friend who sat still and silent through the ignorance of others, laid my hand on the shoulder of one who was alone, let that person know there would always be a loving presence. I could have moved across from my friend who was swept up in narcissistic power, eyes meeting eyes, filled with love for the heartful person I knew lived within him, so my friend could recognize that heartful person within himself. I could have said to the professor, "There is more to our humanity than this exercise. We get your point. We can be ruled by labels, preconceptions, fear, and power. But we can also be ruled by our passion, our voices, our courage, and our hearts."

This is what I attempt to do with my global news filtering through my Newsfeed. Nuisance or not. It is my voice in the world, loud and strong.

Lao Tzu said, "Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest with those who are honest, and be also honest with those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained." Thus, I would add, we relate to the flawed, vulnerable, grace-filled human being within each of us

"γνῶθι σεαυτόν." "Know thyself." It's that simple. Know that each of us has to pull our pants on one leg at a time, has to shit and piss just like the other guy, needs water and air and sustenance to survive, came into this world as a helpless wailing infant hungry for our mother's breast, laughs, cries, breathes, sleeps, and dreams like every single human being who's ever lived on this planet since . . . well, since time began. Each of us occupies our humanity every day, for better or for worse. Despite all the labels slapped on our foreheads. Despite all of our loneliness and all of our greedy power mongering. We are humankind. It's that simple.

So many, "yeah, buts . . . " to come back at this statement. But, really. It is that simple. Know thyself as human.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I have a quote that I found and it reminds me to have compassion for myself and others: "Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something." – Anonymous
    It's so easy to forget our common humanity.