Conversational Activism

The Friday after election day, I sent the following note to my team at Google:

tl;dr: I’ve got a lot on my mind
I have been doing a lot of thinking. This month has been a very strange one for me personally — one in which I have oscillated dramatically between hope, loss, grief, and back again. The month of September closed with the realization that a very dear, old friend of mine had gone missing while on a spiritual trek in India. Since early October, I have been part of a small team that answered an inner call to help find him. This has meant most of my nights have been spent frantically helping to orchestrate a search in India from my couch.
This experience brought to the forefront a time in my life that has not seen the light of day very much recently, and exposed me to some extremely dark and nefarious worlds into which I was not anticipating diving so deeply. This has left me feeling very much like I have been living in two worlds, not entirely sure where I fit into either, and yet firm in my resolve that I felt compelled — no, called — to do this work. I have felt proud about the way I rose to the occasion, although I will admit I am very, very tired… Sadly, this wild search concluded in tragedy, and while we may never know what happened to my friend Justin, he is lost, potentially at the hands of someone who disregarded his life as something without meaning.
Fast forward to this week. I am sure that my politics are worn on my sleeve, so I imagine my deep sadness at our country’s choice is not a surprise to anyone. That’s not actually what I want to talk about in this note, although I am happy to separately with anyone who would like to talk actual politics. What I want to talk about is more personal (fair warning — significant oversharing ahead…).
I am not so naive as to pretend that the fear and anger that has come to the surface through this election have not been a strong undercurrent in our country for a long time. I know the horror I feel at the blatant racism and sexism I see on a daily basis is not because those atrocities are new, but because our globally connected world has unveiled them from the dark corners where they had been forcibly kept. I have certainly experienced myself, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, what it feels like to be a woman with strong ambitions, one who wants to be given the assumption of equal footing, but has often found that is not always the case. As someone who is herself a survivor of (non-familial) childhood sexual abuse, I was repulsed by the language I heard — both publicly and privately — coming from the man we have now elected president of our great nation. That is personal to me. It is personal to my family, and I am not able or willing to excuse it as just talk. This collection of deeply disturbing behaviors has given me much to feel grief, sadness and anger over.
And yet, I am finding that I also feel hope. These displays — these terrible, upsetting racist, misogynistic, xenophobic displays that we see unfolding across our nation and the world — are critical to our healing. They need to come to the light so that we can address them. I do not want to be a person, or a leader, who shies away from the hard topics because I don’t know how to talk about them. I don’t believe any of us know how to have the kinds of conversations I believe we need to have, so the best we can do is just roll up our sleeves and dive in. I believe the cracks in our hard exterior could allow us to sow the seeds of a more compassionate future, and I am excited by the possibility that this could be a time where collectively we could come together and do just that.
So what does this mean for us, as a team? It means I am open, and I am here. I am willing to talk about anything you guys want. I am happy to listen to anything you might want to say. I am asking that we collectively think about what this point in time needs from us, and how we might answer that call. It may feel strange to think about how we address these needs with the work that we do, however I am confident that our great minds together can rise to meet any challenge. In truth, just knowing that we have a team that honors all of who we are and what is important to us is a beautiful thing in itself. Beyond that, who knows, but I welcome that work, and I hope you will join me in embracing it.
Let’s go do it.

Those two seemingly different experiences — the search for my friend and the election of Donald Trump — called on the same inner need for understanding, truth and action.

A few days ago, I wrote about a desire to bring back Benjamin Frankin’s Junto. I wasn’t being facetious. We all need to have these hard conversations with groups of people who differ from us. This is critical to the crafting of solutions that best benefit and strengthen the prismatic diversity of our country. Whether we Run for America, form floating coalitions, eschew labels, join a #lovearmy or create something new ourselves, the time is now. America can and must rise to meet the challenges we face — with as much vigor and compassion as we can muster.

Early civics education for the Small Freys (stickers help…)