On putting out fires and throwing out dead leaves

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve turned away from engaging some conversations in which the dominant opinion is one I disagree with.

It has felt a little strange. The issues being discussed were things that I feel strongly about, that get my heart beating a little bit faster (so to be clear: I’m not talking about differences of opinion on whether navy and black should be worn together, although that is important, and my answer would be YES.)

I started my journey of activism by mainly reacting to things I saw that weren’t right: getting a Kanye West/Jay-Z video banned was the first time I realised I had a voice. I moved to responding to human trafficking through awareness-raising, political lobbying, shopping fasts. And I’ve continued to react to injustice and the devaluing of human beings in different ways.

This stuff is all good, but I shouldn’t spend the majority of my energy on putting out fires. The articles or opinions I have been reading/hearing have been spoken, they are. I can try to debate point by point, to react, to write response blog posts to articles I disagree with. But what if there is another way?

What if, instead of chasing after chaos and addressing individual stances isolated incidents, we created order and culture that presented a broader picture; what if we put our efforts into weaving a richer tapestry full of the good things we feel are forgotten or at risk?

There is, of course, a place for discussing, debating and even (or especially) disagreeing. And there is benefit in tension. We need to know what is happening around us, to understand the thoughts of those we disagree with. I’ve decided though, that stating an opinion once is enough, because change is, unfortunately, not often to be found in the heat of debate. I’ve been practicing this on Facebook when I engage with friends on certain issues; by not writing purely response-style posts to articles I disagree with; to not responding to radio interview invitations that are solely responsive or sensational…and in life, when I smell the hint of a fire.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not afraid of fires. I am the first to run into them when I think there is something to be won from doing that. I will always engage with people whose opinions differ from mine, and I will continue to discipline myself to research and study the issues engage with. But I am a broken-hearted person – I bleed for people, I hate injustice, I feel strongly. And I need to exercise judgment when it comes to what I do about those things.

I have a voice – and I have a responsibility to use my voice to bring colour, story, strength to things; to build new ideas and thought and culture. To breathe life into things.

I also have a responsibility towards my own heart – disagreeing with people is one thing, but when some of the arguments are denigrating of my identity as a woman for example, devaluing people I care about, or get me riled up when I have already chosen not to respond, it does me harm to listen in too closely.

I was feeling particularly bogged down this afternoon, having perhaps paid too much attention to and entangled myself in some harmful, going-nowhere discussions this week. I decided to do a little gardening to clear my head (eh…yeah…not sure what has got into me, either!) A lot of leaves had landed on my little flower pots in which some spring-time greenery was trying to bud: it was therapeutic, clearing away their little areas, and it helped me process my thoughts on this. Sometimes, you need to acknowledge the dead leaf and discard it to let new life appear.

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To act, rather than react.

To build, rather than deconstruct.

To look ahead, rather than behind.

Practically, rather than writing response posts about things I disagree with, I will actively promote constructive thought in my posts (and in doing so, I will occupy the space I need to address things I disagree with without making them my focus). Rather than spending time dismantling sexism, racism, or the devaluing of humanity, I will contribute to a culture of worth – in word and in action. And I will watch my language: it’s ok to be against things, but what am I for and how do I express that?

Because what is the antidote to destruction? Building and breathing new life.

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2 responses to “On putting out fires and throwing out dead leaves

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