A risk we can afford to take — social media activism, pushing buttons and lessons from a young girl.
I shared the above tweet image somewhere around 2:30 am. Yet another night of insomnia forcing me to dull my brain with almost-but-not-quite-mindless scrolling through my Facebook feed — as if a screen full of opinions at election time ever made anyone more likely to find rest.
I somehow manage to pass out, sleep of the dead and the deep and the perpetually exhausted. I wake to sun streaming in my room and think that perhaps I’ve managed to sleep in. That maybe I got enough hours to take the edge off the fatigue I’m carrying with my through the days. I reach for my phone to check the time.
It’s 6:20. And I’m awake. Habit and addiction and compulsion find my clicking on the Facebook app again before the sleep has fully cleared from my eyes. The first notification I see is her comment.
“Statements like this really promote peace, don’t you think?”
I’ve been sharing a lot lately. And posting a fair bit. Not all of it easy for friendly or fun for anyone. Let’s face it — not much about right now is fun for anyone. And not much of what I’m posting or feeling is rainbows and butterflies. As much as I live my life 99% driven by heart and morals and ideals and the beautiful gray area of complex humanity — right now most of us are living somewhere on the outside of that space. Most of what I’m sharing right now probably wouldn’t fit under the umbrella of promoting peace.
But that’s the thing, I type my response furiously in that tiny box Facebook provides for our thoughts and feelings — pounding my thumbs across tiny phone keyboard while eyes are still blurry from all the sleep that I didn’t manage to get.
Especially in this world that in such a short time has held more violence than my bleeding heart knows how to hold, I actually don’t think that the promotion of peace at all costs is always the goal. Sometimes the goal is agitation. It’s pushing harder than is comfortable. It’s the bubbling up and pouring over of hurt and frustration and what-the-ever-loving-fuck-is-happening-in-this-world that finally gets us all talking.
And while I’m doing just that — social media an extension of my real life world, without filter or needing to appear anything that I am not — I’m also seeing things from people who believe differently than me. And realizing that this is the first election that I have known where there is division in my close friendships — where my posts are not just preaching to a choir of same thought and same belief and same action. And those things I am reading are pushing my buttons and hurting my feelings and driving me deeper and making me question and think.
To my mind, these spaces, this sharing — this questioning and pushing and needing to be heard — they can either shut us down and drive us into our corners, pouting and stomping our feet (and yes, I’ve had my own recent tantrums). Or they can drive us deeper into ourselves. Into reflection and consideration and a more nuanced version of whatever black and white dogma lives at the core of whatever we see fit to write and share and dive into in social media-land.
My almost 15 year old daughter taught me a lot of this.
You see, she makes pushing discussions into debate a sport. She plays devils advocate until my head wants to explode and I want to hide the corner and wave a white flag of not surrender but defeat. She knows what she believes and why she believes it and still will say something completely opposite and with so much conviction that I wonder how I raised a kid who believed such things.
She forces me to articulate my own beliefs to a level that I’m never quite ready for and that I can’t always manage to attain.
One day she finally explained what she was doing. That the hard and fast stances and the inflammatory statements were not always because her position was so solid there was no room for movement. It was because she realized that those inflammatory statements pushed the people around her — mostly adults who may not have engaged fully or taken her seriously — to speak in much greater depth and with a full dose of passion about the things that mattered. That this often only happened when she first made them uncomfortable. When she pushed just hard enough that it cracked past the complacency or apathy or distraction. She said that’s when people tell you what they really believe deep down. That’s when the go far enough to back it up.
She said that’s when people tell you why. Not the surface why but the real why. That’s when she got the facts to back up the feelings and the feelings to anchor the facts. That’s when she really, really learned. And that helped her, she said, to really decide what she really, really believed.
It ain’t easy living with that girl. Makes me want to tear my hair our sometimes. More than sometimes. More than often, as a matter of fact.
But damn, she teaches me. She forces me to examine why I believe what I believe and then pushes me to figure out where that belief came from in the first place. She makes sure I can back up feelings with facts and passion with documentation. She asks me if there might not be other options that make just as much sense, even if I don’t want to see them.
She holds up a mirror, one of those high magnification ones that show you ever wrinkle and every clogged poor and every age spot and all the minuscule scars that lives on the surface of your skin. It’s not flattering and I’d rather not look — but damn if I don’t learn something about myself every single time.
When she was nine we got in a fight. A vicious fight. I have no idea about what or why or how it got so bad. We so seldom remember exactly what seemed so vitally important at the time of the eruption.
Either way, she pushed every button I had and then some. I was incensed. Angry enough that I, peace-loving-attachment-parenting-hippie-dippie mama that I was (and still am) finally stopped and screamed at my kid. “SHUT UP.” And to my kid, that was a big fucking deal. Because that’s not how we do things in our house.
And so we marched off to our respective corners. We slammed the doors to our respective rooms and we fumed in our respective rightness. After a few minutes, a wrinkled piece of paper slid under my door, scrawled through nine-year-old anger and nine-year-old tears.
“You say I’m rude but you said shut up so you’re rude!”
And god damn if that paper didn’t actually shake with the sheer force of her feelings at that moment.
Of course, I wasn’t in a space of reflection. Not even close. So I stormed out of my room and marched down the hall and opened her door and pointed my righteous fingers in her equally righteous face and said,
“You have GOT to know when you’ve crossed the line. You have GOT to learn respect. I am your mother and you CAN NOT talk to me that way. You need to know when to just STOP”
What happened next changed everything.
Because that nine-year-old girl drew herself up to the full force of her nine-year-old being. She put her hands on her hips and she puffed out her chest. And god damn if she didn’t somehow find more badass swagger in that one breath than I’ve ever seen anyone possess.
And then in one fluid moment she settled right back down into the full power of that nine-year-old body and quietly spoke the line that changed everything.
“Really, mom? Really? Well, I was raised by a woman who taught me to stand to for what I believed in, no matter what. So THAT is exactly what I am doing “
And I sputtered and shook and frantically searched for to a response that allowed me to remain vindicated in my own anger. My own dead surety that I had more right to demand her acquiescence than she had to demand mine.
And you know what? I couldn’t.
I couldn’t because she was right. God damnit and fuck it all to hell. She was right.
Because that is how I raised her. For her voice to rise strong and true. To not be afraid to dive into difficult spaces. To push buttons. To ask hard questions. For her intellect and critical thinking skills and her huge heart to be the guides to help her learn more and grow deeper and come out the other side somehow more than she went in.
Even with me.
I’ve taught my girls that we are not looking for peace at all costs. We are looking for comprehension. And growth. And sometimes we’re looking for a fight. A god damn righteous revolution.
And often, that stuff requires deep discomfort and sometimes fighting and hurt feelings and confusion and separation. And sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong and often we’re more than a little bit of both at the very same time — if only we can be humble enough and push far enough to see it. Here in our house we don’t shy away from those hard spaces. We’re okay, as inconvenient and uncomfortable and infuriating as it is, with pushing buttons.
And hell yes, there are days where I wish it were different. That I had somehow raised these meek and compliant and respectful at all costs children. But it’s not the way I work. It’s not the way I was raised — in a home where there was room for debate and we were given space for our voices to fly free and my parents never placed the burden of their comfort level on our young heads. This…this is part of what formed me.
And so I also teach them that it’s up to us where we land on the other side of it all.
And in our house, at the end of it all, we eventually land in the marshmallow bed, limbs tangled and their heads on my chest, talking out the hurt and pain and frustration. Drying tears. Calming breaths. Learning to listen. Coming back to understanding. Coming to balance. And yes. Coming back to peace.
And I know, though I wish it were different, that there is not some giant, metaphorical bed of peace for Trump people and Bernie people and Hillary people and Stein people and fuck-no-to -all-y’all people and it’s-all-rigged-so-who-the-hell-cares people and la-la-la-I’m-gonna-pretend-none-of-this-matters-and-stick-my-fingers-in-my-ears-and-post-cat-videos-all-day-long people. No, we’re all gonna have to muck it out without that.
But here in my house, and often out in the world, it’s the agitators that get people talking. It’s the activists and artists and truth speakers that step outside of comfort zones and call to us to join them. It’s the ones who refuse to tip-toe. The pot-stirrers. The crowd gatherers. The protest sign makers. It’s the 14-year-old kid who teaches me more than I’ve ever taught her.
So no, right now I’m not looking to promote peace. I’m seeing what it might take and how hard we might have to push into our own discomfort to get to the other side.
Because I’m pretty sure that’s where we’ll find the peace that we so desperately need.
“I like to make people a little uncomfortable. It encourages them to examine who they are and why they think the way they do.”
— Sally Mann