Getting to know our discomfort zones

President* Trump,

I’ve been toggling back and forth between two books on my Kindle – Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. So far it’s been a pretty invigorating pairing as both authors are strong writers and they are adept at using first-person narrative and family stories to illustrate their respective conditioning regarding race and gender and ongoing de-conditioning. Kendi comes at it more as an academic, placing the personal into the pertinent historical, political contexts in a sort of ying-yang way that shows how they are of a piece. Doyle, on the other hand, tells her story from the point of view of a memoirist, using data from her life to articulate her sense of how most of us try to stuff our big, fluid selves into too-tight, too-rigid containers in which we suffer from not being able to be our full selves.

I’m quite sure I’ll have more to say about both of these books in other letters, but I want to focus today on a mini-revelation I had this morning about Doyle’s idea of Knowing, which I take to mean is that deep-down understanding of who we are and how we need to be in the world to be our full, true selves. It’s what we get when we allow ourselves to be quiet and we engage in active quieting of all the external messaging (much of which we’ve internalized) that clamors at us about what we should buy, what we should think, how we need to look and act if we want to get ahead – basically all the conditioning crap that keeps us tamed and stifled, docile and manageable.

Doyle is helping me see that while I was not a girl and have not been a woman who readily swallowed or breathed all the toxic conditioning on offer, I’ve certainly ingested a lot of it. Even as a nearly life long (since about age 7) feminist, I’ve still measured myself and my achievements (and those of others) against what I thought was The Standard, not seeing until very recently that it is a standard set and guarded by the White male patriarchy. It’s interesting, exciting, and quite nauseating to be seeing these things at this fairly late stage of the game. And I’m grateful.

But back to the Knowing deal. What I realized this morning is that for the longest time, again going back to when I was a girl, my body would tell me when I HAD to say something I was thinking out loud. It was the sort of insistent increase in blood pressure and stomach churn that told my frontal lobes that things would not go well if I didn’t muster the courage to say out loud whatever it was that needed to be said. I remember so many times trying mightily to resist this visceral onslaught because I knew whatever it was that needed saying was incendiary and I generally didn’t have a sweet, lady-like way of formulating it. I almost never could resist and almost always said what needed saying, which sometimes went far better than I could have dreamed and sometimes went really, really badly.

What I realized this morning is that I’ve shifted into the habit of just saying what I think about things most of the time, with or without the strong body cues. Overall, I think this is a good thing (less inhibited and all that), but I also think that now, as I work to catch up in my understanding of systems of oppression, I need to do a lot more sitting back and listening to others and I need to wait from my body to tell me when it’s time to join the conversation rather than assuming I always have something to say. I’m seeing that I need to slow down, check my white privilege, and wait until that deeper Knowing actually has something worth sharing out loud.

May we be safe to be quiet if that’s not our go-to.
May we be willing to step into our discomfort zones.
May we have the ego strength to follow and learn.
May we accept that de-conditioning is hard, hard work.

Tracy Simpson

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