Community Drop In Groups
There are so many ways to look at this that are useful, but in light of events in our nation over the past week, I feel strongly called to look at this in one particular way— how the assumptions we are making about others in our nation are so destructive.
First in light of this past week, I want to name George Floyd so we can pause in compassionate awareness of him and everyone like him who has had any experience of our structural and institutional forms of violence. And pause for a moment of compassionate awareness for anyone anywhere who has experienced violence. I invite us to orient with an intention that this practice of ours be useful for healing and greater healing action in this world.
So if any growth and healing for us all is possible, first we need to look at what ways we might be contributing to these problems. Here is where this agreement of “Don’t make any assumptions” can be so powerful.
As the news this week made clear, we have a painfully powerful habit of making assumptions about others— it has even become an entertainment pastime in our culture to bash and take down others on the basis of our assumptions. Inevitably these assumptions are judgmental— and therefore are a source of deep hurt and suffering.
We don’t get that we don’t get what’s going on for others. While I was trying to track down that beautiful quote, Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, it got me to the google page of all of these different versions of “walking in someone else’s shoes.” It was interesting how hard some of these were to read. For example,
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
While trying to be helpful, can you hear that tragically wrong assumption included in its words?
— that we have the capability to climb into another’s skin and walk around in it? True compassion starts instead with recognizing what we don’t know. We can’t truly know what life is like for another person unless we’ve lived their life— which we haven’t and we never will. We can only live ours.
This is true for even the people closest to us! I remember when I first got that my assumptions of what life was like for my daughter were wrong, and that as long as I was assuming I knew her and her situation, I was causing her pain by not hearing from her what I was missing.
So if we can’t even assume we “get it” for the people closest to us, it is crucial to get a handle how often we are not “getting it” for others further away from us. This “getting it” gets even
harder with any key layers such as race, gender, economic difference as well as layers of history of societal trauma based on race, gender, economic difference. Something that might feel straightforward to some, such as feeling like I can trust if I call the police they will come to help me, can have vastly different meaning and consequences for others. All of these different kinds of formative life experiences mean that of course we can’t ever really know what it is like for another person.
Another quote that I found in my search:
People will never truly understand something until it happens to them. (?Author)
While there is some helpful wisdom here, there still is the fact that even if we share a similar outward event, our experience of that event can radically differ person to person. I know my experience with breast cancer was very different than many other women with whom I’ve talked. So I can’t even make an assumption that I know what it is like for another person to have had breast cancer. I have no idea because our possible journeys vary so widely. I need to open my mind and heart to listen and learn without judgment or assumptions if I truly want to know more about someone else’s life journey
Assumptions are made from a place of thinking I understand something that I actually don’t, and a big key to seeing that I am in this terrain is if I find myself reactively judging, blaming or shaming someone else, anyone else.
So then you might ask: But what about when I am right?! What about when the situation is so awful that it does deserve judging, blaming and shaming?
The white liberal anger at Amy Cooper this week is a very helpful place to understand the destructiveness of righteous blame, and how this kind of scapegoating blocks us off from looking at how we too might be part of the problem.
For example, if I as another white woman fall into a trap of Amy Cooper bashing, then I miss where I too carry seeds of pain and tragedy within my own self. As long as my energy is consumed with being angry at her, then I’m not looking for the roots and seeds of racism in me. Righteous anger makes it easier for me to prop myself up on a pedestal and look down on others, and therefore not do the hard work of healing which is to see and root out as best as I can any unconscious racial bias I have and then have that orientation guide my actions.
This kind of assuming that the problem belongs to others and not me keeps us from understanding what kind of true hard healing work our world desperately needs. So of course we call out the bad hurtful behavior, but we can learn how to do this without further perpetuating the problem.
What about cases where people are behaving with violence— all of the kinds of violence that are happening right now? Police violence, protest violence, violence towards wearing a mask, violence towards not wearing a mask?
I remember a very wise teacher I heard once long ago saying “It’s easier to hate, than it is to try to understand.”
Here’s what I’ve come to understand about violence through my own life:
I’ve had some times in my life where I have lost myself inappropriately— painfully, hurtfully inappropriately. Before this happened to me, I thought that only happened to others. I thought that there was no way I too could possibly be that kind of person who would partake in or even consider that kind violence. Never crossed my mind…
What I learned from these incidents is that there is no pedestal here for me from which I can judge others. Push me far enough and it is definitely possible to find the edge of my training and ability to remain grounded. Anyone who doesn’t believe this about themselves likely hasn’t been pushed far enough yet to know their edge.
That’s heartbreaking but oh so useful to understand about ourselves. It is where compassion, insight, wisdom and right action have real possibility to arise. It gives us a powerful way to meet this world as it is without falling into a painful trap of righteous blame or shame of others. When I can understand how these seeds for violence exist in me as well, then compassion becomes the only wisdom way forward.
Here is the beauty and joy of this practice— at the most basic level, it just feels better to be able to stand in a strong heart with clear compassion for ourselves and each other than it does to be lost in a reactive assumptive fog of judgment, fear and blame. Everything I’ve learned in this mind/heart practice helps me do this more. This is the sweet relief and healing this practice naturally brings in the heart of difficult times.
One last important note on this path of understanding, it is vital to be clear on a key point— being willing to understand the roots of a behavior is in no way condoning it. Rather it is always about tapping into a wisdom that orients us towards right actions that can help prevent this kind of behavior from happening again.
As James Baldwin said:
The questions which one asks oneself begin, at last, to illuminate the world, and become one’s key to the experience of others. One can only face in others what one can face in oneself. On this confrontation depends the measure of our wisdom and compassion.