Someone asked me about my intent with posts that are obviously relevant to a recent Facebook community breakdown and yet written/shared as a macro reflection and analysis of dynamics I’ve been witnessing in both local and online communities for years. It’s a fair question and I appreciate the opportunity to gain more clarity as I move forward with my work, especially as a writer (oh does it feel good to actually feel like a writer again!).
My intent is to do as many non-fiction writers do and weave my own experiences and research with my observation and analysis of what’s happening in the world around me. Currently much of my world includes the fascinating intersection of business and social activism online. We called ourselves Culture Makers and so I am questioning what culture making means amidst this experience of public community crisis and demise.
I am hearing some people question whether culture making can happen at all right now because there is still education, de-centering of privilege, tearing down of old systems, policy change, and cultural healing to be done. Yes, and I would argue that we are either enforcing the current culture or making a new one with every choice we make that impacts other humans. Our tiny cultures – in marriages, families, schools, churches, online businesses, in person workplaces, community spaces, etc. – can be transformed by our choices and no longer mirror the larger culture. It’s our choices in our tiny cultures that can ripple out to transform the larger culture and influence others towards policy change because they can imagine what else is possible. We are suffering from a deficit of imagining what else is possible in our ways of relating to one another.
My intent is to imperfectly yet boldly offer my contribution to the collective conversation about how we relate to one another in high risk community spaces because my heart is full of grief for the pain humans I care about experience due to verbal and emotional violence. I hurt. I am angry. And I am deep in a process of reclaiming my voice. I’ve been holding back out of fear of reprisal and bullying for too long.
I was doing local activism and community leadership for 20 years before I shifted to the online world, where many are now practicing socially aware leadership for the first time (leadership is a practice, not a destination). I was deeply wounded by bullying and public humiliation in local community by people who called me friend, so this is not simply fragility. It’s taken a years long process of healing and integrating to find solidity in my own soul as an empath and Complex PTSD sufferer who too easily lost myself in others in my search for belonging and often martyred myself as a result. Now I know to my bones that my soul is my own and I belong to myself.
My intent is to share perspective and research that informs and expresses my stand for community values such as radical inclusion, civility, mutual respect, trauma informed spaces, and harm reduction that may be useful to people who are questioning or aren’t resonating with popular points of view. To remind people that no single story/perception/belief is the absolute truth for all of us. And to let those who do not conform to popular points of view know that they are not alone.
My intent is to question because questioning is how we become more aware:
Are we making new culture in this moment or mirroring more of the same?
Are we thinking critically about the complex human dynamics unfolding around us? Are we overly influenced by story and emotion?
Does having a marginalized identity exempt us from constructive criticism of our behavior and impact on the world around us? Do marginalized people get a free pass when engaging with someone who is more privileged in a particular way?
How much actual power does one privileged activist, entrepreneur, or thought leader have over the marginalized people who choose to work and learn with them? Are we giving our power away? Should we be giving our personal power to other individuals under any circumstances?
Where is the boundary between perceived hierarchical leadership and personal responsibility for one’s own sovereign choice to participate? Should we practice any form of perceived hierarchical leadership in social justice oriented spaces?
What do dignity, sovereignty, safety, hurt, harm, violence, and justice actually mean? Can we agree to a shared meaning for each of these instead of making assumptions that our meaning is universal?
When and how are we conflating conflict with abuse and hurt feelings with literal harm in our communities?* When and how are we conflating personal pain with systemic pain? What would happen if we knew the difference in the moment of hurt?
Are we being being dominated, abused, and/or literally harmed if we have the freedom to click or walk away, exclude people from our own spaces, choose who we related to and which groups and shared spaces we participate in, etc.?**
When and how are we confusing our trauma response due to past harms with actual harm caused in the present? Can we talk and work together in ways that are trauma informed for everyone involved?
Will using the same tools as imperialist, cis-hetero, ableist, white supremacist patriarchy in social justice motivated spaces lead us to cultural transformation (i.e. tactics that attempt to demand, coerce, and control others into conformity; violations of consent and privacy; forced public accounting and humiliation; punitive mob justice; etc.)?***
What do the concepts of activism, social justice, cultural transformation, community, and relationship repair mean in the worlds of self development, socially oriented entrepreneurship, and spirituality? When and how does self-development lead to we-development?
So many questions!
My ultimate intent is to question what the abusive systems *and*
their tools of coercion and control will be replaced with in our
social justice communities as we strive for cultural transformation.
If those of us who claim to have common values
cannot even talk to one another without causing hurt and harm,
then how can we expect to collectively transform the culture that harms us all?
Sources of related information:
*Conflict is Not Abuse by Sarah Schulman
**”Differentiating between power struggle and power over is the difference between conflict and abuse…Once the dynamic is mutual, it is not abuse, which inherently implies one person’s domination.” Catherine Hodes, Intimate Relationship Abuse Advocate
***Why I’ve Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists by France Lee