My Internal Tug of War

Dena Patrick
Feb 21, 2016 · 7 min read

Yesterday was interesting. I awoke to an email from a potential colleague in which he carefully, gently chastised me about my outspokenness regarding racism and bigotry on social media, specifically Facebook.

To condense a much longer message:

“I’m afraid you being so vocal about racism will turn off (a list of names was inserted here) who are leaders in the movements I’m most interested in. I thought you were about compassion and inclusion? You alienate people talking so much about racism. Referring to anyone as racist — even in generalities since you don’t name names — and using those words, is not reflective of civil dialogue. Everyone is deserving of love and compassion. I thought you want to meet people where they are? Perhaps you can consider, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

TOTALLY fair observations and critiques. This triggered intense self-reflection. I’m sharing here as my first post on Medium, as surely there are others who struggle with wanting to be compassionate yet simultaneously raise awareness of and rise against the myriad injustices in the world? Surely others have been called a hypocrite (or it’s insinuated) as we wrestle with this internal struggle?

(I may veer in various directions because I had a lot of thoughts and feelings yesterday. It is also a cathartic, clarifying process for me to type this out, though I apologize for the length.)

While not a religious person, I actually DO consider that question quite frequently, and when it comes to abuse and oppression, I believe Jesus would focus on stopping the abuse — here and now — to alleviate as much unnecessary suffering as possible. I think he would be most concerned with protecting the victims. Only when the abuse and suffering is quelled to some degree would he likely turn to the pain and fear fueling the bullying and attacks, and work to heal what is in their hearts leading to such destructive “othering” behavior.

That is my approach. Perhaps more importantly, I want others to be aware that the bullying exists. I want more people to wake up to realize that we are truly all connected — interconnected and interdependent on one another (a key aspect of my “why”).

Being angry and frustrated with the people I know, personally — people I know beyond any shadow of a doubt hold the view that being white and Christian and hetero makes them superior — and wanting to shake them to wake up and quit being a bully is a daily struggle. That has been my daily struggle since I was 10.

I AM more concerned about the victims in any abusive situation, especially innocent children growing up in such environments. I consider all abuse and oppression to be bullying on various levels; overt racists are violent (even with words), destructive bullies. (Passive racism and apathy in general perpetuate it, I realize.)

Anyone who has such feelings of prejudice and even superiority (acknowledging that we all may to varying degrees) but is uncomfortable feeling that way is precisely the type of person with whom I would love, love, love to have a compassionate, respectful dialogue. If anyone who reads what I share is uncomfortable because they take what I say personally for some reason, I am always open to creating a safe space for discussion about those feelings.

I’m boots on the ground, getting dirty and feeling pain and conflict and inadequacy and failure and other human emotions as I strive to make the world a better place and try to find those who want to join me.

Anyone who has known me for as little as 10 minutes and is paying attention knows I’m passionate about eradicating all forms of “othering.” While I normally speak to the systemic aspect of racism (and sexism and other isms), I do periodically address how prevalent individual racist behavior — and flat out white supremacist behavior — still is EVERYWHERE, in all regions, in all socioeconomic environments.

While I knew this partnership of sorts could not continue in the same form, it did cause me to reflect on whether or not I’m a hypocrite because I do indeed speak of compassion and collaboration a lot.

Perhaps my outspokenness about various forms of bullying means that I do not live up to compassionate action and the other ideals I espouse. This is a portion of my reply to the gentleman in question:

“Perhaps activism in general isn’t in alignment with peace and compassion because the nature of activism — even nonviolent activism — inevitably is calling out some behavior, and thus those who are engaged in said behavior.

When bullies recognize they’re bullying, that’s when I can meet them where they are. Until then, I will protect others from the bullying as much as possible and continue to raise awareness that the bullying really does exist in an attempt to eliminate behavior and worldviews. That is my way of living compassion.

If that means I’m at a lower level of awareness or being a hypocrite about my desire to cultivate care and compassion and wisdom and the other values I cherish, even though I’m fully aware I’m not perfect about any of it, I can accept that.

By the way, every single person mentioned in your ideal “dream team” of advisors had something in common: older white people, mainly men.”

This interaction prompted a lot of pondering and self-reflection. Something Gloria Steinem said recently came to mind as I wrestled with all of this. She said that, in general, as men get older they get more conservative; as women get older, they get more radical and liberal. While I’m not so sure that is true of women, it is thought provoking.

What I do know is that it’s about power. Whoever holds the most power within a society wants to retain that power, and they thus trend toward being more conservative as they age because their power increases as they age. That’s why you find many more white people — and men in general — in the conservative movement, because this is who holds the most power in this society and always has. Women — all women in this society — lose power as we age, so we fight more to balance power. It’s all quite interesting when you step back in a detached manner to observe it.

The other observation that came to mind yet again is that there is a certain segment of the population that basically loathes, or at least dismisses and disrespects, any form of protest and activism. Even nonviolent protests are met with derision and criticism: “You’re not doing your cause any good; you need to hush and not be so annoying; don’t create inconvenience for others as you protest; you need to focus on THIS cause instead because your cause just doesn’t matter as much right now, etc., etc., etc.”

I realized that, even the more progressive older, white men — with any semblance of power and comfort in their lives, that is — often view protests that way. (Just think about the people you know who sharply criticize pretty much any protest, including those that are nonviolent and about matters of great importance — including life and death.)

They view activists’ outspokenness as very disconcerting and prefer that we be more “civil” and diplomatic and try to appeal to everyone and not say anything that may alienate anyone — anyone like themselves, that is.

While I certainly encourage civility and respect, at 52 I know two things for certain: 1) No matter how carefully I communicate, taking care not to offend, I cannot anticipate every individual perception (and misconception) and thus someone will inevitably be offended; and 2) I will never, ever please everyone nor appeal to everyone. It’s naive to make that a priority in anything I do.

Even many of my more progressive friends who happen to be religious and/or spiritual are unnerved by my outspokenness and activism which, in their view perpetuates what I am working to eradicate: othering.

I suppose it’s the conundrum of people like me “being intolerant of intolerance” and thus WE are labeled the bigots and racists and so forth. Most of us are not being divisive or perpetuating what we are rising up against; we’re bringing attention to the deeply embedded human trait to create The

Transforming society into one that is more caring and just requires a multi-pronged approach; some of us focus on one aspect of the pain and suffering, while others focus on other levels of the pain and suffering. (Edit to add: Still others don’t give attention or energy to the pain and suffering; their work is focused on creating What Could Be.) It’s all necessary, imho — as are attempts to inject joy into the equation — and I won’t criticize any effort, at any level, to work toward individual, cultural and systemic healing.

I just wish the grassroots, boots-on-the-ground caring and activism were more respected and appreciated rather than met with scorn and derision — or, worse, fear. Caring isn’t a competition.

We somehow must get away from EVERYTHING being a competition.

It was a very interesting process that I went through yesterday, and I’m grateful it happened; I appreciate the constructive criticism and will try to be even more aware of HOW I say what I say.

I thought what I went through during this self-reflective process may be of value to others. I hope so. :)

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store