This has been the year of common humanity.
Not for our country, here in the USA. Not for the UK. Not for Syria. Not for politics in general.
But for me, personally, it’s been my growing edge.
Given that I’m a hot-headed lesbian high maintenance actor with a strong activist bent.
In January, my partner and I did an on-line course with Brene Brown on courage. Part of the curriculum was a touch down on self-compassion. We took a test (http://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/), and learned that self compassion is made up of 3 parts: self-kindness, mindfulness and common humanity.
I scored fairly high on self-kindness and mindfulness, and abysmally low on common humanity.
Balls to the wall honest: I’ve always felt I could come to your suffering with love and understanding. But I have had ABSOLUTELY NO FAITH in your ability to come to mine.
My poor sense of common humanity comes from a deep belief in the inability of other people to witness for me and empathize with me. It comes from a bone-deep sense of isolation, and a fear of being judged. And maybe disbelieved.
And, more honest yet–we know that it is trauma that severs the interpersonal bridge. We get hurt enough, we don’t feel connected to anyone.
My interpersonal bridge was nuked, baby. Gay bashing, sexual harassment, being a witness to violence, standing up, speaking, watching offenders go free to offend again, witnessing the moral numbness and denial of communities of the suffering of me and mine over and over again–I have, as so many of us have, plenty of reason for my lack of trust in other humans.
We can only heal in connection. We can only heal by rebuilding the bridge. There is nothing, NOTHING, more important than being able to connect with other humans.
In this year of common humanity, when my suffering was pinged in a way that made me feel so different, I tried to tell someone. I even posted my pain all over FB after Pulse–and I ended up so glad I had, because of the love and humility of straight people in my life who came to me where I hurt.
When I couldn’t post, or speak, or explain, I tried to mentally and spiritually connect with other people wherever–in the Sudan, in Syria–and to know that unrelenting violence has been a part of so many lives, not just mine.
I’m a work in process. But here’s the thing–the feeling of isolation, of having known extreme violence and extreme prejudice, the loneliness, the distrust, the rage, the feeling of being trapped…at its worst, leads to sense of victim entitlement. I’ve had this entitlement, because it’s friggin’ normal to have it. It’s how our brains work. It sounds like this, “You have no idea how I feel or what it’s like to have lived through what I’ve lived through, so you fucking owe me. And seriously, you expect me to care about your garden variety entitled American dysfunctional whatever…workplace, family, etc.?”
Ask my partner how completely SEEN she feels when I go into that space.
Look around and see people competing for who has had it worst.
Common humanity. Some of us have suffered way more than others. It is a fact. Some of us are way more at risk than others. We have incredibly complicated feelings about our level of risk–for example, terrified and angry at people more privileged…or grateful not to be at risk, guilty, and terrified. Pick your poison.
This may sound like a tangent, but for me it isn’t: privilege is about survival. The more you have, the more likely you will be one of the ones who make it. Everyone wants privilege. Everyone who has it wants to keep it. At least a little bit.
Yesterday, I read on Facebook 3 posts by people of color expressing outrage and judgment about the white people who were expressing shock and fear in response to Trump being elected. And I thought, “Enough!”
Yesterday, I read FB posts by white straight men saying that we were only allowed to feel for one day before getting back to work, that feelings were ridiculous, that we should accept Trump and make the best of it. And I thought, “Enough!”
I wrote a post. For common humanity, I said that all responses that do not hurt or judge others are welcome. Judging people for being shocked? For having emotions at all? There’s no common humanity in judging people for their emotions (which are involuntary, we need to remember…we don’t pick what we feel…and trying not to feel what we feel…welcome to the land of addictions).
I’ll say this again–there’s no common humanity in judging people for what they feel.
Feeling exhausted? Like Trump is just one more in a long series of betrayals you’ve had to fight your whole life to overcome?
Shock? Being caught off guard? Believing the polls? Trusting the neoliberals? Believing we could do better?
Wanting to shut down? Or jump to action?
I happen to share every single one of these feelings.
Just don’t tell anyone to be like you, and we’re good.
Common humanity, for me, means setting aside my victim entitlement, setting aside my better-than, my one-up, my one-down, my I-hurt-more…setting aside my compulsive isolation, and trying out trust. It means sharing how hard it’s been, sharing how hurt I’ve felt, sharing my terror, and risking that you might come to me.
Of course, maybe you won’t.
Here’s the thing. For the better part of a decade I ran a multicultural theatre company founded on an event called SLAMBoston, Diverse Voices in Theatre. On the nights of the slams, there was often a coming together, a raucous and sacred space of all voices being heard equally. People left high on belonging.
But behind the scenes, there were always people hating. African-American men hating gay men, white straight people proud of their disengagement with causes, or, alternately, embarrassed and nervous and awkward, queer people ignorant about the struggles of people of color and revealing this without knowing it, people eager to tell members of another group how well they understood by “mansplaining” (women can and do mansplain). There were professional rip offs, complaints about too many AIDS plays, criticism of the model, ageism galore, especially in casting by young directors.
We could come together into the warmth of tolerance, but before and after we often didn’t trust. We didn’t know how to hear and keep hearing each other.
I rode those swings for ten years. The hope and the ugliness, the beauty and the ignorance, back and forth, over and over again.
I am writing this blog in the hope of more common humanity. Not to let go the politics and the intellectual understanding of minority politics, but to bring more heart to the mix for everyone. More willingness to take the risk of the “I-Thou,” rather than the demand that you pay for my suffering and listen to me first. Rather than demanding you follow the lines of privilege and make me feel better about always coming first.
No one is first. We can’t keep competing and come together.
“I-Thou” in all personal encounters is the way of happiness. Of peace.
I trusted a woman to grow in the last 6 months, and she did.
So did I, by giving her the benefit of the doubt.
The benefit of the doubt. The risk. The opening of the broken heart.
Oprah says, “We are more alike than we are different.” She is a woman of great common humanity, and she fights for her own as well as for everyone.
It’s not a popular thing to say. “We are more alike than we are different.” I fear being attacked for saying it, because, well, I’m not Oprah. I am, among many other things, white.
I’m going to say it anyhow.
Multiculturalism asks that we listen to each others’ different experiences, different cultures, with the utmost respect. We need to do this.
But common humanity builds the foundation of compassion, of witnessing, that makes this sharing meaningful and healing. A bridge must go both ways, no matter how hard this is.
I believe you are not unknowable to me.
And though I am a woman and double minority, though I have experienced more than my share of violence and prejudice, I believe I am not unknowable to you.
But we attack. We suffer, and this makes us angry. We are at risk. We feel powerless, and we flail around, trying to get safe.
You are not unknowable to me. I have the bandwidth to hear you with the best of my compassion, with the depth of my own suffering, with my highest intelligence.
I can know you, and I want to.
I am not unknowable to you. I have the courage to tell you my story. I have the hope that you will listen, and you will help me rebuild my bridge.
I will help you build yours.
We are more alike than we are different, and we can ALL experience this, if we listen, if we make room.
Common humanity trumps politics. If we have courage, faith, the willingness to listen. One to one. Communication instead of rhetoric.
Mind you, I say all this while continuing to research jobs in Canada, New Zealand and Europe.
I say this while donating to my most passionate causes.
I say this while struggling to make room for everyone I truly love, many of whom have had it easier than I have.
I’m jealous of them.
But I love.
This is my common humanity.